What is STEM Education?

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STEM refers to the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  STEM initiatives started as a way to promote education in these related areas so that students would be prepared to study STEM fields in college and pursue STEM-related careers. Schools with a strong emphasis on STEM education often integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into the entire curriculum.

On a given school day, students benefitting from an education that integrates STEM into the learning process may collaborate on an interactive white board, use a simulation program to graph and model formulas through spreadsheets to learn algorithms, manipulate molecules to understand reactions, use handheld devices to collect and analyze data to solve real-world environmental problems, or use sophisticated technology to understand the connections between music and mathematics.


Why STEM Education is Important

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Students need an education with a solid foundation in STEM areas so that they are prepared to both work and live in the 21st Century. Since the 1960s, the demand for skills has changed significantly – the demand for routine manual task skills have decreased, while the demand for non-routine interactive task skills have increased significantly. Workforce projections for 2014 by the U.S. Department of Labor show that 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations require significant science or mathematics training to successfully compete for a job.2According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, professional information technology (IT) jobs will increase 24% between 2006 and 2016.3 However, as jobs requiring a solid background in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics are growing – more students are choosing not to major in these areas.

An exhaustive list of STEM disciplines does not exist, but some common disciplines are:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the only American federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences, so another way to identify STEM fields is to look at the NSF strategic plan and the fields it supports. It lists its disciplinary program areas as:

  • Biological Sciences
  • Computer, Information Science, & Engineering
  • Education & Human Resources
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Research & Education
  • Geosciences
  • International Science & Engineering
  • Mathematical & Research & Education
  • Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences
  • Cyber infrastructure
  • Polar Programs
 

 

(Some cross-cutting programs have been omitted from this listing.)

The Department of Labor identifies fourteen sectors that are "projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy or affect the growth of other industries or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers."

  • Advanced Manufacturing Automotive
  • Construction
  • Financial Services
  • Geo-spatial Technology
  • Homeland Security
  • Information Technology Transportation
  • Aerospace
  • Biotechnology Energy
  • Health Care
  • Hospitality
  • Retail
 

 

The Department of Labor's O*NET site, which offers about 1,000 occupational descriptions, allows the database of occupations to be searched by eight STEM disciplines:

  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Geosciences
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Physics/Astronomy