Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)

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What is STEM Education?

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education entails authentic learning experiences for all students with an interdisciplinary and applied approach where all fields connect in complex relationships. In today’s economy, problems are not solved in isolation of a specific discipline, but are solved through multiple approaches and perspectives. A strong STEM educational foundation helps to prepare our students for tomorrow’s world by emphasizing collaborative, innovative, quantitative and logical analysis rooted in a solid understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

How is STEM Education being refocused?

Recently there has been a shift in beliefs about the purpose of STEM education. Traditionally a STEM education focused on creating a pipeline of students whose educational backgrounds prepared them for a STEM-specific workforce. Today, the focus is on developing STEM-literate citizens necessary for success in any 21st century profession. STEM literacy is the ability to identify and acknowledge science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts and processes in everyday life.

STEM literacy comes from an understanding that it takes

  • a scientific approach to observe and interpret the world;
  • technology to serve as a tool to solve problems or reach a goal;
  • engineering to design, test and solve a problem through the creation of products or processes; and
  • mathematics to help quantify, comprehend and evaluate the problem and solution’s success.

As students become STEM literate citizens, they have the foundational content and the discipline processes to allow them make informed decisions and to participate in public/civil discourse concerning future STEM issues and technologies.

How does the vision for STEM education align with the Profile of a Virginia Graduate?

The Virginia Department of Education has aligned the vision for STEM education with the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. The Profile describes the knowledge, skills, experiences, and attributes that students must attain to be successful in college and/or the work force and to be life-ready in an economy and a world characterized by rapid change. Knowing facts and figures is not enough to prepare students for tomorrow’s future. Today’s economy requires people to be critical and creative thinkers, excellent communicators, collaborators and community-minded citizens. Developing well-rounded and prepared graduates starts early and must be a part of the learning environment in kindergarten through high school. The Virginia Department of Education will ensure that these vital skills are part of every student’s education.

Engineering Design

Engineering design practices are similar to those used in an inquiry cycle; both use a system of problem-solving and testing to come to a conclusion. However, unlike the inquiry cycle in which students ask a question and use the scientific method to answer it, in the engineering and design process, students use existing scientific knowledge to solve a problem. Both include research and experimentation; however, the engineering design process has the goal of solving a societal problem and may have multiple solutions. The engineering design process below is from the 2018 Science Standards of Learning

The engineering design process is iterative.  Although there are steps to the process, movement between the various steps may not be sequential and may be repeated as the student or engineer develops potential solutions to the problem.  The process includes:

  • Define the problem and determine the parameters
  • Brainstorm potential solutions
  • Research the problem (this can be done before the brainstorm session)
  • Pick one solution, plan a prototype, and determine what data to collect to determine its effectiveness
  • Build the prototype
  • Test the prototype
  • Improve the prototype and test it again
  • Communicate the results

 Refer to Why EiE for more information on the engineering and design process.

STEM Resources

STEM instruction allows students to engage in cross-disciplinary learning experiences as they utilize the disciplinary practices of science, mathematics, and computer science. This can be done as students apply mathematics and data analysis when conducting a science investigation, applying mathematical algorithms when developing computer programs, or applying their understanding of these disciplines when solving societal problems while utilizing the engineering design process. 

Resources have been developed to support elementary teachers with aligned cross-curricular instruction and the use of the engineering design process. These design challenges are housed in the #GoOpenVA STEM Collection and were developed in collaboration with teachers in Virginia.  Each design challenge is aligned to a minimum of two different discipline Standards of Learning.

For more on STEM instruction in Virginia, please contact Anne Petersen, Director of STEM.