Integrated Curriculum

STEM is the well-known acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics that is a current buzz word in education, where it seems everyone is pushing for better STEM education.  When talking to most teachers, or even technologists, a precise definition of the differences and inter-relationship between the various components of STEM is lacking.  What is the difference between science and engineering?  Is technology different from Engineering?  How can we teach STEM if we can’t precisely define the components of STEM?

Here is a working definition of the various STEM components:

  • Science is the study of the natural world, where experiments focus on only one phenomena at a time in order to better understand that phenomena.
  • Engineering describes, and then designs, more complex devices that typically have two or more science principles occurring simultaneously.
  • Mathematics is the language of science and engineering.
  • Technology is the construction and operation of devices and processes that have been designed using engineering principals.

Science is focused on simplifying processes to obtain a deep understanding of just one phenomena. In contrast, Engineering embraces the complexity of real-world devices and processes that invariably have multiple phenomena occurring at the same time.  Technology is the implementation of engineering design in a functional device.  And Mathematics is the quantitative language of science and engineering.  Each of the components of STEM has a different purpose and different methodology, but all are inter-related and needed in our modern technologically driven world.

The Technology and Engineering components of STEM are just as important as Science and Mathematics, although Technology and Engineering are often overlook in most the educational program of most high school students.

Math, Science, Technology, and Engineering in a Venn Diagram all connected to the center labeled "STEM"Do we teach STEM in our public schools?  Most schools teach science and mathematics.  A few programs have some technology, e.g. a robotics club, etc.  And almost no high schools teach engineering.  Thus, we really don’t teach STEM.   The focus on science and mathematics does prepare students to pursue a BS degree in science, engineering or technology, where at university they are introduced to the relevant technology.  However, what about the majority of students who do not pursue a science, engineering or technology BS degree?  For these students, the T and E component of STEM are probably equally, if not more, important than the S and M that is the current focus.  One is not arguing for replacing science and math with engineering and technology; rather, the various components of STEM need to be better balanced and better integrated.

Even with respect to science and mathematics that are taught, the connection between these two subjects is weak.  Mathematics is typically taught as an abstract subject only marginally connected, if at all, to the physical world. This is how a professional mathematician thinks, where math is logical and beautiful in its own right and does not need any physical connections to be valuable.  However, students learning mathematics often ask: “Why should I learn this, because I will never use it for anything I am interested in?”  This is not an unreasonable question.  Most scientists and engineers learn the math as needed to solve problems they are interested in.  Even as renowned a scientist as the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein learned the geometric methods needed to describe special relativity only when he needed this higher level of mathematical abstraction.

Hardware Store Science
evGrandPrix Education Program
An Integrated STEM Program

Hardware Store Science, in conjunction with the evGrandPrix electric go-kart program, will provide a more balanced STEM education.  The hands-on science experiments allow students to discover science principles, where they use mathematics to both analyze their data and make predictions about the phenomena they are studying.  The individual science principles are then connected in the go-kart.  As one example, consider a go-kart rapidly turning the corner generating centrifugal force that is balanced by the friction between tires and the pavement which generates heat in the tires.  The three processes of centrifugal force, friction and heat are individually studied in Hardware Store Science, but then are combined in an engineering analysis to determine the most effective line the go-kart should take in the corner to minimize the centrifugal force and have the most energy efficient path.   Finally, in the construction of the individual Hardware Store Science experiment, students are introduced to basic ‘making’ technology (see the discussion in ‘Making That Leads to Manufacturing’); and subsequently, a major component of the evGrandPrix go-kart program is having students design, manufacture and test the technology of an electric vehicle.

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