The Need for a Top-Down Approach to STEM Education in Adventist Schools

Over the course of history there are turning points that revolutionized how we live. The use of bronze changed how we made tools and household implements. Then came the discovery of iron which, combined with the discovery of gunpowder by the Chinese, completely revolutionized everything from farming and hunting to warfare. Then in the late 1700s the perfection and use of the steam engine turned our world upside down and began the Industrial Revolution with mass production and machines of all types. It drew people from farms to population centers to work in factories and manufacturing facilities and gave us all types of tools and gadgets to make our lives easier.

In the last twenty years, we have seen another revolution even more impactful on our lives than the Industrial Revolution. The Internet brought connectivity, communication, and collaboration in ways that continue to push boundaries and evolve. Some of the aspects of the continued revolution are amazing and present new challenges. Internet of Things (IoT) – where we connect to the cars, refrigerators, televisions, and light bulbs we use every day and they connect to each other – is continuing to expand exponentially. Big Data – the collection and analysis of massive volumes of information – is also expanding rapidly. We shudder at the hazards, but revel in the benefits.

In a recent interview,1 Tom Siebel, long time technology leader and CEO of C3 IoT, described how he has seen recent significant changes in the corporate world. A couple things stood out from this interview of which anyone passionate about Adventist education should take note. First, he sees a convergence of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and IoT which has created a huge change in global technology. Over the last 20 years the internet, personal computers, and smartphones have completely transformed the way we live. In the 40 years he has been in the technology industry, he has never seen a transformation like what is happening today. In the past, the push for technology integration into corporate culture and products has always been a bottom-up push for change. Today’s transformation is being driven and mandated from the board chairs and CEOs. It is top down. The CEOs are now mandating change from end-to-end across their corporations. What made the difference? The fear is that unless they embrace these new technologies they will cease to be competitive in the marketplace.

What are the lessons we can learn in Adventist Education?

STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is taking the education world by storm and being adopted in various ways across the country. In addition to advanced math and science courses, many public high schools are teaching programming, robotics, computer-aided design, 3D printing and other modern technology courses. Beginning in kindergarten and first grade, schools are now teaching programming and robotics with programs such as Osmo, and FIRST LEGO League, Jr. Entire districts are adopting strategic K-12 STEM plans. The availability of tools and curriculum that bring these skills to all grade levels are varied and continue to increase in scope, availability, and ease of use.

STEM education in the Adventist school system is varied. Progress has been made with better science curriculum and improving math strategies, but teaching of technology and engineering skills are usually overlooked. While programs such as FIRST robotics through the Adventist Robotics League2 are available for schools and actively supported by some conferences and unions, most do not have consistent and comprehensive STEM strategies. Our approach to STEM education is bottom up. We wait until a teacher in a local school gets inspired to introduce technology or engineering into their classroom then all too often we give them only lukewarm support and ask them to go out and raise the money to implement their innovations.

A significant number of our elementary teachers are English and Language Arts specialists. STEM is new and scary for them! They have training to provide core science and math skills but don’t know how to approach technology and engineering. The good news is that programs and curriculum resources are continually becoming more readily available and easier to use. But many of our teachers and administrators still struggle with understanding how to approach the STEM education.

Adventist education is facing threats from many sides. Many of our schools are struggling to remain competitive and keep their doors open. Our world is changing rapidly. Most of the technologies that will exist when our kindergarteners graduate from high school and college do not exist today. We must teach our students how to think like an engineer and use today’s technology responsibly so they can build the skills they need for their future. We need to fully embrace and mandate STEM education in our schools or we must fear not being competitive in our marketplace. Other private and public schools are embracing STEM education3 at a rapid pace. We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and watch it happen in school systems around us. We need to be active participants.

Like corporations today, Adventist education is at risk of losing its competitive edge unless it embraces STEM education. Adventist education needs to learn from the corporate CEOs and board chairs. The full spectrum of STEM education must be mandated from the top down. We need to be intentional about recruiting and mentoring technology and engineering educators and leaders in our school system. Conference and local boards of education must re-evaluate their programs and develop strategic STEM plans. Funding needs to be made available for implementing these programs including the training and support of teachers on an ongoing basis. We can all make great strides but it will require intentional planning and implementation. Superintendents and principals must make STEM an integral part of our schools.

Notes & References:

1. 2. 3.

