Special Report
Mathematics

Where’s the ‘T’ in STEM?

By Sean Cavanagh & Andrew Trotter — March 21, 2008 3 min read

In education and business circles, STEM is more than popular jargon—it’s a rallying cry.

The call to improve education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics echoes throughout heavyweight sectors across the American economy, from high-tech companies to defense contractors to major manufacturers, who often say upgrades are critical to spurring innovation.

Yet if STEM’s appeal seems universal, its definition is not.

Many educators and advocates frankly acknowledge that the STEM movement today, at least at the K-12 level, is focused largely on improving performance in math and science, two established subjects in the school curriculum, as a way to prepare students to compete for highly skilled jobs.

Others, meanwhile, see the T and E in STEM education as vital, though often overlooked, pieces of the academic puzzle, even at the K-12 level.

Feature Stories
States Heeding Calls to Strengthen STEM

Federal Projects’ Impact on STEM Remains Unclear

Where’s the ‘T’ in STEM?

A School Where STEM Is King
Learning to Teach With Technology
Cultivating a Diversity of Talent
Competing for Competence
State Data Analysis
Executive Summary
Table of Contents

Proponents of technology and engineering studies say those subjects help students acquire valuable interdisciplinary and applied skills in real-world situations, and attract students who are not otherwise drawn to traditional math and science.

“The debate is being driven by people who talk about learning in the science and math disciplines, rather than looking at students who learn in context,” says Raymond V. “Buzz” Bartlett, a former executive for the Lockheed Martin Corp., a leading defense contractor. “We’re convinced that it’s a minority of students who respond to learning by discipline. Most respond to contextual learning.”

Bartlett now helps direct Strategies in Engineering Education K-16, or SEEK-16, a working group of school, college, and business officials who believe the applied and problem-solving skills of studying engineering can attract more students to STEM-related courses and fields.

The organization is looking at ways to promote that study in school and in independent projects, as well as to standardize how engineering is taught in middle and high schools.

Technology—not simply as a tool, but as an area of interdisciplinary study—should also play a part in preparing students for the future economy, advocates say. And many educators see the study of technology as an opportunity to teach students how knowledge, tools, and skills in math and science can be applied to solve practical problems and extend human capabilities.

“For a lot of kids, it’s a lot clearer, with technology, how the science and math come together,” says Shirley M. Malcom, the head of education and human resources for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a worldwide society with headquarters in Washington.

Technology education should include an effort by schools to introduce students to the history and influence of technology in society, Malcom says.

Filling Stem Positions

About two-thirds of public schools with teacher vacancies in biology, physical sciences, or mathematics reported difficulty in filling those posts. Only 41 percent of schools experienced difficulty filling English/language arts positions.

BRIC ARCHIVE

SOURCE: EPE Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey, 2003-04

Eleven states, to date, have decided that those benefits are important enough to make completion of a technology education course a requirement for high school graduation.

A number of educators credit Judith A. Ramaley, a former director of the National Science Foundation’s education and human-resources division, with being the first person to brand science- and math-related subjects as STEM.

Before Ramaley took that job in 2001, the more widespread label was SMET, which was used at conferences and in grant proposals by the NSF, a federal agency based in Arlington, Va.

“I always thought it was terrible,” says Ramaley of the SMET initials. “It made me think of many things, but none of them had to do with science and technology.”

While phonetically appealing, the change was made as part of a more significant shift in philosophy at the agency, Ramaley says. The NSF was seeking to devote more resources to promoting science, technology, engineering, and math study among the entire student population—and in society at large—as opposed to simply among a student elite, she says.

Ramaley, who is now the president of Winona State University, in Minnesota, is encouraged by policymakers’ revived interest in STEM-related topics, which she sees as “an opportunity to invest in people and places, rather than a problem to be corrected.”

“STEM may be stitched across the banner,” she says, “but what’s important is what’s occurring under the banner.”

Events

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.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
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.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

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

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.
Sponsor
Mathematics Whitepaper
SPACED TEACHING AND PRACTICE: A structure to Strengthen Math Instruction
Explore the idea of spaced teaching and practice for math instruction. Discover how to reduce forgetting and attain longer-term achieveme...
Content provided by ORIGO Education
Mathematics Opinion Using Project-Based Learning in Math Classes
Two teachers share practical strategies for using project-based learning in math classes, including one called "Notice & Wonder."
8 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Mathematics Opinion Teach Math in Ways That Are 'Proactive' & Not 'Reactive'
Eleven educators share their ideas on how to promote culturally responsive teaching in mathematics.
23 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Mathematics Opinion Twelve Ways to Make Math More Culturally Responsive
Four educators share ideas for using culturally responsive teaching in math class, including by helping students make community connections.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty