Do we want STEM education or do we want STEM learning?

December 21, 2018 at 3:39 pm 2 comments

I’ve mentioned a couple times that I’m working on using programming in teaching social sciences.  The goal is to teach STEM concepts (e.g., modeling, simulation, using graphical representations like charts, thinking about bias/skew and missing variables in big data, etc.), but in non-STEM subjects.  I argue that the “non-STEM subjects” part is key if you want diversity, if you want to draw in people who aren’t naturally going to show up in STEM classes.
I bounced this off an NSF program officer, and I got a pretty strong: “No.”  I’ll quote part of the response here.
While this is an intriguing idea, no, it would not be fundable in the XXX program as it does not involve the engagement of STEM faculty or their courses, assessments, or materials, or STEM majors.  (All of these are not necessary, but STEM is necessary, not just STEM learning.)
XXX is not just about improving or supporting STEM learning.  It is about improving STEM education.
There’s a distinction being drawn here between “STEM learning” and “STEM education.”  It’s an interesting and important distinction. I’m not at all saying that the officer is wrong.  This program officer is saying (paraphrasing), “It’s not just about learning STEM concepts. It’s about supporting the infrastructure and mechanisms through which we teach STEM.” (By the way, since this exchange, I’ve found other NSF officers in other programs that are more focused on STEM learning not just STEM education.)
That’s a fair concern. We do need STEM classes, curricula, assessments, and faculty. But if we really care about interdisciplinarity and broadening participation, we need to care about more than that.  We need to fund efforts to integrate STEM learning and use STEM thinking (e.g., Bacon’s Novum Organum) across the curriculum, to influence how we think about everything. We also need the infrastructure to support the institution of STEM education. The challenge is doing both.
There is an obvious connection to computing education.  We need more computer science teachers, curricula, tools, and classes. But we also need more students learning about computing, which might happen more inexpensively in mathematics, science, and social science classes. How do we prioritize?

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

What is programming-as-literacy, what does it look like, and what should we worry about? Alan Kay in Scientific American A little bit of computing goes a long way, and not everyone needs software engineering: The SIGCSE 50th Anniversary issue of ACM Inroads

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark L. Miller, Ph.D.  |  December 21, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    NSF does have the STEM+C program, which is about bringing computation to STEM learning in non-CS classrooms. But your point is certainly well-taken in other respects.

  • 2. rademi  |  December 22, 2018 at 11:35 am

    Might there be other funding sources (perhaps targeting the educational programs which would benefit) for enhancing non-STEM programs with STEM tools and/or concepts?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,246 other followers


Recent Posts

Blog Stats

  • 1,654,690 hits
December 2018
« Nov   Jan »

CS Teaching Tips

%d bloggers like this: