Technology is changing the world at a rapid pace, and students of today must be prepared to engage in global problems, assimilate within an increasingly automated workforce, and develop as critical thinkers and active citizens. In short, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) must become a mindset through which students view and process their world to solve the problems of the future.
According to Google, a mindset is “the established set of attitudes held by someone”. In essence, a mindset is the lens through which you view the world, your ‘philosophy on life’. It is your mindset that determines your thoughts, decisions, and ultimately your actions.
The concept of mindsets is not new in education. Based on the work of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, the growth mindset asserts that students and educators “understand that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They…believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it” (Heggart, 2015).
As the Next Generation Science Standards are systematically adopted, we are seeing a transformational shift in the ways in which students are required to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information within the classroom. Using a three-dimensional approach to K–12 science instruction, the NGSS requires students to integrate all domains of STEM as they ask their own questions and find their own answers. To be successful in this type of inquiry-based learning environment, as well as today’s increasingly global economy, students need not only a growth mindset, but also a STEM mindset.
Similarly, in a study of women working in STEM fields at large companies such as Grace and ExxonMobil Plastics, all indicated that despite the underrepresentation of women in STEM, mindset and attitude was the key determination of success. The women profiled cite common themes for success, with emphasis on attitude and thinking flexibly. These women refused to believe that they were at a disadvantage, and saw STEM as not only their profession, but as their mindset.
To cultivate the next generation of leaders and innovators, it is critical to instill a STEM mindset. STEM can no longer be communicated as discrete topics of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Rather, it must be developed as a mindset through which students view, process, and interpret their world. In a STEM mindset students…
- use the principles of science to ask their own questions and seek truth.
- leverage technology for social good.
- Engineer their own life outcomes.
- approach life through an analytical lens using mathematics and computational thinking.
While such an approach is inherent to the disciplines of STEM, the STEM mindset should not be applied only in the context of STEM-related situations. For example, a broken shoelace would require engineering, a peer conflict could be mediated using technology, or awe of a beautiful sunset could be appreciated through science. When STEM becomes pervasive throughout a student’s life and is applied in all contexts (becomes a mindset), it is then that we will equip diverse learners with the knowledge needed for a meaningful, rewarding future in any discipline.
About the Author:
Ashley Pereira began her career as an inner-city science teacher, and is now adjunct Professor of Science Education at Eastern CT State University, as well as Founder and CEO of Career In STEM®. She is blessed to work with clients throughout the world to provide diversifying STEM experiences, obtain grant funding, and implement innovative STEM and CTE programs. Ashley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.