A STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) mindset encompasses many things, and perhaps does not mean the same thing to every person. Many believe, however, that it combines general attributes that are independent of an individual’s academic and career pursuits with STEM-specific elements. STEM mindset is important for scientists and engineers—it certainly helps them succeed in what they do. Further, it helps young people see STEM-related careers as possibilities. I’d argue, though, that it’s bigger than that. Because of the role science and technology play in our lives, a STEM mindset isn’t reserved only for those with or pursuing STEM-related careers. It is important to everyone—at any age, in any profession, and anywhere in the world.
Someone with a positive STEM mindset necessarily possesses a growth mindset—the idea your intelligence isn’t fixed and you can get smarter by putting in effort. Those with a growth mindset possess grit, perseverance, and embrace learning from failure—no doubt a beneficial outlook for STEM students and practitioners as they question and investigate to understand phenomena, or design and evaluate solutions to new problems.
21st-century skills are also essential. STEM doers of all ages certainly benefit from a mindset that prioritizes creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. Imagination, innovation, and inventiveness; working with others; sharing findings and solutions with colleagues, decision-makers, and the public; making evidence-based decisions—all are certainly important ways of thinking in STEM.
Habits of mind—a “set of problem solving, life related skills, necessary to effectively operate in society and promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity and craftsmanship”—overlap with (and likely influenced) both of the above frameworks and are also important attributes.
However, growth mindset, 21st-century skills, and habits of mind are not discipline-specific—they benefit anyone, regardless of subject studied or career pursued. So, where does STEM come in? Someone with a STEM mindset also believes they can do science, engineering, and math, and has an appreciation for the complex role that technology plays in our lives and in the world—as a student, in their career, and as an engaged citizen. Someone with a STEM mindset believes that asking and answering questions using a scientific approach to draw evidence-based conclusions helps them to figure out how things work and what to believe, to identify opportunities and risks, to make decisions and take action, and to predict likely outcomes. They also believe that advancements in science, engineering, and technology—used responsibly and ethically—have the potential to solve local and global challenges. Someone with a STEM mindset sees the potential of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to be valuable and relevant to their lives and communities and in the world.
Beth Murphy, PhD (firstname.lastname@example.org) is field editor for Connected Science Learning and an independent STEM education consultant with expertise in fostering collaboration between organizations and schools, providing professional learning experiences for educators, and implementing program evaluation that supports practitioners to do their best work.