S.T.E.M. vs. STEM: Moving to a Transdisciplinary Education System

Grant T. Aguinaldo, Envilearn, LLC STEM


In a previous post, I explained why, as a scientist, I believe a [transdisciplinary approach is preferable to interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary ones]. That applies whether we’re talking about a particular field of science, teaching methods, or even the certification methods for those looking to teach.

There’s a particular irony in academia in that universities produce some of the world’s greatest discoveries and innovations, yet the environment in which these advances are made is often averse to change itself — which is why almost every state in the country finds itself licensing and certifying K-12 teachers via a system that is all but outdated. And that’s created a teacher shortage — and an even greater STEM teacher shortage.

Applying the Transdisciplinary Approach to Teacher Certification

Simply put, states still teach and license teachers based on a S.T.E.M. (single-disciplinary) approach rather than a STEM (transdisciplinary approach). (See [my previous post] for why I chose to use those terms.) Those disciplines’ old silo walls need to come tumbling down. Individual disciplines are taught in isolation from one another: There is little to no interaction between the disciplines, as well as no connections to how the material can be used in everyday situations. What’s more important in education than teaching how to apply knowledge to real life? And who better to teach such examples than those who have done so firsthand?

Not only do K-12 schools need to take a transdisciplinary approach to teaching so that students are better prepared for the real world, but they also need to hire teachers with real-world experience. And under the current licensing rubric (which is, of course, S.T.E.M., not STEM), the very individuals best poised to impart such knowledge are the ones being held back from doing so.

Because the certification process seems to preclude them, many STEM professionals never even consider teaching, when in fact their experience would make them the most effective educators.

STEM’s Bright Future

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM occupations are expected to grow at more than twice the rate than that of all other occupations (8% versus 3.7%, respectively). Not only that, but STEM careers have proven to be far more stable: According to the 2020 STEM Job Growth Index, during the coronavirus pandemic, those with STEM careers saw half the unemployment rate as those with only a high school diploma.

We will not be giving our students the ability to obtain such desirable, reliable careers if we limit the way they are taught and by whom they are taught. To provide the best possible chances of entering a STEM occupation, students need teachers who understand how all the components of STEM work together — and the best people to do that are those who already have the experience in doing so: STEM professionals.

About the Author

Grant T. Aguinaldo, Envilearn, LLC

Grant is a principal at Envera Consulting. As the Sherlock Holmes of environmental consulting, Grant solves current-day problems using modern tools. More on Twitter or LinkedIn. grant@grantaguinaldo.com