What is STEM?
STEM is simply an acronym to cover science, technology, engineering and maths. However, there can be confusion as it has been adopted by different groups to mean different things. It is worth making sure you are talking about the same thing.
- Some people may use the term as shorthand their local STEMNET contact, eg, we had STEM in last week to do some activities with the children, or do you work for STEM?
- In some cases the description of STEM is very broad, including subjects from medicine to astronomy, engineering to IT. In others it can be much narrower: A few years ago the HE STEM project looking at STEM in universities put the focus on chemistry, physics and engineering as 'shortage subjects'. Initially, the National STEM Centre only considered 'Design and Technology' to be in their Technology section, due to funding obligations, but now it is much broader, including ICT or Computing.
- STEMM? New acronyms keep popping up. STEMM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine, and is mostly seen at university level.
- STEAM is a relatively new acronym which has A for Arts. This has cropped up in various guises in the US, such as STEMtoSTEAM and STEAM-notSTEM where the concern is to ensure creativity is still valued. In the UK, especially in primary school, this may be less of an issue, as creativity and design are seen to play and important part in engineering and technology in particular.
- Meanwhile British Science Week has rebranded back to 'science' avoiding STEM although it covers technology, engineering and maths as well. It was seen to be too clumsy.
The conclusion is that, as with any acronym, it is worth checking not just what it stands for, but the context in which it is being used!