STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics
STEM represents science, technology, engineering and maths. “STEAM” represents STEM plus the arts – humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media.
The main difference between STEM and STEAM is STEM explicitly focuses on scientific concepts. STEAM investigates the same concepts, but does this through inquiry and problem-based learning methods used in the creative process.
This looks like groups of learners working collaboratively to create a visually appealing product or object that is based in the understanding of a STEM concept, such as the mathematics of the parabola used to create fine art imagery.
STEAM is not a new concept. People such as Leonardo Da Vinci have shown us the importance of combining science and art to make discoveries.
Indigenous Australians also have a long-standing tradition of scientific knowledge passed down through song as a memory system.
Why is STEAM important?
STEAM education in schools provides students with the opportunity to learn creatively, using 21st century skills such as problem solving. Gonski 2.0 and the Australian Curriculum highlight the importance of these skills for a future Australian workplace. These general capabilities are crucial to growing a future-ready workforce that understands the potential of “what if” when solving problems that occur in real life.
They also point us in the direction of 22nd century skills – connection, care, community and culture.
The STEAM Education Model and How to Implement It
An important thing to keep in mind is that STEAM is an interdisciplinary approach to education— an approach that integrates different aspects of more than one academic discipline to examine a theme, issue, question, or topic. That means STEAM education is collaborative for both students and teachers.
Here are three quick tips to ensure that you implement STEAM education with full fidelity at your school:
1. Create teams of teachers with different subject expertise to plan STEAM lessons
2. Adjust both student and teacher schedules to accommodate STEAM-based lesson plans, including time for planning, refinement, and reflection
3. Ensure staff and faculty receive professional development in STEAM practices, principles, and supports
Select an essential question to answer or problem to solve. Be sure to focus on how this question or problem relates to STEAM content areas you’re covering.
Examine elements that contribute to the problem or question together with students. Provide background information and ask why the problem or question exists.
Guide students as they research answers and solutions to the question or problem presented. When uncovering answers and solutions, observe students as they identify what’s working and what’s not. Use your observations to analyze gaps students may have in skill, process, or application.
Empower students to apply the skills, processes, and knowledge they gained in Step 3 to create their own solution to the question or problem presented. Ask students to other areas of the question or problem that still needs to be addressed. And empower students to persist through obstacles and trial and error.
Give students a platform to present their findings after refining their solution. It’s important for students to receive feedback from teachers, professionals, and peers. Encourage students to use their presentation as an opportunity to share their own perspectives surrounding the question or problem at hand.
Make time for students to reflect on the feedback received, as well as to reflect on their own process and skills. Students can use their reflection to revise and improve the solution they created.
No matter how you choose to implement STEAM education programs in your school community, keep its core components in mind:
1. Intentionally connect standards, assessments, and lessons that integrate science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts
2. Include two or more standards from science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts in your lesson plans and assessments
3. Put inquiry, collaboration, and process-based learning at the heart of your curriculum
4. Leverage the integrity of the arts to create an authentic and meaningful learning environment
Do You Need a Designated STEAM Teacher?
The short answer is no, although some schools do have dedicated STEAM teachers or STEAM programs.
Just as learning can take place anywhere, STEAM education can take place in any classroom (no matter the subject). It’s more than having a school with a dedicated 3D printing lab. The whole point of STEAM is to inspire inquiry and curiosity; to empower students to ask thought-provoking questions that promote creativity and exploration, especially when it comes to problem-solving. With STEAM, no subject (or student) is excluded.
How to Use STEAM: Process and Product
There are actually 6 steps to creating a STEAM-Centered classroom, no matter what area you teach. In each step, you’re working through both the content and the arts standards to address a central problem or essential question.
What’s great about this process is that you can as easily use it to help plan for a lesson as you can to facilitate the actual learning process in your STEAM classroom. Let’s take a look at each step.
In this step, we’re selecting an essential question to answer or problem to solve. It’s important to have a clear focus on both how this question or problem relates to the STEM and the Arts content areas you’ve chosen.
During the detail phase, you’re looking for the elements that are contributing to the problem or question. When you’re observing the correlations to other areas or why the problem exists, you begin to unearth a lot of key background information, skills or processes that students already have to address the question.
