What Does STEM Encompass?

STEM, which is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, includes areas of study that are important for students of all ages to interact with. Pressure to increase the prevalence of STEM programs in schools sits alongside the ever-present reality of the current teacher shortage.

The impact of this deficit is felt annually as schools scramble to employ qualified individuals to teach STEM courses. Most school administrators attempting to strengthen their STEM-course offerings aim to add teachers who can make the content engaging and relevant to increase student interest.

How can Ethical Thinking Impact STEM Learning?

Breadth in the potential of studies that live under the umbrella of STEM can be beneficial to human life or detrimental to the world in which we live. It is beneficial when it is approached to improve the quality of life and the world around us; a curse when that desire for improvement is closed off too soon with a “by any means necessary” approach, as in the possibility that the study may cause physical, mental, or emotional harm to the subjects. This fine line that lies between doing what is right and wrong is why ethical thinking is essential in STEM and research. It creates the needed balance between researching to make discoveries for man’s good and self-fulfilling research at the detriment of man.

Cutting-edge discoveries in the studies within the scope of STEM have the power to help our country. Our nation’s armed forces can be strengthened or weakened, our ability to provide adequate healthcare can be hindered or advanced, and our progress with space exploration can continue to be progressive or regressive. Reasons such as those dictate the need to ensure that ethical thinking is embedded in our STEM curriculum.

Incorporating Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has exploded in recent years as educators work to find solutions to meet the children’s needs. The need to build empathetic, socially and emotionally balanced decision-makers drives the work of SEL in our schools. Several social-emotional learning frameworks encompass several competencies, but responsible decision-making is found in most.

This focus on ensuring that our students are responsible as they make decisions directly correlates to ethical thinking in STEM. If our students are taught to be responsible, they will be more likely to make ethical decisions if they enter into a STEM field. Just as integrated units of studies are utilized for disciplines such as English language arts and social studies, the integration of SEL into STEM classes will aid in teaching our students that being effective in STEM is beyond being good in math, science, and technology. It is also utilizing those strengths in a manner that aids in the betterment of mankind and never at the detriment of your neighbor.

Strategies to Develop Students’ Ethical Thinking

Incorporate Real World Examples

It is imperative that as we are teaching students to be ethical thinkers in STEM, we allow them to examine real-world situations. Examining real scenarios provides learners with the chance to witness firsthand some of the decisions that must be made out in the field each day.

Furthermore, they are given an opportunity to analyze the decisions that have been made and determine if said decision was the best course of action related to positively impacting the world around them. Examining the examples also provides the students with situations to reflect upon when they consider how to solve STEM-related problems.

Integrate STEM Assignment Choices

An effective way to engage learners in the learning process is to allow them a choice to display their knowledge. This idea of choice is also a sound practice as we work to develop students’ ethical thinking. Providing students with the opportunity to decide what problems they would like to tackle and allowing them time to think through how to solve the selected problem helps build independent thinking.

It also pushes learners to consider and examine ethical ways to solve problems. Once the choice has been made, provide space for the students to articulate their reasoning for their selection and their method for solving the problem. Incorporate room for discussions focused on their use of ethical reasoning as they worked.

Expert Experience

It is a sound practice to invite field experts into the learning space to discuss their work in STEM. Require the guests to come and address the students on the successes and pitfalls of working in the field. Ask them to share situational scenarios they have personally encountered. Have them explain and walk the students through their process of making ethical decisions in STEM while still getting the best results. Finally, have students ask clarifying questions to fully understand the magnitude of making decisions that are not ethical in STEM.

Build Collaborative Peer Teams

Teaching students to utilize peer teams as they maneuver through ideas for solving STEM-related problems can be highly beneficial. It provides them with a sounding board to examine every angle of a problem and decide on the best course of action.

Through collaborative peer teams, the learners can have a partner to help them problem-solve for the correct answers, but more importantly, someone to help them reason and weigh their decisions for ethical value. Peer teams aid in reminding students that as they engage in STEM-related work, others depend on them to make ethical decisions that will benefit the world around them.