In the 1990s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began using "SMET" as shorthand for "science, mathematics, engineering, and technology" When an NSF program officer complained that "SMET" sounded too much like "smut" the "STEM" acronym was born. As recently as 2003, relatively few knew what it meant. Many that year asked if the STEM Education graduate program I was beginning to envision had something to do with stem cell research. That was still very much the case in Fall 2005, when we--the Technology Education Program faculty at Virginia Tech--launched our STEM Education graduate program. (1) But when Americans learned the world was fiat (Friedman, 2005), they quickly grew to believe China and India were on course to bypass America in the global economy by outSTEMming us. Funding began to flow toward all things STEM, and STEMmania set in. Now, nearly everyone seems somewhat familiar with the STEM acronym.
And yet, it remains a source of ambiguity. Technology educators proudly lay claim to the T and E in STEM. But so, too, do Career and Technical educators, who (in my home state, at least) seem to have claimed the "E" as their own. Most, even those in education, say "STEM" when they should be saying "STEM education" overlooking that STEM without education is a reference to the fields in which scientists, engineers, and mathematicians toil. Science, mathematics, and technology teachers are STEM educators working in STEM education. It's an important distinction. In addition, there is the common misconception that the "T" (for technology) means computing, thereby distorting the intended meaning of the STEM acronym. Suffice it to say, STEM is often an ambiguous acronym, even to those who employ it.
The National Science Foundation knows what it means. For nearly two decades, NSF has used STEM simply to refer to the four separate and distinct fields we know as science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics. Yet, some have suggested that STEM education implies interaction among the stakeholders. It doesn't. For a century, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education have established and steadfastly defended their sovereign territories. It will take a lot more than a four-letter word to bring them together.
For those reasons, I am skeptical when I hear STEM education used to imply something new and exciting in education. Upon close inspection, those practices usually appear suspiciously like the status quo educational practices that have monopolized the landscape for a century. Pending evidence to the contrary, I think of STEM education as a reference to business as usual--the universal practice in American schools of disconnected science, mathematics, and technology education ... a condition that many believe is no longer serving America as well as it should/might.
Introducing ... Integrative STEM Education
In Fall, 2007, we realized the acronym's ambiguities were inescapable, and thus retitled our new Graduate Program "Integrative STEM Education" That was important to us because, from the onset, we intended the program to focus squarely upon new integrative approaches to STEM education and to investigate those new integrative approaches (Sanders, 2006; Sanders & Wells, 2005). (2) Our notion of integrative STEM education includes approaches that explore teaching and learning between/among any two or more of the STEM subject areas, and/or between a STEM subject and one or more other school subjects. Just as technological endeavor, for example, cannot be separated from social and aesthetic contexts, neither should the study of technology be disconnected from the study of the social studies, arts, and humanities. Our Integrative STEM Education graduate program encourages and prepares STEM educators, administrators, and elementary educators to explore and implement integrative alternatives to traditional, disconnected STEM education. …