What Is STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math)?

Boy and girl learning robotics in classroom

Hero images / Getty Images

STEM is an education curriculum that focuses heavily on the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEM schools and programs approach these key educational subjects in an integrated way so that elements of each subject are applied to the others. STEM-focused learning programs span from preschool through masters degree programs, depending on resources within a given school district or region.

What Is STEM?

STEM is a growing movement in education, not just in the United States but around the world. STEM-based learning programs are intended to increase students' interest in pursuing higher education and careers in those fields. STEM education typically uses a newer model of blended learning that combines traditional classroom teaching with online learning and hands-on activities. This model aims to give students the opportunity to experience different ways of learning and problem-solving.

STEM Science

Classes in the science category of STEM programs should look familiar and include biology, ecology, chemistry, and physics. However, your child's STEM-focused science class is not the kind of science class you might remember. STEM science classes incorporate technology, engineering, and math into scientific studies.

STEM Technology

For some parents, the closest thing to technology classes may have been playing learn-to-type games during occasional computer lab sessions. Technology classes have definitely changed and may include topics like digital modeling and prototyping, 3D printing, mobile technology, computer programming, data analytics, Internet of Things, machine learning, and game development.

STEM Engineering

Much like technology, the field and scope of engineering have grown considerably in the last few decades. Engineering classes might include topics like civil engineering, electronics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and robotics—topics many parents could not have imagined learning as early as elementary school.


Similar to science, mathematics is one STEM category with classes that will sound familiar, such as algebra, geometry, and calculus. However, STEM math has two main differences from the math parents remember. First, kids are learning more advanced mathematics at younger ages, with introductory algebra and geometry starting as early as third grade for some students, even those not enrolled in a STEM program. Second, it bears little resemblance to math as you may have learned it. STEM math incorporates concepts and exercises that apply science, technology, and engineering to mathematics.

Benefits of STEM

STEM has become a buzzword in education. Many people have a superficial understanding of STEM learning programs, but few grasp the impact it has on the larger picture of education in America. In some ways, STEM education is a long-overdue update to our overall education system, intended to bring kids up-to-speed on the skills and knowledge most relevant in today's society.

STEM initiatives also do more to reach and encourage females and minority students who may not have shown interest in STEM subjects in the past or may not have had strong support to pursue and excel in STEM subjects.

Criticisms of STEM

Critics of STEM education believe the in-depth focus on science, technology, engineering, and math shortchanges students' learning and experiences with other subjects that are also important, such as art, music, literature, and writing. These non-STEM subjects contribute to brain development, critical reading skills, and communication skills.

Another criticism of STEM education is the belief—alleged to be mistaken—that it will fill a coming shortage of workers in fields related to those subjects. For careers in technology and many careers in engineering, this prediction may be true. However, careers in many scientific areas and in mathematics currently have a shortage of jobs available for the number of people seeking employment.

Was this page helpful?