It stands for “Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics” and it’s a buzz word in education circles these days. This is especially true because programs advancing the cause of STEM may be eligible for federal funds (through the National Science Foundation). I benefit directly from such programs, since the masters degree I am currently getting is fully funded because I am a ‘secondary STEM teacher.’

The term is abused, since everyone wants to call what they’re doing “STEM.”

NCTM President J. Michael Shaughnessy hits the nail on the head in this great article (I just posted one of his articles the other day). I’ve included a few snippets here, but I encourage you to read the whole article.

STEM: An Advocacy Position, Not a Content Area

by NCTM President J. Michael Shaughnessy

More and more these days, in educational meetings, conferences, and policy arenas, the talk is that “it’s all about STEM.” STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and it has rapidly become a driving force in educational policy and funding decisions in the United States. I find both strengths and problems with the current STEM discussions across our professional communities.


He provides a balanced critique of the STEM label as it’s used nationally and locally.

As a political advocacy position, STEM—that is, STEM funding and STEM initiatives—is of critical importance to the health of the mathematics and science education communities. In this arena, STEM makes perfect sense. It is when the term “STEM” filters down to states, districts, schools, and pre-K–12 teaching that the waters can become muddled.

The Problem with STEM

The translation from national policy to the rhetoric of state and local politics can give rise to generalist discussions about STEM programs and STEM schools, which in turn can lead to the dilution of important mathematics content. Terms such as “STEM program,” “STEM school,” and “STEM curriculum” are proliferating in our educational jargon. The acronym is shifting from a noun that represents four crucial content areas to an adjective that is used to describe just about anything and everything that anyone is doing related to science or mathematics. STEM is becoming the word du jour, because that’s where the funding lies. One can almost hear the cry in the halls of state departments of education, school district offices, principals’ offices, and school corridors: “We do STEM!” But what exactly does that mean? What are the specific innovations in the teaching and learning of mathematics and science that states, districts, and schools are implementing when they refer to themselves as “STEM intensive” or as having “a STEM program?” We should ask our leaders exactly what they mean when they use the word “STEM.” We deserve more than a generalist blanket response that represents a grouping for funding without specific content or pedagogical substance.


And of course, with an obvious bias (with which I agree!), Shaughnessy goes on to say,

With all due respect to our colleagues in the other disciplines, we assert that the letters in STEM are not all of equal importance in the pre-K–12 education of our students. Mathematics is paramount, mathematics is primal, mathematics is the most important STEM discipline.


Read the whole article here.



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