The education world has a love affair with acronyms. And why not? They're fun. They break down complex, multi-word concepts into one-syllable words even kids can pronounce.
But when schools got wind of STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — it was a match made in heaven. No one could have predicted how catchy the acronym, coined by the National Science Foundation in the early 2000s, would become.
Its appeal only grew when the United States realized it desperately needs to catch up on math and science education. Soon businesses and policymakers, alarmed at American students' low scores on international tests and estimates that the U.S. will have 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs by 2018, were referencing it.
STEM gained popularity in a way its clunky predecessor SMET, which existed long before, never did. What a difference shuffling the letters made.
Soon, there were takeoffs. There's E-STEM, which adds an environmental focus. STEAM includes the arts or applied mathematics, whichever you prefer. Would you like to throw some religion or writing, minus the "w," in there? Then there's STREAM. If you want robotics or health care, try STREM or STHEM. Tack on medicine and you get STEMM.
Let's be honest — things may have gotten a little out of hand here. There seems to be a STEM-related acronym including every academic subject ever offered by a school, except maybe gym and social studies.
The trend has caught on locally as well, with entire schools using STEM and its variations as themes. There's Valley Middle School of STEM in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, one of the district's two STEM schools. Not to be outdone, this year Lakeville hired specialists to teach elementary students about STEAM. And Prior Lake-Savage has proclaimed itself an "E-STEM district."
Time will tell if all this focus on math and science will have positive results for American students — the future labor force. Until then, STEM is everywhere.