STEM or STEAM – What Does It Really Mean and How Do We Do It?

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

      ~ Albert Einstein ~

Every day there is a new tweet, article, post, or blog on the importance of STEM education, and recently with the addition of the arts – STEAM.  Reading this information makes me happy as it is a strategy I have long endorsed. When I began research and development in this area not that many years ago, arts integration was happening, but only in a few places. Those programs such as the CAPE program in the Chicago schools were successful and articles and books have been published lauding these programs. Putting the Arts in the Future: Reframing education the 21st Century edited by Nick Rabin and Robin Redmond was published in 2004, and even more important Howard Gardner published Art, Mind and Creativity  in 1982. Actually there are many important books and advocates for arts integrated education. However, there are not a lot of true implementors out there. I say this as arts integrated curriculum and STEAM are not the same. It is arts integrated curriculum to have ancient history as a topic and have kids do math by adding pyramids and drawing them and maybe even making a model. It is STEAM to have them design and build a mathematically correct model using a formula, measurements and considering the building materials. In a unit about water, it is not STEAM to count fish instead of cookies. It is STEAM to measure and evaluate the effect of water in various aspects of our daily life. It is STEAM to create a hypothesis about water and measure the outcomes, do the research and report back.

So, what am I saying or asking?  I know the public and educators (at least some of them, not the promoters of rote learning) believe that adding experiential programs to school curriculum is a good thing. Simply said – nothing speaks like real experience.  That does not mean there aren’t facts needed to be memorized to apply to the experience. I do think there is a fear of all this that comes out in, “We don’t have the money,”  “Teachers don’t have the time or know how to implement or create these programs.” “We have so much material to cover for assessments.” “I don’t have time to do one more thing!”

The truth is letting kids get creative whether it be at home by building a fort out of boxes or baking cookies and teachers allowing them to burst out of their worksheets, it is just messy. It may not look neat and tidy and structured and face it, that can get out of control. Design may not always lead to instant success. It is a process thorough which a successful outcome evolves. Do you think Thomas Edison was successful on his first try?

Tell me yes or no. Are you willing to let kids experiment and let their imagination go for them to become lifelong learners or true innovators? I believe this concept is fundamental to student-centered learning where children will develop the habits of life long learners. We need to implement these programs so we can collect the data. Even in light of the existing data, allowing children to learn through creativity is without a doubt what is needed for the future. New ideas come from brainstorming and imagination not from memorizing easily accessible facts and doing worksheets.


Categories: 21st Century Education, arts and business, Arts Integrated Education, Bullying, Education reform, Innovation, mentors, social/emotional wellness, STEAM, UncategorizedTags: , , , , ,

1 comment

  1. Reblogged this on Ruth Catchen – Reach for the Stars! and commented:

    STEAM has come a long way in its development over the past few years. In doing my own research, I found this post written in December of 2011. In this the testing season, I thought it important to reflect on what learning really is.

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