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July 10, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Guest: STEM education relies on innovation from all disciplines

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Mike Wierusz

As a former engineer and current high-school teacher, STEM is a frequent buzzword in my lexicon. But, like many others, I have found myself thinking that the STEM acronym is somehow incomplete. What about art? What about English? Many other disciplines play a vital role in developing our next generation of innovators. Outside of the education world, STEM does not exist in a vacuum.

Like a true engineer, I couldn’t shake the riddle. So I approached it as an engineering problem, taking a systems approach: looking at all the inputs and outputs. At that point I realized the source of confusion. Your definition of STEM depends on whether you are talking about the input or the output of the system. When looking at STEM as the output, to ensure economic development and global competitiveness, everything makes complete sense, and science, technology, engineering and math are the key disciplines of concern.

However, when looking at STEM from the input perspective, things get messy; the acronym breaks down and actually creates undue tension. And this is where I begin to worry.

The Northshore School District has worked hard to create a variety of courses, from composites engineering to biomedicine, that are at the nexus of theory and application. The design and engineering courses I teach are cross-credited and count as math and science credits for high school graduation. They also earn the students college credit. My students work alongside industry partners on real-world sustainability-focused projects ranging from off-the-grid vaccine storage for developing countries to supporting the design of a new high school for the district. People visit and like the STEM they see.

This is all exciting and important, but I’ve found it critical to keep in mind that the core STEM skills utilized in my classroom are developed and honed in all the other classrooms around the school. The students develop creativity and critiquing skills in art class. They learn research skills in English class. They learn teamwork and leadership in PE, clubs and sports.

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