“Educational encounters, to begin with, should result in understanding, not mere performance”Jerome Bruner

What is STEM-literacy?

Currently, there is no single definition of STEM-literacy. A couple of studies have assigned contextual definitions to it. Reports such as “STEM” by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (GCEW), refer to a set of “core cognitive competencies (knowledge, skills, and abilities)” associated with STEM fields. The report claims that STEM training results in improved skills in the areas of critical thinking, complex problem solving, deductive and inductive reasoning, and problem sensitivity, to name a few. These “core cognitive competencies” might be considered STEM-literacy.

At Team Metric, we support the STEM-literacy model articulated by Dr. Alan Zollman of Indiana University Southeast (IUS). Dr. Zollman suggests that STEM-literacy should not be viewed as a discrete content area but rather as a set of cognitive skills developed to gain further learning. Rather than students simply memorizing a specific formula to solve a problem, Dr. Zollman’s work emphasizes the problem-solving and critical thinking skills involved in true understanding of a concept.

Thus, Dr. Zollman’s work emphasizes the need to evolve from learning for STEM-literacy to engaging STEM-literacy to learn.

The below section is taken directly from Alan Zollman’s paper called “Learning for STEM Literacy: STEM Literacy for Learning” published Jan 2012. Notice the interconnected relationship between Reading-literacy and STEM-literacy:

Literacy and STEM Background

Traditionally, being literate was viewed as the ability to read and write, but now literacy encompasses more than these two capabilities. Shanahan (1992) includes recognition, fluency, comprehension, and composition in his definition of literacy. The National Council of Teachers of English states that twenty-first-century readers and writers need to:

  • develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia text
  • attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments (NCTE, 2008)

UNESCO (2008) goes further: Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society. This definition is coupled to UNESCO’s four pillars of learning: (1) learning to know, (2) learning to do, (3) learning to live together, and (4) learning to be.

The theme in all these definitions is that literacy is more than reading comprehension. And Team Metric agrees. However the educational community shall eventually define STEM-literacy, one thing is for certain. The cognitive training received in effective STEM classroom instruction aligns with other abilities that are in high demand — abilities like deductive reasoning, mathematical reasoning and problem sensitivity. These are the “problem solving” and “analytical” skills listed as qualifications needed for even entry-level employment. At Team Metric we believe that the cognitive training gained during STEM instruction is required by all employers and benefits all students. If the U.S. is to educate its children to compete in a knowledge-based economy, of course, more STEM graduates are needed, but of equal importance is a STEM-literate population.

Single measurement STEM instruction is the first step in establishing a STEM-literate population

For more than 200 years, the modern metric system has been advanced by incorporating scientific discoveries into its definitions. The units (centimeter, milligram) have simple and consistent meanings. The conversions are always by 10. The same six prefixes are used throughout the entire system to simplify the vocabulary. For each characteristic to be measured (except mass), only one unit is defined. That unit can then easily be scaled from very small to the very large by using one of the same six prefixes. The system allows unit conversions within all measures by merely moving the decimal point the correct number of places in either direction. In the classroom, once a student masters the units within one measure, they immediately understand the unit relationships throughout the entire metric system. Not only is class time regained through transferred metric unit knowledge but also class time is saved because metric computations are 44.9 % faster and less error-prone. (Tew, 1985).

The primary purpose of the metric system is to facilitate easy mathematical and scientific calculations. By simplifying the calculations and nomenclature and by eliminating the need to convert between two different measurement systems, we would free the student’s brain for higher-order thinking.

Moving into the Future: STEM-literacy would bring US education to the next level

After metric-only STEM instruction is more prevalent, Team Metric plans to focus our energies on creating a comprehensive solution based upon the above concepts of STEM-literacy. We believe a better STEM educational model would focus less on memorizing content knowledge and more on superior cognitive training. A STEM model whose primary goal is to educate children to think critically about the many data sources available to them and promote the higher order thinking skills needed to compile and apply that information successfully. Ultimately, we believe the goal of education is to create a workforce with intellectual curiosity which is a basic requirement in a “life-long learner.”

As a first step, Team Metric would work to prohibit all multiple-choice tests in STEM education and increase the credentials needed to teach STEM subjects in all of K-12 education. We believe it is more important to educate a child to create and support an answer, not simply train them to choose one. We would also work to change deep-rooted attitudes about STEM subjects, such as perceiving mathematical ability as a “gift.”

We promote the same message to parents, students, and teachers: that STEM-literacy is not an innate ability for a chosen few. Rather, it is your child’s reward for hard work and determination to master interesting, but sometimes quite difficult, subject matter.