The What, Why & How of STEAM Education.
What is the difference between STEM and STEAM education? Simply, STEM is the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEAM is STEM with the arts.
My hope today is to lend some clarity and purpose to the discussion about STEAM education.
STEAM has been, pardon my pun, “gaining steam” in school communities. Some may think it’s just the latest buzz word, but between my experiences in the classroom and the energy that today's STEAM educators are bringing into their classrooms, I believe otherwise. STEAM education adds a significant dimension to learning and I hope continues to flourish.
Educationally speaking, STEAM has been around for around 15 years. The two most effective leaders in the field are Dr. Georgette Yakman (STEAM Pyramid History | STEAM Education) and Susan Riley (K-12 Professional Development | Lesson Plans | Arts Integration & STEAM), but momentum within schools has been primarily driven by teachers. The more quality professional development directed to STEAM education, the more exciting teaching that can happen in our classrooms.
Children are all of our business. Whether you’re an educator, librarian, writer, parent, grandparent, or taxpaying citizen, we have a responsibility to children - to those in our lives and to those in the larger community.
Sometimes, when the topic of arts in the classroom is brought up, people wonder about craft activities. Where is the line between craft and art in an educational setting?
In a craft, a teacher might use a paper and glue activity to reinforce a multi-step process. Because physically organizing various steps can reinforce the information being taught, the craft has learning value. The children enjoy the hands-on activity, but generally speaking, they are expected come up with the same result.
Another example of a craft might be a preschooler creating a rainbow out of fluffy pastel pompoms. The goal might be seeing how the colors of a rainbow make a curved line, organizing objects according to color, or following directions. Again, age-appropriate learning value but limited artistry.
HOW does art fit into a STEM subject?
The arts engage children more broadly and deeply than book-learning or many other classroom activities. Simply put, artistic expression requires active engagement on a variety of levels.
Arts integrated into STEM might look like choreographing and performing a dance explaining conduction, writing a poem describing the effects of extreme weather, creating a 3-D vehicle that will aim to defy friction, or dramatizing subduction together with other students. Learning is accomplished through experiencing the subject matter, making memories, even.
The force/conflict/power associated with the collision of two tectonic plates becomes more than just the answer on a multiple-choice quiz. Artful expression requires decisions and choices beyond how big or small, long or short, or how much of a push or pull. Which ideas, concepts or goals is the student hoping to convey? They get to decide!
These ideas might be expressed visually, kinesthetically, musically, or in any variety of ways. Art, whether in a learning environment or elsewhere, can shift perspective and inspire wonder.
WHY should art experiences be part of STEM education?
When immersed in a STEAM curriculum, student learning becomes personal and multi-dimensional. Opportunities exist for students to apply the science, technology, engineering and mathematical concepts they have learned. Strategizing and other critical thinking skills comes into play.
We know that interpersonal relationships are important in life. Concepts, facts and even relationships can be synergized in creative learning experiences. When performing or collaborating, students are connecting to and classmates in a respectful manner. Let's do what we can to help our children – all children – grow into community-minded adults.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics will help us solve the problems of our ever-changing world, but it's not enough that our young people master whatever knowledge their STEM classes offer. They must also learn how to use these STEM skills for the public good.
Raising young people to understand themselves and others, and to learn STEM subjects deeply and creatively, will make a positive difference. Let’s educate our kids as best as we can!
Thank you for reading this essay. I have been wanting to write it for a long time!
If you are an educator interested in learning more about STEAM education, consider attending the upcoming Winter 2022 Arts Integration and STEAM Summit for K-12 Educators (artsintegrationconference.com). I cannot speak highly enough of this dynamic and professional organization for teachers.
Josette Abruzzini is an educator and writer who aims to build bridges and nudge perspectives. After teaching music for 20 years, a single book brought her in a new direction. Frames of Mind by Howard Gardner led her to attend several Arts Genesis symposiums on multiple intelligences and the arts. Soon after, Josette became a 5th grade STEM teacher in Maplewood, NJ. She integrated the arts into her math and science classes before the term “STEAM” was coined.
In addition to her own blog, Josette writes STEM picture books for intermediate students, memoir, arts & science-themed historical fiction, and blogposts for Birdshot Uveitis Society of North America. Feel free to browse her webpage at Josette Abruzzini/STEAM Educator/Writer.
Once a teacher, always a teacher!