STEM is an acronym that is commonly used throughout education, but not everyone understands what it means. Science, technology, engineering, and math are all pillars that help support so much within our society that studying these subjects in both high school and college is essential to the functioning of our world. STEM courses are offered at every high school, but some high schools offer STEM-specific tracks, and other high schools are STEM-specific high schools. There are so many ways that students can take STEM courses.
In this article, we’ll be discussing what exactly STEM is. We’ll break down what a STEM program is and a STEM high school. We’ll even be talking about the benefits of pursuing a STEM-based education and how STEM can help your future, regardless of what you want to study or where you want to work.
What Does STEM Mean in Education?
STEM is an acronym that is used throughout education to describe courses of studies or careers that fit into the category of natural science and engineering. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. It encompasses everything from biology and chemistry to mechanical and nuclear engineering.
In a traditional high school, every class offered in the science department would fall under the category of STEM. Every school teaches some STEM classes since every state has a certain number of years of science and math courses required of their students.
The main difference between traditional high schools and STEM high schools is the number of STEM-focused courses outside of the required courses. Since all students are required to take a number of STEM courses, only the extra courses are outside the norm, making STEM schools stand out from their traditional counterparts.
Another difference between traditional high schools and STEM high schools is their extracurriculars. In traditional high schools, you will likely find a large variety of clubs and activities that the school sponsors. You are more likely to find STEM-themed clubs and activities in a STEM high school, such as robotics or science-based quiz competitions. These extracurriculars help reinforce the concepts that are being taught in the courses at STEM high schools.
What is a STEM Program in High School?
A STEM program in high school is a course of study that students who are interested in dedicating more of their time to STEM classes than other classes. Students in a STEM program are still required to take English, History, and Languages, just like every other high school student in their state. They just happen to take many more STEM courses on top of their state-required courses as opposed to electives like art or music.
Typically, schools with a STEM program or even STEM-specific schools receive a lot of grants from STEM agencies to help get more students into STEM. In particular, STEM programs often have great scholarship opportunities for women and students of color to apply if they plan to pursue a STEM degree in college. These grants and scholarships can be a great way for students from low-income areas to be able to continue their education after high school.
Some schools might offer a STEM program that is specific to one of the letters in the acronym, such as a science school or an engineering school. Given that around 70% or more of the jobs in STEM are found in the field of computing, more and more schools are investing in their computer science departments and starting to build a STEM program in their school.
One thing that helps differentiate STEM high schools from more traditional high schools is the emphasis on hands-on learning. Many STEM schools offer more research projects, more collaboration with professionals in the field, and more out-of-class experiences. These schools are great options for students who don’t feel that the traditional education system works well with their learning styles.
STEM programs and STEM high schools are located all over the country. Some are focused on design, both in art and tech, such as the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design. Others are more focused on computer science and technology, such as the Phoenix Coding Academy. Others, such as iTech Prep, focus on project-based learning throughout STEM fields. This is only a very small sampling of the variety of STEM schools that are available across the county, so if you think a STEM school might be right for you, see if there are any in your area.
What are Examples of STEM Classes in High School?
STEM classes are found in every high school, so every student will take some during their tenure in high school. The most common STEM classes are the required science classes, which are usually biology, chemistry, and physics. Other common STEM courses include all required math classes, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. These courses are only the start of what courses count as STEM classes.
Many schools offer some pretty exciting science and engineering-based elective classes that students can take if they want to. Depending on the resources and funding available to the school, these classes can range anywhere from botany and zoology to mechanical engineering and computer science. These elective STEM courses are a great opportunity for students interested in pursuing a career in STEM to figure out what category of STEM courses interests them the most.
Although often viewed as less exciting than science, technology, and engineering, math is essential for any STEM field. Most high schools require that students take four years of math classes, so you will be taking a STEM class every year of high school. Some math departments also offer elective courses in higher-level math theory or the mathematics of something else. These are great course options for students who think they might want to pursue math in their higher education.
Some schools will offer STEM courses that align with their location so they can utilize the area around them as an outdoor classroom. For example, if you live near the coast, your school might offer marine biology. Your school might offer a geology course if you live in the mountains. STEM courses can help connect students to the world around them and help give them a sense of place, something that many schools really value.
Below are some of the more common STEM courses you might find outside of the required curriculum in high school.
- Coastal ecology
- Urban ecology
- Computer science
- Mechanical engineering
- Human anatomy
- Mathematics of music
How Does STEM Help High School Students?
STEM classes are known to have various benefits depending on the student and the course itself. Overall, STEM classes have been found to improve students’ problem-solving abilities. This is a skill that is often lacking in the traditional education system since most schools in the US operate on a teach-to-a-test model. This means that schools tend to teach students what they need to do well on their exams. They don’t teach students the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that will help set them up for careers and their future.
Along with the improvement in problem-solving skills, many schools with an emphasis on STEM classes have found their students to have better communication and collaboration skills. These skills are essential to STEM subjects, so they are often emphasized more in STEM classes than in other classes. Learning how to communicate effectively and collaborate with others are essential skills to know as you start to enter the workforce, regardless of what career field you are going into.
STEM courses also tend to be more focused on research, meaning that students are able to design and carry out their own projects over a long amount of time. Developing their skills at managing a long-scale research project is a super helpful skill that colleges and future employers will love. STEM education is a great way to start developing these time management and planning skills.
How Important is STEM Education for Students?
STEM education is essential for students’ success in high education and beyond. Even if you never continue your STEM education and you never work in a STEM field, STEM courses can teach students so much more than just the subject at hand. Learning how to communicate and work with others is an integral part of every job, and STEM classes have been shown to help grow this particular skill set in students.
Technology might be the biggest career field when it comes to STEM jobs, but it is most certainly not the only part of the acronym that the world relies on. As the world starts to rely more and more on technology, the importance of STEM education is only going to grow. Technology is one of the fastest-growing fields worldwide, so getting students excited about and invested in a future in tech will help keep the world functioning.
Sustainability is another rapidly growing field both in terms of college programs and career options. Although it might seem like all STEM courses of study and careers are super intense, sustainability or environmentalism offer great options for career tracks within STEM that rely slightly less on math and slightly more on human-to-human interactions. If you think that STEM might be right for you, but you love working with people with all sorts of different interests, you may find a career in sustainability to be right up your alley.
STEM education, in general, is super important, even in a traditional high school setting. Every state requires all of its students to take both science and math classes, showing that every state recognizes the importance of including STEM courses in a well-rounded education. Students’ critical thinking skills in their STEM classes will even help them out in their other classes, further emphasizing the importance of STEM courses throughout high school.
Wrapping Things Up: What is a STEM High School?
If you are intrigued by any of the subjects included in the STEM acronym or think you might want to pursue higher education or a career in any of the STEM fields, perhaps attending a STEM high school or a high school offering a STEM program might be best for you. We hope that through this article, we’ve shown you some of the many benefits of STEM education and why you might want to consider a STEM education for you or your child. STEM is the foundation of so many amazing careers and opportunities!