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Thinking about STEM

As part of the MIT Medialab Course on Learning Creative Learning, I followed the YouTube lecture on Powerful Ideas.

The interesting idea here comes in around the 27 min mark, in which Alan Kay argues that we shouldn’t speak of STEM, but instead of TEMS.

Now, let me take one step back. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and while spreading the love for my field, I consider myself a STEM ambassador.

An interesting discussion is why STEM courses of study are not that popular, and certainly not popular among women – but I’ll leave that topic to those who research the problem.
By all accounts, I think that every young person should have the liberty to study something he/she finds interesting, and not something that would ensure them of a good job, or because someone has pushed them into that direction.
I also think all fields of study are equally interesting and important in society, and get a little nauseous when the Loud Voices of Industry start yelling that social sciences are unnecessary.

With that said, let’s look again at the acronym STEM itself. Alan Kay would like to turn it into TEMS, and I fully understand his reasons for this. Technology should be replaced by Tinkering, and this is the oldest discipline. From Tinkering, mankind rolled into Engineering. You don’t need to know all the principles at work to actually do Engineering work. When things get a little more complicated, you need Math. And Science itself has only been around for the last 400 years.

TEMS instead of STEM is thus a more chronological approach of ordering the letters of the field in the acronym, and with its 4 letters, gives us an insight into the history.

You can see Alan Kay’s discussion here:

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