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What Is STEM Education? - Definition, Importance & Standards

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  • 0:00 STEM Education Defined
  • 3:01 Importance of STEM
  • 4:02 STEM Standards
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Esther Bouchillon

Esther has taught middle school and has a master's degree in gifted education.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Learn more about what STEM education is, why it is important and explore standards associated with STEM. A short quiz follows the lesson.

STEM Education Defined

What would make you most interested in becoming a National Park ranger? Reading about forests, attending a lecture on what a park ranger does, watching a video called 'A Day in the Life of a Park Ranger' or frequently hiking through national forests? The experience of actually hiking and the pleasant memories associated with the experience, more than any of the other choices listed, would probably spark your interest in that career path. This is the theory behind STEM education. By exposing students to STEM and giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts, they will develop a passion for it and, hopefully, pursue a job in a STEM field.

So what is STEM? STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. These four symbols represent the different areas of STEM education.

STEM education integrates concepts that are usually taught as separate subjects in different classes and emphasizes the application of knowledge to real-life situations. A lesson or unit in a STEM class is typically based around finding a solution to a real-world problem and tends to emphasize project-based learning. A variation of STEM is STEAM, which includes an 'A' for art and design. Artistic design is becoming an important part of STEM education since creativity is an essential part of innovation. Many STEM lessons involve building models and simulating situations. A good STEM lesson ensures that students understand the connection to the real world.

A sample STEM lesson would start with showing pictures of large barges carrying crates. Then students would experiment with different materials and computer-aided designs in an attempt to build a model boat capable of holding large amounts of pennies. Math would be incorporated by demanding specific measurements for the design and requiring the students to keep within a certain budget for their materials. This experiment models how real-world engineers and scientists try to improve the efficiency of the current shipping designs.

STEM education could take place in a separate STEM class or be incorporated into practically any subject and grade level. Of course science and math classes would be able to directly implement STEM-related lessons. In a social studies class learning about the industrial revolution, however, students may design their own assembly line. Or, in an English class, students may be keeping a journal about their thinking and research processes while designing a realistic bridge from a fictional novel.

Careers in STEM-related fields are vast and diverse. They obviously include careers in the pharmacy, energy, programming, and engineering fields. However, STEM careers may also take the form of a physician's assistant, network communications expert, or agricultural professional. Finance, risk analysis, and even athletic training have elements of STEM in them. And, of course, teaching is an essential career that stimulates the STEM fields!

Importance of STEM

The U.S. led the world in STEM fields until recently, but today, fewer students are graduating high school competent in science, technology, engineering and math. According to the U.S. Department of Education, as of 2014, only 16% of high school seniors are proficient in math and wish to pursue a STEM degree.

Yet, despite this lack of interest, STEM is all around us. It is a part of everyone's daily lives, from the phones we talk on to the cars we drive and the doctors we visit. STEM education seeks to raise students' awareness of how STEM fields affect their daily lives and also seeks to excite them and prepare them for future careers in a STEM-related field.

Many new jobs that will be available for students are in the STEM-related fields. It is essential for the survival of the U.S. economy to have people capable of fulfilling these jobs. Ensuring students' interests and competencies is also important for the country as a whole in order to stay competitive in the world market.

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