TED Conversations

Michael Martinell

Migrant/ESL Instructor, Watertown Public School

This conversation is closed.

Is STEM a lie? Should science, technology, engineering, and mathematics be taught in school?

A few days ago I asked a question of the community as I was seeking ideas into how to implement STEM into an English as a Second/New Language classroom. Most of the comments contained some good ideas and thoughts that I will be seeking to implement. A couple of the people who responded surprised me, as they contended that STEM should actually not be taught in school, or at least not in the manner that it currently is. I am interested to find out what others think regarding this issue.

The conversation that sparked this question is: http://www.ted.com/conversations/19495/what_are_your_ideas_to_inspire.html

  • Jul 19 2013: This student is the living example of STEM Education! We need more student like him in our system and his ideas are wise for his age also:

  • thumb
    Jul 17 2013: Sum it up....
    Teaching is selling. Your product is information. You have to convince your buyers that they can benefit greatly if they take the information you are selling and use it to create their knowledge. And why do they need knowledge, they will ask? You sell them that knowledge is power. Their power... the power they will need to take control of their lives. Without this power, others will control their lives. Nobody wants that.

    Oh, and all good salesmen/person will tell you not to oversell, once you have them, let them draw out the product as fast or slow as they can buy into it. If you give them too much, they will feel overwhelmed and cut you off... to slow and they will get bored and cut you off.
    Selling is the hardest job in the world. Selling good is even harder.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      Jul 17 2013: "even death appears less convincing if you through in string theory."

      This is probably a different topic, but I had never heard this bit before. Interesting.

      I do like your take on this - I will have to adapt it for my use. It is evident that you are passionate about the subject.
  • Jul 16 2013: I work in a elementary school, so I'll give my two cents on the subject. STEM (science, technology, and math-sorry engineering since you don't come into play until college for some!) is being taught in school. The sixth graders at the school were being taught the periodic table! We're talking about the freakin' periodic table here! One of the sixth grade teachers commented to me that she didn't learn the periodic table until sometime in high school, and that was back in the 70's when she went. I learned the periodic table in high school too.

    I think because of the constant backlash you hear from society talking about how the education system in the United States isn't on par with places like India or China is just forcing school districts across the United States to do all these things that were being taught in school, but at a different age and not as heavily.

    You also have to know that despite the constant teaching of these things to children, some of them just aren't going to grasp everything or pick up everything faster than someone else because their brain isn't "wired" to grasp a lot of science, technology, and math compared to other people.
    • thumb
      Jul 16 2013: You may have hit on something here.
      Remember, under current federal guidelines, all American children have the same intelligence, learning capacity,
      nutritional intake requirements, are the same height and weight and the same race, creed and national origin. All children are to be taught equal. Any deviation to this policy could be a violation of law or get you called names like... child hater.
    • thumb
      Jul 17 2013: Ryan; 6th grade, huh? That is an exciting time to start getting exposure to advanced concepts. I know that not everybody will learn, but they can certainly be exposed so that they can figure out whether they like it or not. Today I was teaching summer school with a group of second graders. We were discussing weather the room was hotter towards the ceiling or floor. Despite thermometers, playing with balloons, and actually feeling with their hands some of them were still convinced that it was cooler at the ceiling. They based this opinion on the fact that I had a fan pointed upwards in this classroom that did not have air conditioning.

      Mike: ....yes a good name....
      My job within the education system, in addition to teaching kids to speak the English language, is to fill in education gaps in whatever disciplines they are weak in. As you stated no two kids are alike, and it is insulting to everybody when the politicians insist that they are. NCLB has done quite a bit to hurt students. It may have helped a few, but the constant focus on tests are hurting us all.
  • thumb
    Jul 16 2013: Michael.... a good name...

    YES and YES. As an acronym, STEM is a lie. Stem is a small twig, using the word as an acronym is just wrong for the major aspects of the human existence. If not in school, where would you teach them. Not to say our education system is broke beyond belief. So, fix the schools, teach.... STEM... I had to bite my tongue... and get young adults up and running with the knowledge they need to excel. It's not rocket surgery or brain science....
  • Jul 16 2013: Michael,

    sorry the prior conversation closed before I could make some recommendations. I read the major comment about STEM being a lie.

    i disagree with the individual.

    I believe the purpose of STEM is to teach the basics so that they can survive in the world and if they have the interest and ability,they can move into the related fields.

    On a separate topic, I have recommended people going into the technical fields to do their undergraduate work at liberal arts colleges. A major lack with many graduates in the technical field, BS,MS,and PHD, was the inability to write and speak and in some cases, read.

