“How can we become a STEAM school?”

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive almost everyday.  Transitioning to a STEAM School is challenging work.  It requires a shift in not just the instruction, but the entire learning environment and behaviors of a school community.  You must change the what and how of instruction AND you must address the WHY behind STEAM if it is to be a successful endeavor.  And as we all know, change is hard.

I say all of this to prepare you. What I outline below looks simple, but in reality, it is hard work and takes a significant amount of time.  I always tell schools to prepare for a journey of at least 3-5 years if they are envisioning moving to a STEAM approach.  So keep this in mind as we take a look at the school-wide cycle for moving towards STEAM.

The STEAM Cycle

In the following graphic, you’ll find a cycle for a school approach to STEAM.  This can work for moving from STEM to STEAM or for building a STEAM school from the ground up.

Let’s dig into the pieces of this cycle in a bit more detail.  You’ll notice that the cycle starts with the integration foundation.  This is the most critical piece of the entire cycle.  Your entire school team must have an understanding and comfort with why and how to use integration before you even begin this endeavor.

Your faculty must understand the difference between integration and enhancement, be able to align standards, and value collaboration across areas in order for STEAM to be able to rise as an approach to learning in your school.  So before you begin on this journey, please ensure that your staff has received professional development in the integration approach to learning and can utilize it effectively.

1. Investigate: Build-a-Team.  

You’ll need a team of teachers with diverse backgrounds and teaching areas to investigate and work through the STEAM process as leaders in the approach for your building.  This should include teachers from a variety of grade levels, content areas and fine arts area disciplines.  If you’re just starting out, build a core team from across your school.

If you’re continuing in this approach and already have a core team, try branching out so that everyone in the school is part of a collaborative STEAM team.  Ensure that this team has intentionally dedicated collaboration time throughout the year, either built into the schedule, or as defined time before or after school.  If you’re looking for a process for building these team and implementing these steps, I also highly recommend checking out our online class, Designed to STEAM.

2. Discover: Identify Gaps.

Once you have your team(s) assembled and dedicated time set aside for their collaboration, they will need a focus area to get started.  Begin by having everyone bring their curriculum documents and scanning them for similarities and differences.

Have each team member highlight areas where students struggle in their curricula, as well as elements from other curriculum documents that may be missing from own.  Create a list of gaps in both curriculum format and in student success areas from every content/fine arts/grade represented.

3. Connect: Essential Questions and Curriculum Mapping.

Once you have identified the major gaps, look for the gaps that are common across content and arts areas.  Are there any trends or patterns that emerge?  Or, are there gaps in content areas which are something that students understand with greater success in the arts areas? These are where you can connect across standards. Identify essential questions about the core of what these gaps are addressing.

For instance, if students are struggling with growing patterns, develop an essential question that would address the core issue they are struggling to understand.  Maybe it’s growing patterns or chemical reactions. These are the places that are ripe for creating STEAM lessons and connections.

From here, look for ways that the arts already address these questions.  Create a curriculum map based upon these EQ’s and aligned standards.

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Designed to STEAM

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4. Create: Instruction.

Once the maps are created and a list of essential questions has been devised, teachers can then plan and implement the lessons that correspond with the standards aligned on the curriculum maps.  This is the creating phase and it’s where all that hard work planning comes to life. These lessons can be co-taught or taught in the classroom and peer reviewed.

5. Reflect.

Encourage students to provide feedback about the lesson and reflect on their learning.  Ask that all teachers who provide integrated STEAM lessons also reflect upon the lesson and recognize the triumphs and challenges that occurred.  Bring both the student and the teacher feedback back to the team, and collaborate on ways to make the maps stronger.

Additionally, reflect on what further professional development is needed, how to bring in the community, and how to embed the STEAM approach to all aspects of the school day – not just the classroom.

One you’ve gotten these basic 5 steps built into your planning, schedule and implementation, you’ll begin to see the transformation into the STEAM school you’ve envisioned.