Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Unpacking the purposes and potential of interdisciplinary STEM

Swanson, D. M.; Tytler, Russell

Unpacking the purposes and potential of interdisciplinary STEM Thumbnail


Russell Tytler


Nasser Mansour

Heba EL-Deghaidy


This chapter traces the development of STEM advocacy as a globalizing modernist discourse based in national competitive wealth creation agendas. It therefore addresses the drivers for STEM in schools by way of understanding state and industry intentions and curriculum reform. The chapter describes a dual research program consisting of an examination of research, policy and public literatures, as well as an exploration of teacher and student discourses and experiences of interdisciplinary STEM in two schools. The latter exploration seeks to understand anew the catalysts of policy advocacy for interdisciplinary STEM in schools; the promises and challenges of interdisciplinary STEM practice; and the relationship of STEM to individual STEM subjects. From the document analysis, the chapter argues that STEM is a complex construct that in its implementation in schools is captive to a range of subject and schooling political agendas. Analysis of STEM advocacy uncovered a number of key drivers, including: wealth creation; STEM as a powerful ‘meta-discipline’; innovation and critical thinking; and advocacy of interdisciplinary STEM as ‘skills’ preparation for work futures and everyday life. Examples of interdisciplinary curriculum practice in two case schools illustrated a number of themes: student engagement with new ways of thinking as a driver of change; development of more student-centred, project-based pedagogies; student engagement in deeper learning of disciplinary knowledge through meaningful problems-solving; and, the importance of temporal relations between subjects as they are conscripted to solving authentic problems. Finally, the chapter addresses the contradictory nature of STEM advocacy; that it represents, on the one hand, a narrowing utilitarian conception of curriculum that leads us away from notions of education as the development of personhood, but, on the other hand, that it opens up possibilities for more meaningful engagement of students in learning for ethical and productive lives. This chapter places a unique focus on this oft unattended to tension and apparent contradiction. The chapter argues that interdisciplinarity is most advantageously practiced in terms of temporal relations between distinct STEM disciplines rather than as an undifferentiated meta-disciplinary amalgam of these distinctive ways of practising and knowing. In this sense, an argument is presented that the key challenge for STEM education is to reform STEM subject pedagogies to more meaningfully represent disciplinary epistemic practices in authentic interdisciplinary settings. These arguments are significant in that they have particular and important implications for international STEM education and for global advocacies of interdisciplinarity in STEM.


Swanson, D. M., & Tytler, R. (2020). Unpacking the purposes and potential of interdisciplinary STEM. In N. Mansour, & H. EL-Deghaidy (Eds.), STEM in Science Education and S in STEM (242-268). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers.

Online Publication Date Jan 11, 2021
Publication Date Dec 30, 2020
Deposit Date Dec 5, 2022
Publicly Available Date Dec 8, 2022
Publisher Brill Academic Publishers
Pages 242-268
Book Title STEM in Science Education and S in STEM
Chapter Number 10
ISBN 9789004446052
Keywords STEM; Mathematics Education
Public URL
Publisher URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations