The intent of this article is to examine current taxonomies used to design and deliver Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (i.e., STEM) curriculum in an effort to attract a greater variety of students to the STEM field of study in the K-12 public school environment. I analyzed specific aspects of STEM-based programs to compare STEM education components to traditional college-preparatory methods of instruction, including looking for environmental practices that may attract female and first-generation college attendees toward developing a positive attitude toward attaining a STEM education. I also made connections between current instructional trends and their impact on student mastery.
Keywords: STEM, integration, student-centered, problem solving
How STEM Education Improves Student Learning
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (i.e., STEM) education has emerged as one of the most sought after curriculum designs for integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into K-12 education. It first became popular as a means of serving the needs of mathematically gifted students, providing opportunities to both accelerate learning and increase the rigor and depth of learning. This combination afforded opportunities for motivated students to advance into special classes, including taking college classes in high school and receiving college credit for advanced classes taught during high school (Wai, Lubinski, Benbow, & Steiger, 2010). Empirical studies have concluded that course acceleration in itself is not a strong enough factor to improve individual learning; however, learning activities where students practice using integrated skills to solve problems allow for deeper and more meaningful student learning (Wai et al., 2010). Originally, STEM education was directed at highly talented students (especially in Mathematics) and highly motivated students who were interested in exploring and learning a greater depth of material at a faster pace to practice strong reasoning skills and to develop and strengthen learning. STEM education attracted a concentrated population until practices and methods were integrated into mainstream K-12 education and seen as opportunities to provide equity for motivated but disadvantaged students from a variety of backgrounds. “In 1983, A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education [NCEE], 1983) established the resurgence for the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) movement in education” (Mahoney, 2010, p. 24).
The call for STEM integration to better secure the future of American education, and America itself, led to the development of national standards in education, developed by organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, and the International Technology Education Association (Mahoney, 2010). Design and implementation of the curriculum infused with the four essential STEM subjects has produced a variety of teaching models and practices, making it difficult to evaluate program effectiveness. Some common educational practices include educational discovery as a form of problem solving, cooperative learning, and subject integration; thus encouraging students to work together to design solutions to problems in a foundational and authentic environment using real-world data and problems. According to Mahoney (2010), there has been little research done to study the improvement in learning using the aforementioned instructional practices.