Is STEAM education all about what comes out of a tea-kettle? No, not exactly. In its simplest form STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. Use of the term began in 2001 with Judith A. Ramaley the former director of the National Science Foundation. The goal of STEAM is to change teaching by incorporating morescience, technology, engineering, art, and math into the classroom and not just in defined, isolated blocks. Instead, the goal is to bring the excitement of these disciplines into the classroom at large including literacy.
Here is a great personal example. I helped co-found a hands-on science program at a Salt Lake City school. We called it Sci-X for Science eXperiences. In one of our first hands-on labs went through hands-on examples of Newton's 3 Laws of Motion. For instance, standing on a skateboard and pushing against a wall. Then we observed what happened. Well, after this lab a 1st-grade teacher related a story from her classroom. She was reading a book on the Pilgrims and their voyage to North America. A boy raised his hand to tell her that it was the force of the wind against the sails that made the ship move. We did not talk about sailboats at all.
This is an example of how STEAM concepts could be used in a literary way and connected to a science lesson. A small example, but pretty cool nonetheless.
On the one hand, STEAM is about subjects like chemistry, math, physics and the like. On the other hand, the spirit of STEAM education is so much more.
Typically, STEAM subjects are taught in isolation as little islands unto themselves. The spirit of STEAM is to foster a sense of independent exploration. The exploration allows students to utilize all subjects to understand something or more importantly, to solve a problem. Indeed, it is this interconnectedness that leads to innovative ways of thinking, doing or problem-solving.
Children's minds naturally connect one piece of seemingly unrelated information to other pieces of information. They do this without regard to boundaries, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes not, but always creatively. So, kids are a natural fit and exhibit tremendous joy when they do make these connections. Thus, the motivation and incentive for young students to do this is already there. We adults need to let it happen and create an environment that allows it to take place.
Unfortunately, much of the adult world of education is about tight boundaries (standardized tests) around subjects that have known answers and outcomes. Certainly, there are good things about this. For example, being adept with math facts is one of them. However math is so much more than simply solving the math problem. Math is about using the skills to solve other problems, whether it be materials for a building or the trajectory of an object. STEM takes it one step further by promoting open-ended environments where any number of skills might come into play. There might be failures and successes along the way instead of right and wrong. Wrong is wrong, but failure is a learning experience that many of us and virtually all scientists use to hone and iterate their ideas into success. This is what people get paid well to do--solve hard problems. And this is what has made our country a leader. STEAM's goal is to keep that leadership in our country by educating the whole child to be adept with their knowledge not just knowledgeable.
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