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Disentangling the meaning of STEM: implications for science education and science teacher education

Akerson, Valarie L.; Burgess, Angela; Gerber, Alex; Guo, Meize; Khan, Taukir Ahmed; Newman, Steven


Valarie L. Akerson

Angela Burgess

Alex Gerber

Meize Guo

Taukir Ahmed Khan

Steven Newman


We have a wide variety of teaching experiences, from formal settings in elementary school, high school, higher education, and teacher education to international settings and also to informal settings. Despite our multiple teaching settings and experiences, and the fact that all of us have been responsible for teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in one fashion or another, none of us could really define any characteristics of STEM that would indicate it was a separate discipline. If we were supposed to teach STEM, then there should be some indication of what STEM would actually be. Although all but one of us are science educators, none of us has ever taken an engineering course, though we are familiar with the engineering standards in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013). We did a bit of research and found that Bybee (2013) suggested that the meaning of STEM is ambiguous and could even be considered political. It could be seen as a buzzword to gain attention and funding. Instead of stating that their work is in STEM education, researchers could share their STEM project, which could gain attention and possibly more funding as it connects to the newest buzzword. Is STEM (or any of its variations) more than a buzzword? How can we include all of the components of STEM in education in an integrated and meaningful fashion, and how can we help prepare teachers to do so? We decided to do a bit more research. We focused on describing and defining the natures of the disciplines that make up STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—and then attempted to combine these characteristics to define the nature of STEM (Peters-Burton, 2014). To provide ourselves with some background knowledge, we broke off into pairs or worked individually and conducted research on the natures of the individual disciplines. Of course, if we had had a team that had included math educators and engineering educators we would have asked them to take the lead on the natures of mathematics and engineering. So first, we briefly describe the natures of these individual disciplines, from our perspectives as (mostly) science educators from Indiana University. Though we are an international group, with half of us being from outside of the United States, we take a U.S. perspective simply because we are all currently at Indiana University. We are speaking from our context at Indiana University and acknowledge that reactions and work in conceptualizing STEM may be different in other settings.


AKERSON, V.L., BURGESS, A., GERBER, A., GUO, M., KHAN, T.A. and NEWMAN, S. 2018. Disentangling the meaning of STEM: implications for science education and science teacher education. Journal of science teacher education [online], 29(1), pages 1-8. Available from:

Journal Article Type Editorial
Acceptance Date Jan 1, 2018
Online Publication Date Feb 12, 2018
Publication Date Feb 28, 2018
Deposit Date Oct 18, 2022
Publicly Available Date Oct 18, 2022
Journal Journal of Science Teacher Education
Print ISSN 1046-560X
Electronic ISSN 1573-1847
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 29
Issue 1
Pages 1-8
Keywords STEM; Engineering Mathematics; Technology; Science teacher; Education; Science
Public URL


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