STE(A)M Education


carrie read signLet me start by sharing one of my own “proud parent moments”. I asked my teenage daughter Amy to do the dishes one night. With cocked head, hands on hips and eye roll in motion, I hear “ugh”. Now let me tell you a little about Amy. She is brilliant. I know I may be a little bit biased as I am her mother, but she truly is a gifted child. She skipped a grade and entered college early.

She began emptying the dishwasher and loading the dirty dishes. Some dish clanging in tow and counters half wiped off I walked into the kitchen just as she decided to throw a stick of butter into the garbage. Much to my astonishment I ask her (in a rather loud tone) what she was doing. And she looked at me and asked quite seriously “what am I supposed to do with the butter, the butter dish is in the dishwasher”.

I stood there stunned for a moment. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Our conversation went like this:  “Amy, what do you THINK you should do with the butter”. “Mom, what would you LIKE me to do with the butter?  “Amy, what are the OPTIONS for the butter?” “Mom, I don’t know, why don’t you just tell me what YOU would LIKE me to do with the butter?” At that moment, by husband walked into the kitchen and asked “are you two really arguing over the butter”? This was NOT about the butter.

We’ve all had our butter moments and she has since redeemed herself and even saved me from my own butter moments, but what about those people out there who don’t have just butter moments? They live a butter filled life?

I’d like to explain two definitions of STEM. First, STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There is also often an A in STEM for Art.  Science and art have an interesting intersection between them.  STEM in the traditional sense is about developing skills needed to work in a particular career field. Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication (all 21st Century Skills needed for LIFE) being some of them. By building these skills in young people and exposing them to these careers, the goal is to increase participation and interest in STEM fields. Many schools in our community (if they are integrating STEM) are focused on career paths.

The second definition is a little bit messier. Let me share a story of my other daughter Lydia. Lydia loves to build and play.  Recently, she told me she wanted to build a car. I had no idea what she was thinking she would build it out of but, I said ok. She had asked for a large box, but I didn’t have one. A little later I hear some grunting and banging sounds coming from the stairwell and she arose with a large box she had found. I was picturing something larger, but she just needed something big enough that she could sit in. As I watched, she found some duct tape, masking tape and a scissors and started her work. I watched as she taped pieces together and cut out windows. This second definition of STEM is about the process – the mindset. The students learn and study a problem, perhaps in the local community, and through designing and experimenting they come up with solutions to a better world. With the 4 C’s at the forefront, the students will not become “butter”. But instead, become the successful 21st Century workforce our country needs.


In a Nutshell:

Moving education forward to a more hands-on project based learning with a focus on 21st Century skills (collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication) as well as providing more equitable educational opportunities to underrepresented groups. West Fargo is already leading an effort in STE(A)M education, but more professional development and resources are needed to truly move education forward.  Schools in ND desperately need the resources to properly support their student population.  Class size, hands-on community focused learning opportunities and professional development are just the beginning of preparing our next workforce.