I was recently hired to teach 7th grade social studies for Vance County Schools in Henderson, North Carolina. What an adventure! Nineteen straight hours on the road from Western Wisconsin to North Central North Carolina! Google Maps said it would only take 15 hours 30 minutes! Way off Google, way off. I slept like a baby for sixteen straight hours afterwards. After reading Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess. I am ready and excited to meet my fellow shipmates, captains, and crew members. I will be involved in an early high school STEM program in a 1:1 laptop setting with iPod Touches available for checkout.
It seems as though many teachers are trying to change the acronym STEM to make sure that their content areas are not left out. For those of you who may be living under a rock or if you truly do not know, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. Some programs have added an A to the acronym. The A stands for the Arts and the acronym becomes STEAM. I also watched a presentation from ISTE 2013 where the presenter added the letters R and A making STREAM the R stands for reading and research. I even toyed with the idea of writing a post about the importance of social studies in a STEM program. I guess that would make it STREAMS. We shouldn’t leave out foreign languages or English/ Language Arts, or what about physical education? Would the new acronym become STREAM FLAPS ( Science, Technology, Reading, Research, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, Foreign Language, Language Arts, Physical Education, and Social Studies)? It can become a rather tricky business and many people can feel left out.
Hey, my Social Studies class is getting the axe!
We social studies teachers should not be worried about losing our jobs because of STEM initiatives. I understand STEM from the perspective of the National Science Foundation (NSF). “The NSF uses a broader category to define STEM subjects which includes subjects in the fields of Chemistry, Computer and Information Technology Science, Engineering, Geosciences, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, Social Sciences (Anthropology, Economics, Psychology and Sociology), and STEM Education and Learning Research.” (Source: Wikipedia)
According to the NSF’s broad definition of STEM social studies is an area that is included and I believe, that by extension, history and government are also included in a well rounded STEM program. “(In education) STEM generally supports broadening the study of engineering within each of the other subjects, and beginning engineering at younger grades, even elementary school. It also brings STEM education to all students rather than only the gifted programs.” (source: Wikipedia) It would be a gross oversight to exclude the fields of history and government because we do not want a nation of highly educated engineers and scientists who have no concept of how our government runs and the history that led up to our present situations. Just think about all of the engineering feats throughout history that created giant leaps in technology and quality of life for humans. For example aqueducts, the printing press, the compass, the astrolabe, etc. History and government cannot be left out of the STEM equation, however, there definitely needs to be more of an interdisciplinary or team integration/collaboration approach.
What about Foreign Languages and the Arts?
We all know that in order to compete in a global market, we need to understand other languages and cultures, so I believe that taking the study of foreign languages from the equation would also be foolish. Communication and collaboration across the world are necessary and we will still need people who understand the nuances of foreign languages. Where should I even begin with explaining how important the arts are in a STEM program? I think one name should suffice here, Steve Jobs. Just take a look at how Apple takes technology and integrates design to present a product that is practical and aesthetically pleasing. This cannot be done without creative artistic people. Arts programs should not be on the chopping block for any reason or any program! We simply need to have people who are creative and artistic, people who create wonderful music, who create stunning works of art, people who sculpt and build.
I do not think that we need to add any extra letters to the STEM initiative as people in STEM careers still need the other curricular areas in order to function fully in society. As for reading and research. . . I ask one question, how do we solve real problems without being able to read and research? The letters are not necessary to make sure that a content area is included in STEM. All current content areas are necessary in a well developed STEM program. I think many teachers’ fears about the focus on STEM are unfounded and that adding letters to the acronym are not the answer. Be the best teacher you can be and let your students engage in real world problem solving. A person is never too young to learn how to solve problems and understand engineering concepts. Get your kids out there creating, making, coding, experimenting and be supportive of their passions.