Understanding STEM Education
By Megan Tung
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM programs encourage students to get involved with various forms of science and math. I have grown up in the Silicon Valley constantly surrounded by STEM opportunities, programs, and classes. In high school I was able to further pursue my interests through electives, such as Electrical Engineering and Neuroscience. Because of my bias in favor of STEM, I decided to reach out to other students and teachers to hear their opinions about STEM.
To each person STEM might mean more than just Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Stanford University freshman, Anna Boonyanit, says "STEM is the study of the most readily advancing fields ranging from computer science to chemistry". Aaron Zaubi, a teacher in both Physics and Engineering, believes STEM connects the four subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. One of those subjects cannot be effectively taught or learned without integrating the other subjects. Additionally, “the history of [those subject’s] development is inextricably intertwined”.
Examples of STEM programs
SAILORS (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory's Outreach Summer) is a program at Stanford University for rising 10th graders. SAILORS aims to expose high school students from underrepresented populations to the field of Artificial Intelligence.
The Hoover Community School location of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP) partnered with Menlo students to teach an afterschool robotics program to middle schoolers. The students were able to build robots using Lego Mindstorms kits, then create code to allow their robots to maneuver obstacle courses.
Menlo School has a program called M-BEST, which fosters student's interests/passions towards STEM fields through "daylong workshops in STEM related topics, which includes speakers from the professional or academic world and hands-on activities. This program focuses its efforts towards inspiring females to pursue their interests and create confident, passionate female leaders.
According to American Association of University Women, girls are graduating high school with more math/science credits, but tend to not continue these fields in college.
TechBoston Academy (TBA) is a 6th-12th grade public school in Dorchester, Massachusetts. TBA dedicates their time and resources to preparing their students for college and beyond. Two years ago, a six-week electronics course started where the students built a simple circuit that would turn on an LED when a shadow covered a sensor. Enough students were interested in the course the school allowed Zaubi to try the engineering class as a whole course this past year. This program consists of various projects to "introduce students to specific concepts and components fundamental to electrical engineering".
Benefits of STEM
Many STEM programs have curriculums where the students learn about STEM subjects in an interactive, fun, and hands-on environment. Due to increased STEM programs there are more women being introduced to and pursuing STEM careers. STEM programs closely resemble the world and job market as they are outside of school. Zaubi believes "students need to learn to employ a variety of problem-solving tools and skills if they are to be prepared to enter the work force or go on to higher education."
Downfalls of STEM
With the increasing STEM popularity, some schools have increased the amount of STEM classes offered. However, in many schools the amount of arts and humanities classes have either remained the same or decreased. This uneven ratio could make students feel pressured into taking STEM classes, even if it is not their passion or strong suit. This issue is not a problem with STEM itself, but rather how people let STEM dominate over the humanities.
Brad Ward, a teacher at Menlo for ten plus years, has seen the available courses at Menlo School morph over time. “STEM courses increased over the years, while humanities and social sciences were de-emphasized” says Ward. I looked at the number of AP/Honors (H) STEM classes compared to the other AP/H classes. The school offers 15 AP/H STEM classes, 3 AP/H creative arts classes, 9 AP/H humanities classes, and 5 AP/H language classes. As a Silicon Valley high school it is understandable why there are so many STEM AP/Honors courses, but students wanting to study in the humanities should have an equal opportunity to choose from just as many courses. A majority of the other schools in the Silicon Valley were similar in the aspect that there were more STEM AP/Honors courses offered compared to humanities, creative arts, and language courses.
Silicon Valley's effect on involvement with STEM programs
Since Silicon Valley places large emphasis on STEM, Boonyanit believes living in the Silicon Valley has encouraged her to explore and become more involved with STEM. Ward has observed "it is impossible to escape STEM in Silicon Valley – we are the headquarters of Apple, eBay, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Cisco, etc. – and so I think that has naturally trickled down into Menlo's curriculum."
Joe Schmalzried grew up in a farming town in Indiana but did not want to pursue a farming career. Schmalzried took more STEM classes and avoided agricultural/shop classes. Many raised in the Silicon Valley have a different experience because they often feel pressured to pursue a STEM career. However, he had to do the opposite by avoiding popular agricultural/shop classes to pursue his interests in STEM. He was able to succeed with at least 75% of his classes each semester being STEM-related.
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. One of the questions I asked was whether including the Arts in STEM (to become STEAM) is an improvement. Among everyone I interviewed, they unanimously agreed STEAM is an improvement. STEAM is better because the arts remind people to use their creative side to solve problems.
Zaubi believes "the most effective engineers, programmers, technicians, and mathematicians, etc. are good designers", without the arts "STEM education won't produce students who can create anything people will eventually WANT to buy or use".
Megan Tung is a summer intern at Jameco Electronics and a freshman at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Her interests include photography, music, business, and engineering.