Science Opinion

All Teachers Are STEM Teachers

By Jonathan W. Gerlach — July 10, 2015 3 min read
Atlas V Rocket Launches with Juno Spacecraft by NASA HQ PHOTO on Flickr Creative Commons
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As a nation, we need to begin approaching STEM as a culture, not as content. As a larger community of educators, industry leaders, and government leaders, we need to examine how we are currently supporting a cultural change and stop focusing on the just the individual “content” letters of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

Over the past decade, we have been banging the drums of STEM and developing a hyper-focus on the idea that our country needs more engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and doctors. These highly regarded careers are critical to our growth as society; however, they represent a sliver of industries of our current and future needs. Brookings Institution reported in 2013 about the “Hidden STEM Economy”, stating that 50 percent of STEM jobs needed now and in the future actually require sub-bachelor levels of education. This critical need and the idea of promoting students to pursue a sub-bachelor’s education have been extremely unpopular. Regardless, we need to change “College and Career Ready” to “Career and College Ready.”

Within the education field, we latch onto the idea that only the most gifted students are meant for STEM programs because of the underlying belief that only those students can achieve the Doctorates, Masters, and Bachelor degrees needed for STEM careers. STEM needs to be for all students, as the skills needed for all STEM careers are almost identical. We need to begin to shift our thinking when it comes to STEM in our schools.

Shift One: A Transdisciplinary Approach

Educators need to begin to approach STEM as pedagogy and not as isolated content areas. The idea of approaching STEM from a transdisciplinary learning approach—where connections are made to a larger idea instead of forcing the marriage of content that many times doesn’t organically fit together—has begun to resonate with educators and leaders across the country. We live in a world that is not “disciplinary:” It involves making connections across multiple areas of study authentically brought together through the circumstance of every day life. The majority of Americans do not stop at 9:30 a.m. to do mathematics, and then at 10:45 a.m. switch to social studies.

Shift Two: Developing Thinkers

Students who join the current and future workforce are estimated to hold 15-20 jobs during their professional career. This statistic is directly related to the exponential changes in the job market and a workforce we have developed without the flexibility and critical skills to adapt. STEM should be about building a culture focused on developing the skills our students will need for success in the future economy. There are hundreds of studies and surveys completed asking CEOs what skills they believe students need to be successful in the future. Continually at the top of the lists: Communication, critical thinking, flexibility, collaboration, and creativity. We need to stop developing learners and start developing thinkers. Learners rely on directions while thinkers problem solve and develop solutions.

Shift Three: Start in Early Grades

STEM culture cannot begin halfway through a student’s educational career. By the time our students reach 6th grade, they have made a conscious decision whether or not they will be “good” at math and science. The majority of these students have the potential for greatness; however, they were not engaged in authentic learning early enough in their education. The majority of STEM programs, initiatives, and resources begin with a focus on 6th grade and higher. We are missing the opportunity to expose students to STEM because we are missing all the students whom already decided on their own that STEM isn’t for them without truly understanding the possibilities.

Shift Four: Curriculum Integration

STEM cannot be something “extra:” It has to be embedded in everyday instruction. Our education system is focused on standards and accountability to these standards. If we relegate STEM to only after school, summer, electives, and those few days after testing season, we are missing the opportunity given to us as educators to provide a better tomorrow. In addition to missing the opportunity, many teachers won’t embrace this shift as it is not “tested.”

Developing educators’ instructional practices tied to critical skills, authentic connections, standards, career possibilities, and transdisciplinary learning will begin to create the environment needed for our students’ development as the thinkers our future needs. We need to shift the focus of STEM and help teachers see that all teachers are STEM teachers.

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Science What the Research Says Teaching Students to Understand the Uncertainties of Science Could Help Build Public Trust
Scientists want schools to do more to help students appreciate how uncertainty and variation builds scientific knowledge.
5 min read
Photo of teacher answering question from student.
Science How to Close the STEM Achievement Gap for Indigenous Students: Feature Local Culture
Study examines factors that will positively impact Indigenous students' STEM proficiency.
2 min read
Image shows a young student working on a laptop with a teacher.
Science 4 Teaching Ideas Students Will Benefit From Now and as Adults
Problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking are being integrated into STEM instruction in very creative and relevant ways.
2 min read
Students in the aviation program at Magruder High School take a look at the exposed engine of an airplane during a visit to the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., on April 6, 2022.
Students in the aviation program at Magruder High School in Rockville, Md., examine the exposed engine of an airplane during a visit to the nearby Montgomery County Airpark in April.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Science These 3 Latina Teachers Are Pushing the Boundaries of Computer Science Class
From California to Massachusetts to Puerto Rico, Latina educators are helping expand notions of what counts as "real" computer science.
9 min read
Megan Bowen walks through the lesson plan for the day during class at Salem Academy Charter School in Salem, Mass., on April 25, 2022.
Megan Bowen walks through the lesson plan for the day during class at Salem Academy Charter School in Salem, Mass., on April 25, 2022.
Nathan Klima for Education Week