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What is STEM?

The meaning of STEM varies depending on the context in which it is used. It originated as an acronym politicians and workforce planners used to label a group of professions upon which economic developed depended, and in which some countries were having difficulty attracting people.

This focus led to a range of initiatives, including streamlining pathways into university, the provision of scholarships, programs to support gender equity, attempts at the social popularisation of science, and many others.

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STEM as an education focus

Recognition developed that attitudes toward the STEM areas were formulated throughout a child’s schooling, and so STEM education became a focus.

The initial (and continuing in some contexts) goal of STEM education was to develop positive attitudes toward these areas so students would be more likely to pursue careers in STEM.

This of course was not enough for educators, who need rationales related to improved learning outcomes in order to embrace an integrated approach to these curriculum subjects. And so developed STEM goals related to literacy and 21st Century skill development.

Integrating STEM

Through project, design and inquiry based activities, the hypothesis is that students will develop an integrated and sophisticated literacy of the world around them, while also developing skills related to creativity, innovation, critique and communication that all citizens need.

However, it is unrealistic to think that all school education, even within the STEM areas, will be integrated; there will always be a need for education, research and practice in independent disciplines.

So rather than representing the mission of the STEM Education Research Group, the STEM acronym represents what the group does: it respects the integrity of, and consequently engages in, research into the individual STEM education disciplines, but it also recognises there is a place for their integration, so accommodates research into integrated STEM education.

There are many variations of the STEM acronym, developed to include the arts, or the humanities, or medicine, or society, for example. The STEM Education Research Group does not deny the validity of these various approaches in other contexts, but at this point in time, in the School of Education, this represents what we do, as a development from the former Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC).