The and mathematics (Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber, 2014).

The integration of science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has been a popular endeavor in
education for around two decades. There is a push for STEM education due to the
decline of students’ interest and motivation in STEM fields in Western cultures
(Thomas & Watters, 2015). Also, much of the effort to integrate these
subjects are due to a perceived shortage in the workforce of STEM related
fields (Kelley & Knowles, 2016). This effort has been implemented by
researchers, practitioners and policy makers alike in the United States. New
reform efforts have also pushed toward the progression of integrated STEM education
by implementing new standards. The Next Generation Science Standards advocates
for integrating STEM by providing strong connections to all of the disciplines
in STEM (NGSS lead states, 2013). However, there is still a desperate need for
a consensus of different aspects involving integrated STEM education. There is
still debate over the nature and development of proficiencies in STEM education
(Marginson, Tytler, Freeman, & Roberts,
2013). To further the continual effort surrounding STEM education, we will
need a consensus on the common language used in STEM for practitioners and
researchers, the nature of integration between the four disciplines, and the
development of proficiencies that are linked to the essential 21st
century skill sets.  

            Even
though STEM education is being implemented within some of the schools in
America, practitioners have a lack of understanding and a lack of common
language of what establishes integrated STEM education. Unfortunately, technology
K-12 teachers have reported a lack in preparation for confident teaching of
science and mathematics (Honey, Pearson, &
Schweingruber, 2014). Also, science and mathematics teachers have
reported a lack of confidence in their ability to effectively teach engineering
concepts (Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber,
2014). Developing a common language for STEM education would be tremendously
beneficial for the growth of practitioners’ understanding of integrated STEM
education. A common language should also be developed to decrease the gap
between researchers and practitioners (Kelley & Knowles, 2016). This common
language can help determine what constitutes integrated STEM education and how
to better integrate the four disciplines. Common languages also help to better
the field through communication between researchers, as well as practitioners (Ainscow, 2005; Huberman, 1993; Little &
McLaughlin, 1993). The field is improving in these developments by building
upon common themes that are expressed by stake-holders, administrators, and
teachers involved in STEM education (Nelson,
Lesseig, & Slavit, 2016). However, there is more work to be done in
developing a consensus on the common language used for integrated STEM
education.  

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Determining the nature of
integration could be quintessential for understanding what is needed for
existing STEM programs or schools that are considering the implementation of
integrated STEM instruction. There is still considerable ambiguity that
surrounds integrated STEM education and how this complex, interdisciplinary instruction
is implemented within the K-12 context (Breiner, Harkness, Johnson, &
Koehler, 2012). Honey, Pearson, and Schweingruber (2014) suggest that the
nature of integration of STEM subjects is implemented by having a dominant
discipline, being the center of the lesson or unit, and other subjects are
smaller components of the overall instructional piece. This means that, at any
given time, only two of the four disciplines need to be visible in instruction
for it to be integrated STEM instruction. There is some disagreement on the
level of integration between these four disciplines and how the complex
function of this integration plays a role throughout lessons, units, or even a
year of instruction. A consensus needs to be determined on the level of
integration needed for integrated STEM education. If the integration of STEM is
only requiring two of the disciplines, then STEM may be more prevalent than we
think. However, complex integration of all four disciplines takes immense
planning and execution by classroom teachers. This proves to be extremely
difficult for secondary teachers in traditional settings due to the siloed
nature of these four disciplines (Kelley & Knowles, 2016). There are many unanswered questions regarding the nature of
integration needed in order to be considered “integrated STEM education.”

Integrated STEM education was
designed to not only produce interested students into STEM related fields but
also to equip students with a set of skills that are unique to the 21st
century. Honey, Pearson, and Schweingruber (2014) identify the acquisition of
these 21st century skills to be one of the main goals for integrated
STEM education. Well-integrated STEM instruction can help provide students with
improved problem-solving skills, improved thinking skills, relevant and
interesting experiences, and increased retention (Kelley & Knowles, 2016;
Stohlmann, Moore, & Roehrig, 2012). STEM curricula should also incorporate laboratory
investigations, group activities that involve team collaborations, and relevant
projects to help develop the indispensable 21st century skills (Bybee,
2010). In order to assess the development of proficient 21st century
skills in integrated STEM education, researchers need to look at how these
skills are acquired through the process of this type of instruction. Looking at
how students develop these essential skills of the 21st century has
the potential to influence the way we integrate and assess curricular needs for
STEM education.

Integrated STEM education
is being implemented in schools today with little research supporting the
aspects involving a common language, the nature of integration, and the acquisition
of 21st century skills. There is much research that needs to be done
involving these different aspects, as well as many more aspects, of integrated
STEM education. If there is not a common language developed, then it will prove
to be difficult for effective communication between researchers as well as
practitioners. A common language has the potential to reduce the gap between
researchers in integrated STEM and the classroom teachers. More development on
the nature of integration of STEM can yield valuable information on how to
better support teachers and school districts for developing a common
understanding of curricular needs for integrated STEM programs. Lastly, there is
a need for more research that can help identify how students are developing
these 21st century skills within integrated STEM instruction. This
can be valuable for curricular needs that must be addressed for implementation
of STEM programs. It is important that these aspects are explored further to
help support the overall progression of integrated STEM in education.