STEM in Elementary and Middle-School Education

STEM is often misunderstood as simply the inclusion of science, technology, engineering, and math in a school curriculum.  Actually, STEM is an educational approach that integrates the traditional subjects of math and science along with the application of technology and/or engineering principles.  According to Dr. Patricia Fioriello at, a STEM curriculum is characterized by inquiry-based learning, discovery, and problem-solving, and requires students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution.  ENVISION Executive Director Jan Morrison claims that STEM education allows students to make sense of the world holistically, rather than in bits and pieces, a goal strongly supported by Westminster’s classical educational approach.  Advocates in government, economics, and business promote STEM education as crucial to ongoing innovation and invention, which they believe are key to America’s success in the world marketplace.

In recent years, leaders in education and industry have expanded the initiative to include art, expanding STEM to STEAM.  STEAM proponents believe that art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century, just as science and technology did in the last century.  This movement, championed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), has been widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals.  However, as Vince Bertram, CEO of Project Lead the Way, writes:

It's not about adding to the acronym, but instead adding to the relevancy of learning. It's about showing students how technical concepts relate to real-world situations and providing them with hands-on projects and problems that help them apply concepts in a new context. It's about nurturing students' curiosity and helping them develop creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills.

At Westminster, these goals have always been core to our classical curriculum.  Furthermore, the school’s emphasis on arts education gives students many opportunities to practice creativity and build confidence in their own ideas, laying a strong foundation for future innovation and invention so eagerly sought by STEM advocates.  (Click here to read about Westminster’s well-rounded arts program.)

As we consider the value and practicality of the STEM approach in an elementary and middle-school program, we recognize that many foundational elements are already in place.  (Click here to view STEM activities that are included in Westminster’s curriculum and extracurricular programs.)  Our mission, which advocates a well-rounded, liberal arts approach to educating children, would never confine itself to the commercial goals of industry or government.  However, considering the shared principles of the Westminster program and the STEM initiative, we are exploring ways to increase STEM awareness and opportunities for our students.


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