What Does STEM Stand for in Education?

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STEM Meaning & Definition

In education, the acronym STEM stands for the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM education, then, is the learning of these STEM subjects through an integrated approach; one that offers hands-on and relevant learning experiences.

The argument for STEM education is that there needs to be more of it incorporated into everyday schooling, starting at a young age for students around the world.

It’s not only the benefit of learning science, technology, engineering, and math as one, but also gaining skills of problem-solving, exploratory learning, and critical thinking that go hand-in-hand with those subjects that make STEM education valuable. Not to mention that proficiency with STEM skills is a must for anyone traversing the future job landscape. There are many reasons why STEM is important.

What is a STEM course?

A STEM course is one that focuses on the integrated disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math through hands-on learning and projects rooted in real world challenges, thus preparing students for a degree and the future job landscape. This course can take place in school, with after-school programs, or at a STEM summer camp, etc.

All of this shouldn't really be a surprise, right?

Given the upwards trajectory of the term the last few years—along with all-star backing from celebrities, President Obama, and a number of specialized organizations across the country, we all probably have at least a general familiarity with STEM.

Ok, but what does STEM truly STAND for?

Meaning, when you think about STEM, what does it look like? Is it just a mushy ball of goo that just seems to seep from one side of your brain to the other every time you hear it? "Ah, STEM, yes, I hear so much about it that it must be important, whatever it is..."

Or, rather, is it a well-built, durable structure that has taken such solid form in your mind that it is actually propelling you towards a new hobby, a college degree, or even a future career (like these students)? The former probably feels more familiar for many.

So take a step back and ask yourself, "what does science look like?" Science is a subject we are all acquainted with. What about technology? C’mon, you KNOW technology. Engineering might be a little more obscure to some, but Math is a recognizable friend in the crowd. Thus, STEM is just a fancy way of bringing all of these things together to make proliferating their importance easier.

This also might help:

STEM jobs and applications

A STEM job is any occupation that requires STEM education and utilizes STEM skills. STEM jobs do not only include programming or coding, or the tasks of a computer technician, engineer, etc.

And even if  that was all that STEM had to offer, there are a bundle of different, specific career paths one could follow, and not just be relegated to "Hi, I'm Ryan, and I'm a programmer!" We are talking music data journalist, ESPN statistician, Spotify machine learning engineer, LEGOLAND designer. They are all STEM jobs.

Here are some cool articles that highlight just how flexible the term can be:

STEM and Law Enforcement from the SF Examiner
STEM and Sports from OC Register
STEM and Monster Trucks from the Times of San Diego
STEM and the Zoo from the Minnesota Zoo

My point is don't take anything on its surface. A lot can be uncovered if you open a book, overturn a rock, or ask a simple question (and yes, asking Google "what is STEM" certainly counts). STEM has a very understandable book definition, but it is what you do with it that really allows it to take form.

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!