STEAM: Enabling the Engineering Habits of Mind through CREATIVITY

imgres A week does not pass that I don’t receive an inquiry or two about STEAM. What is it? How do you do it? I want to incorporate it in my work. STEAM unleashes creativity! So what does all of that mean? What am I telling these folks?

The obsession with accountability in the form of standardized testing has outcomes. They may be not what is expected. Those “in the know” thought this would be the path to student achievement. What we have learned is, it isn’t. The testing craze hasn’t really improved student outcomes much. And as a result, instead of creating problem solvers and critical thinkers, we have created memorizers.

At the same time, there is a call for enhancing creativity to produce innovators. We need more engineers. Study STEM! This is the new obsession simultaneously sharing the space with public schools who must test, test, and test! So which will it be: create memorizers or innovators?

I side with those who wish to enhance creative and problem solving skills. I think knowledge, the prescribed content, can be learned and taught through these real world challenges and experiences in STEM. Information is readily accessible now through the internet. Finding out facts takes seconds. You have to know what you need to know and where to find it. Memorizing has a limited purpose.

Solving problems, however, that ability is valuable. The more creative and industrious a student is to solve a problem, the further he or she may advance. Schools and teachers are tasked to do STEM even if they don’t know exactly what it means. To top it off, they now often say they do STEAM, even more vagaries. The internet and good research skills can help with this task. I recommend the STEM by Design blog written by my colleague Anne Jolly. This week in particular, she addresses the need. This blog gives instant help to Sudden STEM Teachers.  This blog can open the doors and give some basics to get going, and get out of the rut of memorizing stuff or prefabricated science labs. That is the first step to opening the creativity door.

As one gains facility with the idea of doing STEM, then understanding the Engineering Habits of Mind must happen. They are:


As educators whose goal is creating responsible STEM literate citizens, the Habits of Mind need attention. Here is where the creativity connection happens to turn STEM to STEAM. It is, in my humble opinion, where STEAM lives. The idea of STEAM is a mindset, and that is one that expands with ideas and opportunity.

I don’t actually believe it is necessary to say I need to add the arts. This inclusion is implied. The Engineering Habits of Mind are innate to STEM. The arts are innate to the Habits of Mind. So STEM is STEAM whether we call it that or not.

It is a good idea to make the inclusion of the arts deliberate. Allow time for them, but do not consider this arts education. That is a separate and imperative need. The arts allow students to explore and imagine and serve as an on ramp to other academic content. The goal is enabling students to be life long and independent learners who have the ability to imagine and explore. Call this outcome by whatever acronym works for you.    images

Categories: 21st Century Education, Arts Integrated Education, assessments, creativity, critical thinking, Education reform, evaluation, Imagination, Innovation, integrated curriculum, problem solving, STEAM, STEM, STEM education


  1. I like it! What an articulate, well thought-out way of describing a valid connection between arts and STEM – or any other subjects for that matter. Let’s take the focus off of robotic responses to one-size-fits-all tests. Instead, let’s focus on imagination, innovation, and creativity – exploring, inventing, and problem-solving! This is a great article!

    • Thank you Anne! Your perspective is so important. I do think if we can re-focus more on the inventiveness, innovation, and creativity, we will be doing a true educational service in creating the next generation of STEM literate citizens. The nuts and bolts aren’t enough. We need broader, deeper thinkers. Thanks again for your comment.

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