Monday, October 21, 2013

STEM, STEAM, Then What?

All the fields are here

The STEAM acronym has been nagging at me for some time. Just in case you aren't familiar with it, STEAM is short for Science Technology Engineering Arts Math. STEAM comes on the heels of STEM: Science Technology Engineering Math. Prior to STEM there was ST/M and other less linguistically smooth relatives.

These acronyms are everywhere in discussions of education. No doubt you have heard STEM a lot - it's hard not to have. You may or may not have heard of STEAM yet (you will) and perhaps you never heard of ST/M. ST/M isn't used much these days, having been supplanted by STEM.

Things (the acronyms) started when people were looking for easy ways to shorthand the content topics that needed greater emphasis in schools. Especially in the US, but in other countries as well. All sorts of wordy discussions were popping up about how to improve student learning in areas necessary for economically competitive citizenry living in highly competitive global economies. See what I mean? Wordy.

Most of you reading this know the ins and outs of these conversations and all the interesting directions they go. The Common Core State Standards, The Next Generation Science Standards, and hey, why is computer science not there anywhere? Because, just in case you didn't realize it, it's not. Computer Science is Noticeably Absent.

But back to those acronyms for a moment and some implications stemming out of how they are used in discussions of education reform. (yeah, ouch)

STEM : education reform with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math. There has been increasing discussion of how to integrate these topics into all aspects of the curriculum. "Interdisciplinary" has taken on buzz-word status in some camps, but one can only hope that this means we are starting to recognize the need for more fluid boundaries in our exploration of the world. It is only in the past few hundred years that we have tried to isolate content matter so rigidly in order to perform controlled experimental studies. We have learned a lot (a LOT) from this approach, but we are often now crashing up against boundaries that require the addition of more holistic integrated perspectives.

STEAM - education reform that values the arts equally to the S T E and M and works to integrate them. Perhaps in part for purely practical reasons, advocates of STEAM appear to be working hard at integration as opposed to simply saying "hey we need Art too". Art is a harder sell in this day and age of economic imperatives and requests for "useful skills".

Pondering the seeming contrast of Art with the others, I realized there was just one more piece needed to find ourselves back to advocating a liberal arts educational foundation. Humanities. Right? In terms of providing a solid, critical thinking based, life long learning supportive education, we often include the need for broad distribution requirements that include Arts and Humanities. Wordy yet again. Hence the usefulness of an acronym. 

Funny how things might be coming full circle. If someone finds a way to effectively advocate for the Humanities, we will be acknowledging the need for a holistic, (hopefully) integrated education.

I'm wondering when someone is going to come up with an acronym that incorporates the H.

I've been playing with how to put in the H but so far I haven't found just the right fit.

HSTEAM     MEATSH    EATSHM    ATSEHM     I see a thematic basis in food (time of day?)
SHTEAM     MEATHS    EATHSM    ATHESM     throat clearing (reaction to allergens?)
STHEAM     MEAHTS    EAHMST    AHMEST     and lisping (sorry code buffs, not LISP)
STEAMH     HMAETS    MAEHTS    AEHMTS    Things (acronyms) are not looking promising.

What we need is to integrate computing into our acronym.


Rome wasn't built in a day; the Hoover Dam was built in 3 years. I think we're getting somewhere.

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