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The problem with STEM… or is it STEAM? – Getting to the root of subject specifics

Coming from the North West, we give them the proper name of Barm cakes.

Try asking for this in London though and It’s the same death stare you get when greeting people on the tube. Swing a left on the M5 and you’re heading into Lardy Cake territory?? Check out the map for your own handy debate generator. Original article here

There is one thing that everyone can agree on however. You eat them!

Unfortunately, a different identity crisis is starting to affect STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths)… or is it STEAM now? This is due to arguments around Art having a significant part to play in these disciplines.

You might say fair enough in principle. After all, creativity is inherent with STEM for sure. The problem here though, in contrast to dialects with baked goods, is that subject specifics are starting to cloud the issue around what you do with STEM education.

I think that we can all agree that STEM naturally encompasses multiple subject areas. I would argue that there are opportunities for humanities to take a place at the table too but I’m not going to start championing SHTEAM as that would be massively missing the point.

The core principle, in my mind, is preparing primary and secondary students for college and graduate study in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It’s about pupils finding solutions to real problems as local as within school, or as global as the planet we inhabit. It is a very relevant area for teachers to explore and we need to be nurturing this interest to make a positive change within the world.

I’m confident that most teachers can comfortably bring in elements of other subject areas without having to physically identify them in the first place. It happens naturally anyway. STEM is an example of transdisciplinary learning at its finest and perhaps starting with four touch points from the beginning was a recipe for disaster. I do however understand why this was originally the case as it was about generating interest within vital career areas.

We can’t ignore though that the classroom is a battle ground for coverage of subject areas. The discrete tin can learning approach is something that a lot of schools are trying desperately to move away from. I personally remember having to colour code planning when a lesson included maths or PSHE links for example and would challenge anyone to explain to me how this is anything more than box ticking.

There is a large, curriculum shaped lynch pin, in education around subject specific areas and it muddies the water with anything that starts to move away from this brief such as STEM. I’ve never been in a work place where anyone has had maths meetings in the morning and then tackled geography emails that afternoon. Careers are inherently transdisciplinary by their very nature.

We are preparing pupils for life after the classroom which is why they are with us in the first place right? Let’s concentrate on the ‘why’ with STEM and not get hung up on subject ticking.

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The author

As an excitable teacher, global educational speaker, change instigator and hopeless optimist, James has a Masters degree in Educational Studies, and a passion for research based, modern-day learning that works. Having worked in a range of teaching establishments in the UK, as well as trying his hand in France to see if you can actually teach successfully with no language skills, James has always approached classroom practice from a number of angles. Aside from a short un-fulfilling week as a vacuum demonstrator, he held the position of Head of Year 6 at a large school in London, and was successful in driving up the overall exam results. His senior management experience has allowed for the development and sound understanding of the rigours of school improvement and an insight into the interconnected roles of staff, pupils, parents and the wider school community. James has 15 years’ experience working closely with schools on a 1:1 basis to improve the use of digital technology in classrooms and delivering effective and relevant professional development.

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