STEM education is a big topic (A U.S. Makeover for STEM Education: What It Means for NSF and the Education Department) .. But many of the proponents of STEM education take a policy view(aka STEM education is necessary) but not a practitioner view (How exactly do we foster STEM education).
At my edtech start-up Feynlabs – we take a Computer Science approach which naturally leads to STEM education because Computer Science relates to applying Computing to other Scientific and technical domains.
The question is – How can we practically make a difference?
My thinking is – platforms like the Raspberry Pi offer interesting opportunities for interconnecting STEM domains
Here is an interesting paper that provides some background – Why STEM Topics are Interrelated: The Importance of Interdisciplinary Studies in K-12 Education (pdf) by David D. Thornburg, PhD
1) The difference between science and engineering At a high level, it is useful to think of science as the study of the “found,” and engineering is the study of the “made.” Scientists concern themselves with the advancement of knowledge in the realm of natural phenomena. Even the most abstract theoretical scientists are concerned (at their core) with the explanation of natural phenomena that might be observed under the proper conditions. Engineers, on the other hand, use scientific knowledge for another purpose: the design and fabrication of objects for the advancement of mankind. Whether it is the design of a new telescope, or crafting a more flexible space suit, engineers generally have a specific goal in mind when they start their projects: a goal that relates to having something fabricated (rather than discovered as naturally occurring).
2) At the core, science involves the “scientific method,” a process of hypothesis formulation and verification that is taught to students at multiple grade levels. Engineering, on the other hand, has at its core the more flexible notions of creativity and innovation – attributes that are harder to quantify and teach, but that are essential in the engineering domain nonetheless. The creative process can be nurtured, but it takes a special effort and classroom climate to stimulate creativity.
3) Computers are technology, but technology is more than computers In the K-12 world, our tendency is to think of “technology” and “computers” as synonymous. While it is true that personal networked computers are powerful technologies, there are myriad other technologies of benefit to education. Some of these (e.g., telescopes) are high-tech marvels, and others (e.g., duct tape) are not. The point is that they are all technologies. It is essential, when thinking about the development of STEM skills, to be sure that “technology” is not restricted to computers, but, in fact, expanded to include all kinds of devices, instruments, and tools that can be applied in both domains of science and engineering.
4) And most importantly .. This brief look at the interrelationships among the four STEM topics reveals something of great power: they all reinforce each other in support of the overall growth of each topic
So, when it comes to the Pi – how does it play out?
Firstly, because the Pi allows us so much freedom to explore Computing, it allows us the freedom to apply Computing capabilities to different domains
But we can also see slowly applications into science itself (as described above)
For example – using the Pi to build a super computer and exploring Maths (Wrong result with log10 math function in armv6 on Raspberry Pi)
However, the most significant area where the Pi can be applied for STEM is simply the possibility to create interconnections between the disciplines and to explore across the stack which will highlight the interplay between the STEM domains (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)
Image source: Why STEM Topics are Interrelated: The Importance of Interdisciplinary Studies in K-12 Education (pdf) by David D. Thornburg, PhD