Sometimes STEM finds itself in an identity crisis or more accurately mislabeled as "science". Not all science is STEM. Unfortunately, some science classes are being falsely labeled as STEM. Students taking these mislabeled science classes are not getting a true STEM education and are not going to be as prepared to enter a STEM career as they are being led to believe. Let me explain..
When I first started teaching, I knew I wanted to teach Biology. I have loved Biology my entire life and could not wait to teach students using hands-on science, labs, inquiry assignments, and projects. Throughout my education and professional life as a teacher, I have met dozens of effective science teachers. Most of the Biology teachers were using labs and other interactive practices to deliver science content. Many of these teachers have won awards, contributed to textbooks, and are overall excellent teachers. One "problem", they are not STEM teachers. Yes they are incredible and they discuss real-world problems, but they were not actually solving problems using a STEM approach. I am in no way saying these teachers aren't incredible because they absolutely are. Their students do science, they understand science, and they are encouraged to become physicians, researchers, and nurses. However, they are not teaching STEM, they are teaching science. (Note: interactive science classes as part of a STEM school in which students are using learned science content in other STEM classes such as graphic design, programming, etc and teachers are cross-collaborating is a completely different situation.)
We have a responsibility to label education accurately, so as I continued my educational and professional life I became more aware of STEM. I made a realization, my Physical Science Teacher buddies were teaching STEM. These teachers were turning science lessons into projects that challenged kids to build, explore, research, and actually solve a problem. These teachers were addressing content, numbers, design, build, redesign, and data recording. I was very fortunate to meet a Bio teacher who taught at a New Tech school and was starting to teach more STEM than science. I pulled from these resources and started to build my own teaching methods. I married "science" and "STEM" and started challenging my students to become more than a physician, but a physician and a biomedical engineer. Why just study conditions that cause a need for a prosthetic when we can also design a prosthetic, 3D print it, and use it?
Do you see where I'm going with this? Science classes are science classes. STEM classes are STEM classes. Both types of classes are wonderful, but they deserve to be labeled properly. If we are going to fill those thousands of STEM jobs, we need to be honest with ourselves and our students. If we label a science class as a STEM class, students are going to miss out on much-needed STEM skills. If you label a class as STEM Biology, it better dang well be STEM Biology and not just an interactive Biology course, make sense?
There's nothing wrong with teaching or taking a traditional science class, but don't fool yourself or your students into thinking they are getting a STEM experience. Mislabeling STEM is unfair to our kids and to our world.
The sooner we start properly labeling STEM, the sooner we can provide genuine STEM experiences to students and start to fill those STEM jobs with #futureready professionals. We are responsible for delivering an actual STEM class if we are advertising our ability to do so. If your school offers zero STEM experiences, perhaps you need to consider outside resources, maker spaces, or after school STEM programs.
I hope this brings awareness to the need to properly label STEM and to provide students with genuine STEM experiences in STEM classes. Interactive science is great, but it's not STEM and it cannot prepare students for STEM professions in the same capacity as a true STEM class.
I fully support interactive science teachers and STEM teachers. Both types of teachers are needed and are valuable. But let's give credit where needed so we can provide our students with true STEM experiences and get those STEM jobs filled.