What Are The Outliers of STEM?

Ruth Catchen

STEM Education is talked about everywhere these days. It is the panacea for all educational ills. Still, many don't even know what it is and assume that it is S.T.E.M., which in my mind is the individual disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. To me, these disciplines with the "periods" in the acronym mean the silos of study that have been around for many years. STEM was promoted to better education and achievement for students in the United States who have fallen behind in math and science. It was work-force driven. We need qualified people who know and are able to do. Nothing is ever simple, and as time passes and STEM education evolves, the idea of what this protocol is and should include transforms.

STEM described by those I consider to be "in the know" and cutting edge educators, is an integrated pedagogy. I have written and talked about this much and of course, by this time I assume most get it. STEM education must center itself on the engineering design process (EDP). Through the use of the EDP, students can solve a real world problem, hypothesize what will work, test it and redesign or try again. In doing this, math and science content  are central, and success is not just learning content but applying it. Trial and error rules. Students are on an inquiry based adventure. The outcomes are not predetermined or expected and you do not FAIL if you don't get the desired results. Instead failure is success - a learning experience.

STEM education provides an opportunity to explore, discover and use what you know to apply to something new. Embedded in STEM education is content from math and science. The "E" is so valuable as it is the exploratory part of STEM where math and science are used and applied. Technology is anything new that answers or meets a want or need.  Again this is another misunderstood aspect of STEM.  Many schools think they are doing STEM if they have computers and iPads for students and people to service those needs. To them that is the T! I view STEM as a integrated pedagogy so what does that mean? And what does it mean to be an "outlier" of STEM?

An integrated pedagogy such as STEM education can pretty much mean anything, or rather include anything. Realistically the silo approach to learning isn't very good. Students learn a lot of individual content which they don't relate to other things. The world just isn't like that. There may be more of a particular discipline in a specific job, but we are complete people serving other complete people. So, yes, a physician has to be a good diagnostician and understand how the body works. But he or she must also deal with an individual and each person is different. There may be some facts to the diagnostic process, but it is not cut and dry. Finesse is needed to be a good physician. (Just a disclaimer that Medicine per se is not usually considered a STEM profession). The same for engineers. Each may use the specifics of their discipline but need to integrate other aspects of knowledge and communication. Collaboration is a part of the iterative process. Trial and error are key. The ability to apply knowledge reigns.

So, then what are the Outliers of STEMWhat else do you need to know and be able to do? Design and communication are obvious components to a STEM education. Thinking outside the box and having the ability to focus and persist even in light of failure are imbedded in any STEM job. The big question is: What are the other disciplines to include in the already integrated protocol of STEM? What are the outliers?  Do we add the "A" for the arts?  How about the other humanities and reading, writing and communicating? You can't do STEM without these. STEM education was created to improve the rigor and performance of students in the US in math and science where they were falling woefully behind. Was it intended to be a protocol for all learning? Or is it impossible to separate it all?

The devotees to the STEM disciplines get gnarly about adding other things and blurring the lines, at least some of them do. At the same time, to attract others to STEM, maintain their interest and offer additional opportunities for depth in learning, we need to add these other things. We need a variety of means to serve the goals. These components are the outliers of STEM but a valuable and viable part of the structure that makes STEM whole.

Here's a short video on what letter education notables think should be added to STEM:(click STEM!)