BY JONATHAN FREDERICK
TL;DR version: Yes.
Slightly longer version:
There's a debate raging behind the scenes in the science education world. Should STEM -- traditionally defined as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -- be expanded to include the Arts (STEAM), or Religion (STREAM), or Health (uhhh...SHTEM)? The question has been met with eye rolls and sighs; meetings filled with derisive laughter, lots of shouting and lukewarm coffee being thrown in people's faces.
That last part may be overstated. (The coffee in the face part, that is. I have witnessed firsthand some high-quality eye rolling about the idea of STEAM. What can I say? Science educators have strong opinions. It's why I love 'em.)
People who know me know that when it comes to this kind of stuff, I tend to default to my taxonomy metaphor (which gets its own pretty fantastic set of eye rolls...). In taxonomy, you have your lumpers and you have your splitters. Your lumpers are people who want to find similarities in organisms and clump similar ones together. Your splitters on the other hand, like focusing on differences. They want to separate out organisms based on differing traits. They make distinctions for the sake of order and end up with lots of clearly defined categories. Both approaches have merits and make sense.
Which is why, when people ask me about STEAM, or ESTEAM, or STREAM, or SHTEAM, I pretty much say this:
"I don't care."
I don't. Which is not to say I don't think it's important to think about. But I honestly don't care about that as much as I care about interesting events and innovative activities. I want people to be able to attend high quality events that capture their imaginations and make them want to do more, learn more and play more. I don't see our Science Festival as strictly a science festival. I see it as a celebration carefully crafted to give people access to information and opportunity. It's about stuff. The world is full of amazing stuff and Science is here to help you navigate that. Art is here to help you navigate that. Religion is here to help you navigate that.
Connecting Science to the Arts, to Religion, to Entrepreneurship, and to Wellness is all great to me. Teaching them as separate and distinct things is fine and dandy, too. I want more of all of it.
Ultimately, we want people to have a fond association with Science however they get connected to it. That's why I'm personally very excited to see an ESTEAM event on our calendar this year, a STREAM event on our calendar this year, and of course, dozens of fantastic, straight-up STEM events.
Our good friend and head of the SMT Center, Dr. Sam Houston, says it well. Instead of STEM meaning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, why don't we think about it another way? He goes with "Strategies That Engage Minds."
And that, my friends, is something all of us lumpers and splitters can get behind.
See you out there in a couple of weeks,
Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. This year's Festival is slated to be our biggest yet, starting on Friday, March 28 and running through April 13. To find events near you, please see: www.ncsciencefestival.org.
Photo: STEM bumper sticker