by Leslie De Leonardis (@MsDeLSTEM)
As I embarked on my new position as STEM Network Specialist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (Department of Catholic Schools) this past July, I was blessed to have ample time just to research STEM in the context of learning. What I found as I began my research is that STEM (education) is an overused academic term with an underused definition. Many “do” STEM learning, yet what is it that they do? This epiphany prompted me to organize my research into two buckets of thoughts: #1 What actually is STEM education/learning? And #2, Is there a need for STEM learning? As my very first attempt at blogging, I have decided to take on the task of defining STEM education, in the context of schools …. clearly I like a challenge.
STEM education is often identified by educational institutions as having STEM-themed clubs or classes mainly centered on such things as coding and robotics. Yes, this is a large part of what constitutes STEM. One can see the importance of such fields as coding since many consider it to be a literacy in its own right - similar to how English Language Arts and Math are literacies. However, STEM education can also be so very much more.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Although each letter represents an individual subject, put together they truly represent an approach to education. I found that STEM education is more than just a focus on those individual subjects. It is a focus on a strategic way to present learning that allows the students to take more ownership in their educational process. One of the clearest definitions of STEM education I have come across comes from Vasquez, Comer and Sneider (2013): “STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning that removes traditional barriers separating the four disciplines … and integrates them into real world, rigorous, and relevant learning experiences for students.” This type of learning shifts the teacher's role from being the “the sage on the stage” to one of “the guide on the side”. STEM education goes beyond the focus of the four independent subjects. It allows students the opportunity to connect these subjects together and stop viewing them as independent periods of learning. Rather, STEM education views these four subjects as one allied discipline that promotes application of skills to relevant and real world problems (including our popular robotics and coding). It is important to note that STEM learning does not mean that all 4 disciplines are incorporated all the time in all lessons or all projects. Alternately, it truly connotes a mindset and culture that promotes integrated strategies and application of skills to the real world contexts. It is about empowering students to lead their learning (with the necessary guidance from their teachers) and equips them with the tools to truly impact our world beyond what traditional paper and pencil tests do. It allows students to do their learning through projects, rather than the traditional way of doing all the learning first just to culminate in a stand alone project. In addition, the beauty of STEM education being in the realm of Catholic schools is that we can now, more than ever, focus our students on learning and applying our religious traditions and teachings (such as the 7 Themes of the Catholic Social Teachings) in a capacity and scope beyond just reading about them. Through STEM learning and through learning with STEM projects, students will truly grasp such religious teachings, while also compassionately applying them to their lives using the necessary Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Math skills that are best suited.
Is accomplishing such a holistic approach to STEM learning an easy task? No. Is it an impossible task? No! You don’t have to do it alone! The STEM Network has sprung into existence as a way to help formalize a program model that empowers and equips schools, educators and students to accomplish such a feat in our Catholic schools! This network initiative is about approaching learning with a STEM mindset recognizing that the implementation of such educational shifts is an active process, best done with others.
Although I did my best to help define STEM learning (I could write pages on this topic or speak for hours - ask anyone that knows me!), I have yet to touch on my 2nd research question: is there is a need for such learning? I will have to save this for another blog …. stay tuned.