STEM: What’s in a Name?

I get why STEM is especially important now, when technology is invading every part of our work lives and home lives. I get why we want today’s students to be well educated in science, engineering, and math so that they can fill good jobs in these arenas in the world of work, so that they as individuals and we as a country can compete internationally, and so that progress can continue to be made on so many fronts. The public high school that I helped to co-found was an Early College career and technical education school focused on engineering, architecture, and technology (two out of three isn’t bad). So, I get it.

STEM: What's in a Name? by Regina Paul at Policy Studies in Education.

But, being a fine arts enthusiast, I have enjoyed commentaries over the past couple of years from educators wanting to add an “A” to STEM—to make it, of course, STEAM (actually a bit old-fashioned sounding, but their hearts are in the right place). I imagined that the proposed “A” was for “arts” (that is, “the arts” plural—visual art, music, dance, and theater), and I was happy about that. Recently, I read the following intriguing explanation in the 2014 Annual Report I received from my graduate school alma mater, Teachers College (TC), Columbia University:

…we stand apart in preparing teachers in the arts and other fields to interweave digital tools and materials into teaching that is playful, collaborative, entrepreneurial and multi- and cross-disciplinary. Professors Burton and Richard Jochum, together with doctoral candidate and Instructor Sean Justice, are fashioning a new concentration in Creative Technologies within our Art & Art Education master’s and doctoral programs. Their vision is that art is about agency and that artists are creative entrepreneurs who fashion practical approaches to realize opportunities—valuable skills in every profession and every area of life. In broadening the nation’s teaching focus from STEM to STEAM—that is, by adding ‘art’ to ‘science, technology, engineering and math’—they seek to inspire teachers and students alike to apply a very wide range of imaginative approaches to the solution of everyday questions and problems. (page 5)

While that reasoning is not entirely clear to me, it certainly sounds promising. So, I am going to continue to assume that the “A” includes all of the arts, because I like to think that those of us who are dancers (and I did take a great dance course when I was at TC) can “apply a wide range of imaginative approaches to the solution of everyday questions and problems” as well as visual artists can.

But what about my colleagues in the social sciences and in history? I truly believe that they can “fashion practical approaches to realize opportunities” and that they can use technology in cross-disciplinary research and teaching and real-life problem solving. So, could we add, say, “SSH” for social sciences and history? It works pretty well at the end of the word—STEAMSSH. Or, if you prefer “HSS,” you could have STEAMHSS, which is almost onomatopoetic, like the hiss of escaping steam.

Who’s still missing? Well, the English language and literature crowd. If we could make them settle for an “R” for reading, you can easily see how STEAMSSH could become STREAMSSH. And you can still pronounce it.

While I haven’t solved the inclusion of some other academic fields in my new acronym—especially all other languages, which I feel bad about—I believe that we have just about everybody else in the boat. Just as we should. Because having all the attention on STEM misses a lot of what makes an education great. Maybe that’s what I learned at TC after all.

About Regina H. Paul, President

Regina Paul, President, Policy Studies in Education and Co-Host, NYCollegeChat Podcast

During more than 35 years at Policy Studies in Education, Regina H. Paul has developed traditional and innovative K–12 curricula in all subjects, developed K–12 student assessments for school districts and states, created parent materials and trained parents, created policy systems for school boards and trained school board members, and designed and conducted evaluation studies. She has provided curriculum and evaluation technical assistance to over 400 school districts and market studies for over 150 colleges.

Most recently, she served as the chief consultant in the design and establishment of City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology, New York City’s first public Early College high school with a career and technical education focus. City Poly created an innovative trimester system that enabled students to complete high school in three years instead of four.

Ms. Paul conceived, designed, and wrote I Can Be…, a series of K–8 multicultural curriculum units that infuse knowledge and attitudes about the world of work into core instruction in the academic subjects. She also conceived, designed, and wrote ArtWorks, a series of K–5 curriculum units that integrate national curriculum standards in visual art, music, dance, theatre, language arts, and social studies into units to be taught by regular classroom teachers.

She has served as a consultant to state legislatures, state boards of education, state education departments, federally funded educational research laboratories, and foundations and has conducted workshops at nationwide and statewide meetings of school board members, superintendents, curriculum directors, and principals. She has given presentations for the National School Boards Association, National Governors’ Association (in the U.K.), American Association of School Administrators, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and American Educational Research Association.

She co-authored the Educational Goals Survey kit (published by the National School Boards Association) and two books for school board members—Time for Curriculum and Curriculum and Assessment Policy: 20 Questions for Board Members. She also co-authored a publication for the Illinois State Board of Education on validity and reliability in student assessment and has had articles published in Educational Leadership and Foreign Language Annals.

Ms. Paul received a B.A. from Cornell University and an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University.

About Henry M. Brickell, Chairman

Henry M. (Mitch) Brickell founded Policy Studies in Education in 1973 and has directed the work of its over 500 projects. He has addressed local, state, and national audiences of teachers, administrators, school board members, legislators, and citizens in most states over the past 55 years. He was named one of the first Distinguished Professors of the National Academy for School Executives, operated by the American Association of School Administrators for the training of administrators.

Dr. Brickell created the Davies–Brickell System of School Board Policy Making and Administration, which is the basis for the policy systems used today in most school districts nationwide, and he is a nationally recognized expert in the training of school board members. His policy system has served as the foundation for PSE’s project work in numerous school districts and training sessions conducted in most states in the U.S.

Early in his career while on special assignment to Commissioner James E. Allen, Jr., at the New York State Education Department, Dr. Brickell wrote the landmark book on educational innovation, Organizing New York State for Educational Change. He has authored numerous other books, book chapters, and articles for professional educational journals (e.g., Phi Delta KappanEducational Leadership, The College Board Review). He served as a chief speaker and author for the Education Commission of the States during the debate over minimum competency testing for students. He co-authored Americans in Transition, published by The College Board, about the national trend of adults returning to college.

Dr. Brickell served as the American Educational Research Association’s representative to the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, which published benchmarks for the sound evaluation of educational programs. He served on the panel that chose the original sites for the federally funded educational research and development laboratories and centers; as the longtime chair of the outside review panels that oversaw the work of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and Research for Better Schools; as the outside evaluator for projects conducted by the National Center for Research in Vocational Education; and as an advisor to the Council on Educational Research and Development, the national association of federally funded educational research labs and centers.

Dr. Brickell directed statewide studies for legislative commissions on planning public and nonpublic education in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He planned and carried out a statewide professional conversation on the redesign of teacher education in Ohio and, later, presided over a months-long debate for the Ohio State Senate on how to improve the cost-effectiveness of public education in the state. He chaired the National Institute of Education’s conference on exemplary youth employment programs and prepared the conference report for the Vice President’s Task Force on Youth Employment.

Previously, Dr. Brickell taught high school English in Illinois, served as an assistant superintendent for the Manhasset (NY) Public Schools, taught at New York University and Stanford University, and served as Associate Dean for Research and Development at Indiana University. He earned a B.S. from The Ohio State University, an M.A. from the University of Chicago, and an M.A. and Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University.