Finding 11. Although the term “STEM education” is used in national education policy, it is not implemented in a way that reflects the interdependence of the four STEM subjects.

Although the committee did not target K–12 STEM education initiatives specifically, based on the personal experience and judgment of committee members, the great majority of efforts to promote STEM education in the United States to date focus on either science or mathematics (generally not both) and rarely include engineering or technology (beyond the use of computers). By contrast, the committee’s vision of STEM education in U.S. K–12 schools includes all students graduating from high school with a level of “STEM literacy” sufficient to (1) ensure their success in employment, post-secondary education, or both, and (2) prepare them to be competent, capable citizens in a technology-dependent, democratic society. (The three school case studies described in the annex to this chapter represent varying degrees of STEM integration.) Engineering education, because of its natural connections to science, mathematics, and technology, might serve as a catalyst for achieving this vision. The committee was not asked to determine the qualities that would characterize a STEM-literate person, but making such a determination would be a worthwhile exercise.

RECOMMENDATION 7. The National Science Foundation should support research to characterize, or define, “STEM literacy,” including how such literacy might develop over the course of a student’s K–12 school experience. Researchers should consider not only core knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but also the “big ideas” that link the four subject areas.

Pursuing a goal of STEM literacy in K–12 will require a paradigm shift by teachers, administrators, textbook publishers, and policy makers, as well as by scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians involved in K–12 education. Standards of learning, instructional materials, teacher professional development, and student assessments will have to be re-examined and, possibly, updated, revised, and coordinated. Professional societies will have to rethink their outreach activities to K–12 schools in light of STEM literacy. Colleges and universities will have to cope with student expectations that may run counter to traditional departmental stovepipe conceptions of courses, disciplines, and degrees.

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