Defining STEM


What is STEM?

STEM education is the intentional integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and their associated practices to create a student-centered learning environment in which students investigate and engineer solutions to problems, and construct evidence-based explanations of real-world phenomena with a focus on a student’s social, emotional, physical, and academic needs through shared contributions of schools, families, and community partners.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is critical to ongoing economic success in Florida. Nationwide, growth in STEM careers outpaces that of any other occupational category. In addition STEM careers offer higher beginning salaries and more career earning potential than most other fields. Today’s careers require STEM skills at all levels of employment from service industries to engineering. Young adults who do not possess high level skills in mathematics, science and technology are at a significant career disadvantage not only because of the tremendous opportunities for high-wage, high-demand STEM careers, but also because these skills are vital for success in other industry sectors. This combination of high need and high opportunity in STEM fields requires us to consider the proper preparation and support for individuals pursuing STEM studies.

STEM education is best sustained by supporting individual content areas as well as integrated experiences. Additionally, integrated coursework and projects can be used to support both the academic standards and the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Standards. STEM education requires an integrated learning approach where problem solving and engineering practices are included, where technology is seamlessly integrated throughout, and where there are high expectations for achievement in mathematics and science. STEM education is not restricted to the disciplines of mathematics and science. Providing safe and healthy school environments as well as coursework in other subject areas (e.g., art, language arts, social studies, health, etc.) provide opportunities to improve learning, processing, research, literacy and communication skills that also support and enhance the various STEM programs.

What Constitutes a STEM Program of Study?

The acronym STEM is fairly specific in nature referring to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; however, the concept of STEM encompasses much more than the sum of its parts. Workers in STEM occupations use science and math to solve problems and drive our nation's innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas, new companies and new industries. STEM programs of study are typically classified based upon four occupational clusters: computer technology; mathematical sciences; engineering and surveying; and natural, physical, and life sciences. STEM programs in Florida's public schools must embrace the integration of technology and engineering in science and mathematics.

STEM programs include the following features:

  • A curriculum driven by problem‐solving, discovery, and exploratory learning that requires students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution.
  • Nature of technology; engineering design; and systems thinking, maintenance, and troubleshooting incorporated into the science and mathematics curricula.
  • Innovative instruction allows students to explore greater depths of all of the subjects by utilizing the skills learned.
  • Technology provides creative and innovative ways to solve problems and apply what has been learned.
  • Independent and collaborative research projects embedded in the curricula.
  • Collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills threaded throughout the curricula.
  • Opportunities for mentoring by business, industry, and research organization leaders.

Access to STEM programs should not be limited. Programs should strive to increase the number of students enrolled, with emphasis on students from under represented subpopulations as well as those who may be struggling. Even those students who struggle in math and science during school can succeed on the job; with perseverance, many people who may have had difficulty with early math or science classes can later thrive in a STEM career.

What is a STEM School?

A guiding resource and assistance in quantifying the essential aspects of STEM schools has been developed by the University of Chicago: The STEM School Study. This research allows schools to examine the most significant aspects in the design of a successful STEM school. The research comes as a compilation of data and interviews from across the country.

The STEM School Study (S3) team sat down with inclusive STEM school leaders from over 25 inclusive STEM schools and asked them to describe the parts of their schools that are essential to their school models. They found that while STEM schools vary in many ways, there are eight major elements common to them all. Each element is comprised of a number of components and together, they illustrate what STEM schools are and lay the groundwork for understanding how STEM schools work to achieve their goals.

Additional information on the 8 elements may be found at: http://outlier.uchicago.edu/s3/.

An examination of an elementary STEM school is provided. Hidden Oaks Elementary School, in Palm Beach County illustrates the many strengths found in the STEM School Study.

What does a true STEM class, program, and School look like? See what components should be in each: STEM Components (Word).

Integrating Technology and Engineering in to STEM:

This vodcast will assist in gaining insight into Digital classroom plans, new developments with the NAEP, integration tools out of USF, and strategies to introduce the engineering design process using our current standards. Technology integration in the curricula entails the teachers and students seamless use of technology as a tool to accomplish a given task in a disciplined student that promotes higher-order thinking skills. It is the role of the Bureau of Educational Technology to ensure that all students have access to digital technologies with significant opportunity to obtain the skills necessary to become full participants in the civic, economic, and educational like of the community. The E in stem may fit comfortably in the 5E model. Wrapping the Engineering Design Principals around the “Evaluate” of the 5E model will provide the greatest success with content integration. Ms. Brennan demonstrates these connections in the vodcast below: