STEM, it’s one of the most talked about topics in education. STEM stands for Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics.
STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.
This is important to understand because getting a math degree doesn’t necessarily mean you completed a STEM program, even if math is a STEM subject. Without the integration of all four disciplines and the use of real-world teaching methods, you don’t get the educational benefits that make STEM degrees so valuable and careers in STEM fields so desirable.
STEM seems to have an extra heavy on science and math.
Remember, the disciplines that STEM focuses on are Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. While technology and engineering might sound like fun (I mean, who wouldn’t want to build robots in class?) for a large portion of potential students, science and math are very much not fun. Unfortunately, being able to quickly master these two subjects is an integral part of doing well in STEM.
Science and math are particularly important in STEM because technology and engineering are dependent on them. If an Architectural Engineering student needed to design a 10-story building, they would first need to understand the underlying mathematical and scientific principles that make a building like this possible. STEM careers share this heavy reliance on either math or science—often both. This is why students who don’t perform well in math or science so often quit STEM to follow an easier academic program. Or they just fail out.
However, this doesn’t mean that STEM is beyond reach if you’ve struggled with these subjects in the past. It just means that STEM will likely be more difficult for you than others. Alternatively, you might find that understanding these two subjects is actually easier for you than it has been in the past, given the practical way these subjects are taught in a STEM program.
For the rest of you super smart left brain types who excel at math and science, don’t get too excited just yet. Math and science are only the tip of the iceberg.
STEM is a new way of learning.
As a philosophy, STEM is meant to create a program that integrates all four disciplines in a way that forces the student to use cross-disciplinary knowledge to solve problems. Which essentially means that the traditional learning style incoming freshman are used to—typically some form of memorization and recitation of information—is pretty much out the window.
You’ll rarely be given the explicit solution to a problem. Instead, you’ll often be required to use what you already know to figure out the right answer for yourself. This requires a significant amount of creativity and flexible thinking, as well as technical knowledge and mastery of each individual discipline.
This approach to education is often why those of us who are extremely analytical, but not especially creative, tend to struggle with STEM. Successful students quickly learn how to think for themselves and abandon their expectations of being told what to think.
Of course, STEM teachers won’t assume that incoming freshmen in a basic technology class already have mastery of advanced, graduate-level mathematics. Students in STEM are guided in their learning to build up mastery of the four disciplines over time, just like non-STEM students. However, when the time comes for them to apply what they’ve learned, whether a student does well or not depends heavily on how well they’re able to solve the problem, not how much they’ve memorized.
STEM programs are a ton of work.
Even STEM students who are already gifted in all four disciplines are often challenged by the sheer amount of homework and studying required by each class. These programs are famous for having super heavy workloads, which makes sense as the subjects covered in STEM programs are extremely complex. Being able to adequately understand them requires hours of extra work outside of class.
But it’s not all busy work. STEM students have to be careful that their eyes never glaze over while completing a project, because making mistakes can be costly. STEM students are expected to deliver the highest quality of work—regardless of how much homework they have. Which, again, makes sense if you consider the jobs these students will be doing after they graduate.
If a software developer makes a single error in a piece of code, they can break an important program and cause a company to lose thousands of dollars. Even a tiny miscalculation in a rocket launch can cost lives. So many STEM careers require perfect execution in high-stress environments—it makes sense that a STEM education will require the same thing.
STEM forces students to approach education in an active and exploratory way.
Despite all the hard work, STEM can be lots of fun too. Remember, at the core of these programs are real-world applications and study methods, which means you won’t simply be learning about robots in a classroom setting. You’re actually going to build robots in order to learn about them.
A good example of this is California Institute of Technology (one of the best STEM colleges in the nation) which teaches Biological Science by combining classroom instruction with student participation in their research programs. Their students have an active role in producing whatever cutting edge technologies or ground-breaking discoveries the university is currently working on—actively doing real work in the discipline that they’re in the process of mastering.
This type of education, learning by doing, will be a large part of your day in STEM program
Much of the STEM curriculum is aimed toward attracting underrepresented populations. Female students, for example, are significantly less likely to pursue a college major or career. Though this is nothing new, the gap is increasing at a significant rate. Male students are also more likely to pursue engineering and technology fields, while female students prefer science fields, like biology, chemistry, and marine biology. Overall, male students are three times more likely to be interested in pursuing a STEM career, the STEMconnect report said.
Ethnically, Asian students have historically displayed the highest level of interest in the STEM fields. Prior to 2001, students of an African-American background also showed high levels of interest in STEM fields, second only to the Asian demographic. However, since then, African-American interest in STEM has dropped dramatically to lower than any other ethnicity. Other ethnicities with high STEM interest include American Indian students.