    I would recommend merging history, reading, writing, and speaking with the STEM work. How about doing the experiments of Archimedes with relating it to the technology of the time to now with a look at the societal situation of the times of Archimedes.
  • Jul 16 2013: Hi Micheal Martinell:)I read your two topics here,it seems we works in the same field:teaching at school and the teaching subject is about science,technology engineering and mathematics.I am very curious about your curiculum crouse in Technology.Did you teach children any about computer programming?what computer language do u teach them in programming?I taught students to program with VB...It is the most difficult for students to learn and understand,and I was trying any method to motivate them to learn it.

    I read your introduction,especially about education,that makes two of us.would you like to contact me,let's learn from each other.
  • thumb
    Jul 16 2013: I believe it fundamental to the advancement of our species, and our inevitable integration with technology (such as prosthetics which are already being implemented) that we teach science, mathematics, and engineering (technology being a combination of these) to kids early on. This is so that children can be familiar with how the world really is, and not be oblivious to their surroundings.
    That being said, I do not approve of how these subjects are taught. In classrooms nowadays we teach kids that science is memorisation, mathematics is calculating, and engineering is following blueprints, all of which can be done by machines. Our purpose as humans should be to explore new ideas within these subjects, and leave the more base aspects to the machines designed for it (such as the calculator).
    While I understand that basic knowledge is necessary for the development of new ideas, I find that the joy of these subjects is being sucked out from them, leaving them as dry husks of their former selves.
    • thumb
      Jul 16 2013: So how would you fix the approach so that it is relevant and interesting?
      • thumb
        Jul 16 2013: Studying physics, I'm probably not the best contender to fix it (I'd asksomeone who studies education) but if I'm forced to answer here is my response.
        The teacher is important, I myself remember the difference between a teacher who properly knew the subject and was enthusiastic about it, always being excited when someone brought him complicated questions, rather than going "oh thats not really in the curriculum".
        The class room should also be structured around the student, not around the teacher. By this I mean that instead of the teacher sitting (or standing for that matter) and spewing out information at the students, the students should be encouraged to actively ask questions and figure things out from themselves. To start this process, one might ask students questions, and ask them why when they answer (regardless of whether their response is good or not).
        I believe praise is alway a key factor in making students interested in a subject, but be careful not to lay too much weight on one student, make them all feel important.
        Finally, no facts! By this I mean don't merely say that something is, explain the whole story behind it, with all the wrong turns and the eventual right solutions. If someone said "And this is the equation for the momentum of a ball p=mv which was found by Newton", I'd be pretty bored. If, however, someone said "alright so why does a ball slow down?" someone might answer friction, at this point say "well what if I told you momentum must be conserved?" (if momentum has been explained). Most students will be dumbfounded, and then somehow let them figure out that its actually giving momentum to the whole earth by gentle prodding.
        What I'm essentially trying to say is let the students figure things out for themselves, and begin to enjoy asking questions and finding answers, and by doing so you will make the students interested in the subject, and inevitably better at it, as they think more.

        This is my take on the problem, hope it helps.
        • thumb
          Jul 17 2013: You seem to be on the right track. Constructivism, as you have described, is the best learning method. At least that is my opinion.
  • thumb
    Jul 16 2013: "STEM should actually not be taught in school, or at least not in the manner that it currently is."

    these are two very different statements. which is it?
    • thumb
      Jul 16 2013: That was what the original poster contended. I believe the meaning is it should not be taught, or if it is to be taught it should be done differently. So, being a curious sort, I decided to get some additional thoughts from others. Personally I think it should be taught, but I am always interested to learn from the ideas of others.
  • Jul 16 2013: I don't get it. These are all disciplines like everything else.
  • thumb
    Jul 16 2013: There have been so many changes over the years in how science and math have been taught in school, from the lecture-type deliveries of decades ago to the more authentic experiment and inquiry-based strategies that are typical in the current day. Every child can benefit from learning environments that provide opportunities to think and work in the manner of these fields, what Bruner called representing these fields with integrity. Engineering sorts of problem solving are natural for inclusion in physical science curricula.

    At this point with computers being as ubiquitous as they are, instruction on how to learn with computational tools also makes good sense.
  • Jul 16 2013: Well, of course scientists in a specific field will not want to be classified by the broad title of STEM. But the distinction of STEM compared to other fields is important to maintain given that the STEM fields all have a commonality that is important to students: they all have very secure employment. Personally, although the different fields in STEM may be radically different, it is important that they be grouped together so students have a category to fall back on in case another plan doesn't work out.