Math and STEM.
I have found myself in a community where STEM is everywhere I turn. In fact, STEM discussions are even happening outside of the typical school and university settings! Recently, I was a discussant at a local community center where they had a showing of The Big Dream movie. And, I was asked to be a "talk back" at a play, Proof, at a local community play. All for the betterment of STEM.
I will teach a class called "Adventures in Math and Science" next semester and this summer - with the awareness that I will be promoting and teaching STEM ideas. All of this has prompted me to reflect about ...
What is the role of Math in STEM?
Yes, mathematics makes the big M in math. Unfortunately, I often feel that just like the M is just the last letter in the word STEM, the Math can be overlooked in the name of other STEM activities. The M, the pure mathematics, is often not on our STEM radar. Certainly, technology, like coding, is critical in this digital era. And, science opens the interdisciplinary doors to many subjects and academic doors to many career paths. And, yes, we cannot deny the problem solving processes of engineering. But, all of that is a part of mathematics. Mathematics does all of that. Yet, math is so much more, too. I think math is the queen of the STEM. In fact, I think we should rearrange the letters METS, MTES, or whatever permutation you like, to help promote the recognition of math in STEM.
Let's not forget the Math.
I suppose that what I am saying is that there is so much richness in doing "just" math. That richness, that robustness, will open STEM doors better. Take, for example, a Number Talk. Here is an example of something de-contextualized. Here is something not using technology other than a pen or hundreds chart (which is a technology- just not digital). Although it does not explicitly integrate engineering or science, it supports students as problem-solvers.
In this video we see 2nd graders as mathematicians creating solutions to 16 +15. They are problem solvers. They are creators. They are using sophisticated reasoning. When we think about opening opportunities for students into STEM careers the M, the pure M, and opportunities like this should not be overlooked.
The M in STEM, should not be overlooked, even in it's purest, not-innerdisciplinary, forms. In fact, introducing the top mathematical ideas across two centuries, Stephen Hawking (2007), in God Created the Integers, wrote:
Over the centuries, the efforts of these mathematicians have helped the human race to achieve great insight into nature, such as the realization that the earth is round, that the same force that causes an apple to fall here on earth is also responsible for the motions of the heavenly bodies, that space is finite and not eternal, that time and space are intertwined and warped by matter and energy, and that the future can only be determined probabilistically. Such revolutions in the way we perceive the world have always gone hand in hand with revolutions in mathematical thought. Isaac Newton could never have formulated his laws without the analytic geometry of René Descartes and Newton's own invention of calculus. It is hard to imagine the development of either electrodynamics or quantum theory without the methods of Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier or the work on calculus and the theory of complex functions pioneered by Carl Friedrich Guass and Augustin-Louis Cauchy- and it was Henri Lebesgue's work on the theory of measure that enabled John von Neumann to formulate the rigorous understanding of quantum theory that we have today. Albert Einstein could not have completed his general theory of relativity had it now been for the geometric ideas of Bernhard Riemann. And practically all of modern science would be far less potent (if it existed at all) without the concepts of probability and statistics pioneered by Pierre Simon Laplace