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Understanding STEAM

June 30, 2018 | Curriculum

What is STEAM? Why is it important?

You may have heard of STEM, a way of teaching that uses the relationship between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as a way to promote learning and innovation in the classroom. However, a big part of innovation was missing from that equation—art and design—and so, STEAM was born. This movement was initially championed by the Rhode Island School of Design, and has quickly spread throughout schools across the country. In fact, even Sesame Street is using STEAM!

Incorporating all of these topics together plays on children’s natural sense of curiosity, keeping them engaged in the material. They have an opportunity to explore and get messy, and in return are inspired by and grow from these experiences. STEAM curriculum is often project-based, and so students must work collaboratively, together pushing each other’s critical thinking skills and together learning healthy risk-taking. The students are very much participants in the learning process. And with so many different aspects being drawn into the curriculum, it helps kids see new skills in both themselves and others. Maybe they discover that they’re a good leader; maybe they find that they are good at developing systematic strategies for solving problems; maybe they are good at stepping back and seeing the big picture; maybe they are good at diving in with a hands-on approach.

Brain-based research has shown that this kind of integration is not just exciting and engaging, but it also improves comprehension and long-term retention. For example, when students create stories or pictures of the material they are learning, they are also helping to better embed the information so that they remember it later on. This past school year, my school held a highly successful STEAM night for parents and children, with the entire first floor filled with different kinds of STEAM projects and activities to try. Kids and parents had the opportunity to experiment with paper planes using weights, folds, and different sizes; explore lines, angles, and patterns using river rocks with lines and shapes drawn on them to create paths; design and build forts; and create a collaborative mural using golf tees and a large piece of pegboard, among many other integrative activities. It was a great way to educate parents on what STEAM looks like for elementary-aged kids, engage the community, and also give some of us teachers new ideas and inspiration for the classroom.

In Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, he describes how to teach the skills necessary to become innovators and succeed in the 21st century. He explains that play, passion, and purpose are the forces that drive young innovators, and that people along the way have nurtured the creativity and sparked the imaginations of some of our most well- known innovators. Kids can learn these skills (and find their passion) through collaboration and problem-solving across subjects and topics, which is what STEAM sets out to do.

The aim of this website is to encourage parents and teachers to seek out alternative resources for learning math that engage students in a way that is interactive and immersive. The principles and ideas that guide STEAM align perfectly with this. I encourage all parents and teachers to seek out STEAM oriented lessons and activities to share with young students.

Have you tried any STEAM activities with your child? How have they responded? Please comment and share your experiences below...

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