Discovery is all about active research and intentional teaching. In this step, students are researching current solutions, as well as what ISN’T working based on the solutions that already exist. As a teacher, you can use this stage to both analyze the gaps your students may have in a skill or process and to teach those skills or processes explicitly.
This is where the fun happens! After students have dived deep into a problem or question and have analyzed current solutions as well as what still needs addressed, they can begin to create their own solution or composition to the problem. This is where they use the skills, processes and knowledge that were taught in the discovery stage and put them to work.
Once students have created their solution or composition, it’s time to share it. It’s important that the work is presented for feedback and as a way for expression based on a student’s own perspective surrounding the question or problem at hand. This is also an important opportunity to facilitate feedback and help students learn how to give and receive input.
This step is what closes the loop. Students have a chance to reflect on the feedback that was shared and on their own process and skills. Based on that reflection, students are able to revise their work as needed and to produce an even better solution.
Here are 10 proven strategies your school can use to make the most of your STEAM program!
Do Your Research - Whether you are starting a new STEAM program or looking for fresh ideas, spend some time reaching out to other local schools. You can get in touch with their STEAM contact to find out what’s working best for their programs. They probably have a great list of supplies and might even share some curriculum pointers. Even better, schedule a day to go and see their STEAM program in action — and don’t forget to take notes!
Choose Reusable, Gender-Neutral Materials - The idea with STEAM is to be innovative with your materials, so invest in gender-neutral, reusable materials that can be used in a variety of ways, such as Lego and magnetic building sets. You can also add materials that are not reusable but are very affordable, such as marshmallows and toothpicks to create structures. These types of activities appeal to all students, regardless of orientation.
Integrate All STEAM Subjects - Start with hands-on projects that use as many subjects from STEAM as possible. This interdisciplinary approach helps students truly understand a subject as deeply as possible and cuts down on having to plan, prepare and pay for a variety of different, disconnected activities.
Chunk Concepts - If you have a larger idea you are working towards, but not enough time to do it on the same day, break out the concepts you want to cover into smaller, bite-sized units that each tackle one part of the project or problem. Create a worksheet so students can track their progress and then work towards the end goal as you go. This will also lengthen the lifespan of your resources.
Encourage Collaboration - Don’t work in a silo! Consider reaching out to other local schools and see if you can create a sharing program to trade resources back and forth. If each school buys a percentage of a master list of supplies and schools create a sign up schedule for rotating them, you all get 100% of the activities with just a fraction of the cost. Make your budget work for you by collaborating.
Build Community Relationships - Look to your community for support — some local businesses may be happy to do a STEAM day takeover and provide supplies. Is there a local bike manufacturer who could bring bike parts and teach students how to build bikes that they can decorate and donate to a local children’s shelter? Is there a local engineering company that would like to support a fun math and science challenge? Or, maybe you could get private donors who want to sponsor some of your supply list in exchange for a tax write-off. Don’t be shy, many companies are looking for these kinds of opportunities to make a difference.
Connect STEAM to the World - Our global issues require more innovation than ever before, so use real-world scenarios like ocean pollution and climate change to inspire projects. This teaches students to see themselves as members of a global society and allows them to start problem solving while they are young. Imagine what a powerful group of change-makers they will be by the time they are grown!
Include Parents - If your teaching staff is maxed out, it’s time to call in the local parents! Parent contributors can make a STEAM program truly soar. Start with a mandatory training session where they learn about the STEAM curriculum, how to handle, use and store supplies, how to sanitize properly and more. You’ll be surprised how many parents are just waiting for the chance to help.
Embrace Failure - With any new program, there will be growing pains and there might even be some total failures. Not everything you plan will go great, not every project will work how you imagined. Embrace these failures. Talk about these with the students and take notes on what did or didn’t work. Sometimes, students learn more from the experiment that didn’t actually work than the one that went so smoothly, they barely had to think at all.
Get Outside - Nature is one of the richest resources for inspiration when it comes to critical thinking and STEAM education. Get students outside for nature walks, build hypotheses based on what you see in the natural world, and turn students into scientists who question everything. Use these explorations to get ideas for what you want to study next. The best curriculums are the ones where the students help design and lead the study.