Full STEAM ahead!

I am a curious person by nature and love to learn new things. Before the notion of STEAM subjects was decided on, I regularly integrated these subjects to enrich learning and challenge learners. Anything real, any opportunity to link the real world with the often abstract ideas that exist in the classroom can not be ignored.

STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics are interconnected and reliant on one another that it is more challenging to teach them discreetly than together: imagine having a science experiment with nothing to measure, nothing to write about, nothing with which to interact. Imagine a lesson with the creation of a tool as the focus without the implementation of engineering practices or scientific principles playing a part. Imagine that same tool being created without sketches or measurement for parts.

You might say that's all fine and good for science, technology and engineering but the arts and mathematics? Really? True, you can have discreet lessons within the arts, music, art, even English Language Arts, that do not have a connection with the STE of STEAM, but by bringing in context you give the learning meaning. You help the learning stay with the children and young people under your care.

Imagine that lesson you taught some time ago: I would like you to imagine you have created a new tool, you want to sell it to a company and make lots of money. Write about the tool, what it can do and why people should buy it. How hard would it be to enrich this learning by

  • asking students to build a model to show readers how it would look.

  • describing the cost of the parts and the projected sales

  • outlining the impact it will have in terms of reduced effort

Or, that account of what you did during the summer:

  • how far did you travel, in what direction, over how many days, what was the average distance travelled each day

  • what is the temperature difference between where you live and here; how can you account for a difference or why do you think it is very similar to what we experience

  • were there differences in the technology used in the places you visited compared to what you have at home; what might account for the difference

There is a good chance that greater meaning will be taken away from classroom experiences when there is a connectedness between the subjects. You surely have met students who did not like to write accounts or imagined responses but by including areas that are more of a strength for them, you may well increase their confidence with this.

OK, so the arts can link but mathematics? True, maths is often discreet: arithmetic is often learned in isolation, geometric figures are often explored in isolation, fractions and decimals are often investigated in isolation but they needn't be. By presenting concepts, like the aforementioned, in isolation, we teach abstract ideas that, for many learners, can be difficult to master let alone make sense of.

By creating experiences where the maths is used, and used purposefully, you have 1) shared a purpose for the learning, 2) created a tangible way of seeing the learning and 3) made collaboration almost necessary. Collaboration between individuals and subjects makes the learning richer: we learn from each other; we improve as a team; we build connections between and across subjects.

The acronym STEM was first coined in 2001, but STEAM has been around for long before that: the subjects are crucial for work in their fields and probably always have been. Let's show learners the effect of collaborating with peers and across subjects; the truth is, you probably have already been doing this, perhaps, without even realising it.

Who knows what the learners will accomplish when we promote the connections!


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