As a society that loves to jump on trends, often we take on acronyms and ideas without fully understanding what they are. We need more jobs that are career oriented and the education and training for students to get these jobs and maintain them. This educational program will move the United States forward in technology and innovation and needs to be refined and promoted.
As an advocate of STEAM education or at the very least, arts integrated education, I constantly question what this term STEAM means. What is it exactly and how do we do it? I am also tasked with doing it, so daily in creating lessons and doing professional development with teachers, I brainstorm with others and myself on how this exactly works.
Perhaps it is just obvious that any science, math and technology classes include the arts. Any discipline would be devoid of interest and experience without the arts. The connections are obvious, how to teach them, not so much. The “T” part or technology is a vehicle for all of the other disciplines and certainly a way to include and incorporate the arts in a 21st century education.
All schools have math and science and use technology to some extent. Science is less prevalent in elementary schools giving preference to large blocks for mathematics and language skills. Social Studies and Science make a special appearance in the guise of projects or labs, all the outcomes usually predestined. Engineering, desperately important engineering, is always included in the acronym, but not so much in the curriculum.
I am not sure why but for some reason, engineering seems to be considered to be only for gifted or advanced children. I don’t agree with this. All students have imagination and can explore and discover how to make or how to do or why does it work? Truth be told there just aren’t teachers trained to teach engineering, certainly in the elementary grades, with maybe a few in middle school or high school. Those who teach engineering must have a deep, concrete knowledge in a variety of science and math. This understanding can’t be a surface repeating of facts, it must be a comprehension of concepts. The other observation I make is that engineering gets messy. You have to try things that don’t always work. Worksheets are not appropriate. You need to do stuff. I am not blaming teachers. No one wants to do something that is not comfortable. It is the training and the resulting lack of intertwining of the disciplines that needs to change. Teachers need to learn differently and be able to step outside the box. A comprehensive learning style in which the students become invested in their own learning is needed. Teachers need to learn to give them the tools and let them discover. All of this has risks.
In my mind, the acronym is very important to the promotion of skills and to the public perception or image. They want to know what to call it and what it is. The important factor is in the learning and the doing. There is no science without art. There is no science without math. The arts and engineering have a part in all of it. We need to learn these disciplines, including social studies. They are all interdependent on each other and learning and experience happen with technology. I struggle with the thin line between making something or doing something that appears to be arts and crafts as opposed to offering a deeper, more integrated lesson that coincidently uses the arts with science, math and technology. Kids want to learn how to build things and what works and what doesn’t. Fantasy and imagination are a part of it, but so is practicality and reality. Form does need to follow function.
Along with the practical side of including the arts in a viable STEM/STEAM curriculum, is the fact the arts have value. Best practice includes a well-rounded education and that education includes understand and experience with the arts.
Whatever one labels it, STEM education is crucial. It must include the visceral experiences of the arts. This learning can connect with all children and they will learn best when they learn through their strengths and their interests. More research and data is needed and also a revamping of the curriculum to reflect this type of education, not just “test it all” facts that are producing non-thinking grade machines. This outcome cannot be good for the future of children.