Mel Wade is a veteran teacher and technology professional with a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. He is the Technology Director for Sacramento Adventist Academy and teaches technology classes for elementary through high school. Mel is the director and founder of the Adventist Robotics League and enjoys helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms.

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AMEN! This is an excellent case by Mel Wade. In education achievements American students rank 21st in science and 27th in math, behind their peers in countries like Singapore, Japan and Canada. Adventist education in North America needs an overhaul. We in North America have many lessons to learn from other educators in this world church. We are lacking in creative alternatives to the status quo of lethargy and stagnation.


While I agree with the intention of the above, I have to take issue with the way this affirmation is presented. I would have been interested in a research-based article, or even one that presented anecdotal evidence for the assertions that make up the majority of this writing. Mr. Wade’s opinions are no doubt of interest and substance; however, educational practice must be driven by measurable, proven theory, and not what seems the main argument here: everyone is doing it. Again, STEM content and methodology are important; it’s just that education is prone to being blown about by the hot winds of whomever holds the mic at the moment.

Thanks Brent @daddydude ,

There is a plethora of information already that supports the need of STEM education in general. Those articles have been written and are available in many educational and peer reviewed publications on the web. I encourage any readers to seek those out and find the case for STEM education. It is not my attempt to replicate those in this article. I also have a lot of anecdotal experiences that show the challenges we face in Adventist Education, but my intention in this article is not to call out individuals or organizations, but to spur thought and discussion.

STEM is far from a “hot wind” from the person holding the mic at the moment. I encourage readers to take time to peruse the US Department of Education site that I referenced and do their own research on the web as it relates to STEM education. Please don’t take my word for it but investigate and discuss it in your local communities!


One thing that is nice is moores law applies to enterprises. You are actually rewarded if you put off buying useless hospital software like Salesforce and Cerner, or don’t renew the contract.

Whenever I give advice to non profits it’s always to be happy you aren’t a tech company and focus on your mission, and don’t try to be one. Too many times people think they need to play catchup and that’s when they get looted by Silicon Valley.

Biotechs are looters too though. While patients are on their death beds Genentech staff are renting out ballparks, the best restaurants and are getting drunk off wine.

Doubtful though they could turn the liberal arts Adventist system into more of a STEM system. Kindof like trying to make it viticulture, landscape architecture, or cooking all of a sudden.

They are probably only ok in the medical field because they have people teaching who live and breath it. That would never be the case with STEM. Plus arent electronic devices suppose to be off on the seventh day? That gives people only six days which isn’t enough to compete in the STEM professions. SDA as a religion hooking up to the grid is inducing the end of time.

That said teaching highschool students with matlab, teaching elementary linear algebra to them, and giving them data structures might go a long ways. I had some washed up hack of a religion teacher who no one held accountable I would have gladly traded for better science classes.


Thanks for your feedback! You are right in that we need all types of careers. Not everyone should should be programmers and engineers! Why “think like an engineer”? The engineering process is really a way of thinking to solve problems that can be applied to many different professions. In fact teachers can using the engineering design process in many different subjects. There are variations of the process but here’s a simplified model from NASA.

Many readers are likely unaware that Loma Linda University for some years now has hosted STEM education training for (primarily) SDA educators throughout North America. I know a few people who contribute to and have taken the program, and feel that the Church–and most certainly the university–is making a concerted effort to do the right thing. However, if my understanding is correct, much of the funding is coming from donors who recognize the value of STEM education rather than from the church itself. I strongly suspect the GC is much more concerned about faith and science education (i.e., scientific creationism) than STEM education. As one notorious Twitter tweeter would put it: sad!


Math. Is the foundation of technology, and certainly engineering. science is a disciplined way of using math to solve problems or make applications. The basic tool is measurement. Without it is not possible to build a bridge The keys are Calculus and understanding the math of distribution --measure once or cut twice is the discipline of STEM

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I think @ProfessorKent Is correct, Adventist’s educational system can only be corrected with help from outside the system. @mel_ca, you and educators who share your concern need to band together and create an interface for outside donors willing to fund and support the changes you seek. It is incredibly difficult and frustrating for people in industry to have an impact within the Adventist school systems. Without the right inside connections it feels like a waste of time and resources. It will also be necessary to track and publish the results of STEM updates to the school systems. People like to participate in projects that are succeeding.



@jswilson, thank you for your comments. I would love to explore your insights further offline. Please contact me at if that is something you are willing to do.