So, you’re walking around the Sahara Desert, as one does from time to time, and you come across someone who’s very dehydrated. What do you do?

- Throw them in a swimming pool.
- Stick a funnel in their mouth and pour gallons of water down their throat.
- Give them a glass of beer.
- Put them on an IV drip filled with saline solution.
- …

You would, of course, expect a trained medic to know the best response for that situation, but others may also have well-informed solutions. The point? Water is already an integral part of the human body and without the water this particular body would not have lived in the first place. Although it may be very dehydrated, this human being at one time had enough water to be mobile and do more than barely hang on to life. What is needed is to reintroduce more water to revive them…

Now, let us replace the dehydrated body with the STE of STEM… guess what the water is!

It seems totally ludicrous, to me, to keep seeing articles, blog posts, and so on, which continue to mention “integrating” mathematics with STEM. What does the ‘M’ mean then? Mathematics is already in the other three areas and, truth be told, probably was the underlying foundation on which science, engineering and technology were built. You cannot integrate something which is already there, and we are giving a false impression about the role of mathematics in STEM if we continue to talk about it this way.

Mathematics and language (whether English or otherwise) can stand alone as a pair quite happily by themselves. Even the most primitive societies counted things, solved problems and communicated ideas with each other. The issue STEM faces is not so much about integrating mathematics, as about integrating the mathematics teachers. The isolation of subjects creates certain inter-dependencies, more so with some subjects than others. It is unfair to expect mathematics teachers to teach the mathematics for your subject in their lessons… Similarly, mathematics teachers need to take more responsibility for connecting what they are teaching to as many other things outside mathematics as they can.

Let’s stop talking about integrating mathematics with anything from now on, because it’s already there! Why not talk instead about making a more integrated use of mathematics teachers?

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In about the same spirit, I’d say, Stop talking of integrating math and arts. Not only the message is wrong, but inevitably, unless math is taught as an art form, the integration with art will result in draining of mathematical content or covering it rather superficially.

Et tu…

I agree, Alex. I thought very carefully about the titles I gave to my presentations about using the arts in ‘non-artistic’ places, for example at RSCON3 and TeachMeet Cymru, and also came to the conclusion that we should be promoting MATES, rather than STEM or STEAM… It’s a matter of refocusing our attention on what is already there, rather than trying to do something ‘new’.