The STEM to STEAM movement has been taking root over the past several years and is surging forward as a positive mode of action to truly meet the needs of a 21st century economy. STEM alone misses several key components that many employers, educators, and parents have voiced as critical for our children to thrive in the present and rapidly approaching future.
STEM vs. STEAM
Much has been proclaimed about the need for more STEM “programs” in our schools. The logic is simple: the wave of future economic prosperity lies in a workforce that is well-versed in rising job markets like science, technology, engineering and math. Thus, there has been an increased investment in STEM initiatives in schools. This includes (but is not limited to):
- providing mobile devices for students (sometimes in the forms of computer labs, and other times in the form of 1:1 – a single device for each student)
- after-school STEM clubs or programs
- STEM curriculum, where projects using STEM practices are embedded
- BYOD initiatives (bring your own device)
- STEM days to encourage hands-on exploration within each of these disciplines
- robotics programs
While these initiatives are a wonderful start into the exploration of these four areas of study, the critical process of creativity and innovation is missing. Students in STEM programs may have more experiential learning opportunities, but they are limited to only science, technology, engineering and math. Our economy requires so much more than an understanding of these areas – it requires application, creation and ingenuity. STEM alone does not foster these essential nutrients.
STEAM is a way to take the benefits of STEM and complete the package by integrating these principles in and through the arts. STEAM takes STEM to the next level: it allows students to connect their learning in these critical areas together with arts practices, elements, design principles, and standards to provide the whole pallet of learning at their disposal. STEAM removes limitations and replaces them with wonder, critique, inquiry, and innovation.
For far too long in education, we’ve been working with the presumption of teaching to ensure our students get a “good job”. But what does that look like? We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist.
We are at a point where it is not only possible, but imperative that we facilitate learning environments that are fluid, dynamic, and relevant. None of us go outside and look at a tree and say, “that’s a tree, so that’s science” or, “the sky is blue, so that’s art.”
Our world is a beautiful, complex, and intricate tapestry of learning all in its own right. Why do we believe that we have the ability or the right to box it in behind brick walls and classroom doors in a place called school?
Integrating concepts, topics, standards and assessments is a powerful way to disrupt the typical course of events for our students and to help change the merry-go-round of “school.”
It takes what we do when we open the doors to the real world and places those same practices in our cycles of teaching and learning. So we can finally remove the brick walls and classroom doors to get at the heart of learning.
STEAM with Integrity
The pathway to STEAM is exciting, but can also be dangerous without an understanding of what STEAM truly means in both its intention and its implementation. Like its STEM predecessor, STEAM can stop short of its best manifestation without several core components:
- STEAM is an integrated approach to learning which requires an intentional connection between standards, assessments and lesson design/implementation
- True STEAM experiences involve two or more standards from Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and the Arts to be taught AND assessed in and through each other
- Inquiry, collaboration, and an emphasis on process-based learning are at the heart of the STEAM approach
- Utilizing and leveraging the integrity of the arts themselves is essential to an authentic STEAM initiative
The Heart of STEAM Education
STEAM’s foundations lie in inquiry, critical thinking, and process-based learning. That is extremely important. The entire idea surrounding STEAM lessons and the STEAM approach is that it’s based around questioning, and really deep questioning. We want to start asking non-Googleable questions.
Inquiry, curiosity, being able to find solutions to a problem, and being creative in the finding of the solutions is at the heart of this approach. This means that the humanities are woven into STEAM just like everything else.
Using STEAM does not mean letting english language arts or social studies go to the wayside. You can use a STEAM lesson with those ideas, because it’s fundamentally built upon asking really good questions, and then seeking solutions to the problems that are presented in those content areas.
That doesn’t have to just happen in the STEM areas, or in the arts areas with STEM; you can connect all of the humanities through STEAM through the idea that you’re looking for a solution to a very specific problem which comes out of the inquiry process.
This approach to learning is certainly not an easy task, but the benefits to students and the entire school community are tremendous. Students and teachers engaged in STEAM make more real-life connections so that school is not a place where you go to learn but instead becomes the entire experience of learning itself. We are always learning, always growing, always experimenting. School doesn’t have to be a place, but rather a frame of mind that uses the Arts as a lever to explosive growth, social-emotional connections, and the foundation for the innovators of tomorrow…today!