Why study STEM?

STEM education refers to:

  • The development of students' learning within the learning areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics;

  • The integration of two or more STEM learning areas, and potentially non-STEM learning areas to answer a question, solve a problem, or address a challenge; and

  • The development of students’ cognitive and interpersonal skills fostered by STEM learning experiences to prepare for them for college, career, and community life.

Providing students with opportunities to engage with STEM learning experiences has many benefits. Students:

  • explore the learning areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics within the context of authentic problem-solving, which has excellent potential to develop their interest in pursuing these fields of study. Careers across STEM comprise over 25,000 jobs in Hawai‘i, with projected growth over the next decade both state- and nation-wide (University of Hawai‘i Community Colleges, 2018).

  • become exposed to an integrated view of the world, recognizing that many challenging problems they will encounter as adults cannot be addressed from one way of knowing.

  • develop ‘STEM skills,’ for example problem-solving, flexible thinking, creative thinking, entrepreneurial leadership and digital literacy (Siekmann & Korbel, 2016), which prepare them for both STEM and non-STEM careers (National Science Board, 2015).

Core Principles of STEM Education

In alignment with the learning outcomes of Nā Hopena Aʻo (HĀ), STEM education provides opportunities for students to draw upon and integrate the STEM learning areas to address local or global issues and solve problems in learning environments that encourage innovation, creative thinking, and collaboration. Due to its student-driven nature, STEM education inherently allows for personalization and choice with learning experiences and therefore becomes a natural vehicle for ensuring equity.

Research on STEM education recognizes several characteristics that represent quality STEM learning experiences, as synthesized by the FAIR features:

  • Student-Driven Learning Framework: STEM learning experiences are facilitated by a framework or process that encourages students’ creativity, problem-solving and active thinking (e.g., project-based learning, engineering design processes, design thinking, scientific investigations, and mathematical modeling).

  • Authentic Assessment: STEM learning experiences are assessed with student-created products (conceptual or physical) that demonstrate understandings of STEM concepts and applications of STEM practices and general learning skills.

  • Purposeful Integration: STEM learning experiences are designed for intentional integration across learning areas with alignment to state-approved learning standards. Educators can draw upon the Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core Mathematics Standards, Computer Science Teachers Association Standards, and/or the International Society for Technology in Education Standards when designing STEM lessons and units.

  • Real-World Connections: STEM learning experiences are driven by authentic problems, questions or issues with real-world connections. There are many opportunities for students to connect STEM learning experiences to culture and place within Hawai‘i, for example through sustainability issues or engaging in engineering tasks that address a local need.

At elementary levels, STEM integration can occur flexibly during the day, as science, engineering, and technology learning objectives are integrated with ELA and mathematics when appropriate. In middle school and in some secondary models, grade-level teams can co-plan extended multidisciplinary STEM units. In both middle and secondary schools, teachers may coordinate their instruction in small-scale interdisciplinary STEM units, draw on each others’ expertise to integrate a new STEM concept into their individual courses, or facilitate transdisciplinary STEM learning experiences in elective courses.

Where is STEM education headed?

Drawing upon the FAIR features of STEM learning experiences, the table below presents future shifts in STEM education that will optimize learning, improve curriculum coherence and expand STEM learning opportunities for all students in Hawai‘i.



STEM as the integrated learning of the four STEM subjects.

STEM as the purposeful integration of some or all STEM subjects and, when appropriate for the learning goals, non-STEM subjects.

STEM associated with only a few specific topics/contexts (e.g., aquaponics, robotics, and gardens).

STEM associated with a wide range of topics/contexts for which science, technology, engineering or mathematics can be useful, including but also extending beyond aquaponics, robotics, and gardens (e.g, personal health, economic analysis, construction, food science, sustainability, global issues, and computer applications).

STEM as activities for the main purpose of increasing student engagement.

STEM as meaningful and rigorous learning experiences with attention to solving problems, creating products and addressing real-world issues while also aligning to standards.

STEM as one project students complete during a school year.

STEM as embedded within the curriculum and including both small- and large-scale learning experiences throughout the school year.

STEM Resources

Open Educational resources

National Science Board (2015). Revisiting the STEM workforce. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Retrieved from
Siekmann, G. & Korbel, P. (2016). Defining ʻSTEMʻ skills: Review and synthesis of the literature. National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
University of Hawai‘i Community Colleges. (2018). Hawai‘i industry sectors. Retrieved from