STEAM: Not All Hot Air
Most people are familiar with the push in education for a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The more recent trend, however, is STEAM, which adds Art and Design into the mix. STEAM is a term coined by the Rhode Island School of Design with the intent of infusing critical thinking and integrated learning into education.
Programs implement STEAM with the intention of sparking imagination and creativity, creating an integrated and engaging learning environment for kids. Subjects are blended and learning takes place through hands-on, creative projects. Children are encouraged to ask questions and attack real-world problems using imagination and higher-level thinking skills. This isn’t typical textbook instruction, so there are no “right” answers because children identify problems, experiment with solutions, and use artistic design and engineering, technology skills, math, and scientific reasoning to create innovative solutions to problems that intrigue them. For example, when studying the environment, children may engage in creating inventions to solve existing problems, such as water purification systems, robots for recycling, structures for safety in hurricanes, and so on. Art projects can also serve as a basis for studying science, incorporating technology and using math. For example, art projects about ocean life could involve scientific research on the internet as well as book research on ocean life; math related to depth, width, percentages, proportion, and so on is needed to determine relative sizes; and engineering is studied as three-dimensional natural history installations are created.
Initial results show that STEAM education programs may lead to increased commitment to both the sciences and the arts as children become more confident and motivated to learn more about their areas of interest. Everyone is more inspired to learn when fully engaged, especially when you can have fun at the same time.
Dr. Toni Linder is a leader in the field of early childhood development and early childhood special education. She works with children of diverse backgrounds and ability levels, including children that are gifted and talented, who have disabilities or come from backgrounds of poverty, and those from multicultural backgrounds.