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Q&A: The Long-Term Benefits of STEM

Discovery Education, along with Oak Ridge National Laboratories and the College Board, is part of the Siemens Foundation's latest initiative—the Siemens STEM Academy (siemensstemacademy.com ). Discovery Education also released its own STEM Connect module last year. Scholastic Administrator asked Bill McDonald, Discovery Education's curriculum director, about recent trends in STEM education.

Q Some schools have dramatically changed their curricula to foster a STEM-friendly, project-based way of working. Others have offered students access to STEM-based programs located outside the school. Is one model more effective than the other?
A I worry that trying to solve the problem by relegating STEM to projects outside of the school sends the message that STEM itself is a separate subject. Not that those projects don't have their purpose and value, but change is needed in district curriculum and instruction to seamlessly blend the content.

Q What do you see as the long-term benefits of a bigger focus on STEM?
A Connecting the disciplines for students opens the door to more meaningful curriculum that is relevant to the century in which they will live. If you have a problem to solve and you go to the Internet, you move seamlessly to and through whatever area can provide the relevant information, regardless of whether it's a math area, a science area, and so on. That's the way 21st-century businesses solve problems, too. Whatever works. So why teach students that science only answers this type of question and mathematics only solves that kind of problem?

Q How do engineering and technology fit into the STEM puzzle?
A Engineering and technology are part of our world, but exactly what they are is a mystery to most students. Many think technology is all about computers and cell phones, but businesses like 3M can show you hundreds of technologies they've developed that have no electronic parts. Engineering is about solving problems, and it's no longer limited to buildings and bridges. In the 21st century, new technologies are engineered and emerge every day, and those people who can use science, mathematics, and engineering to solve new problems will be the ones to produce marketable products and services.


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