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What is STEAM curriculum?

Response from “Ask a Former Board Trustee”- Clear Creek ISD Chapter: Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Jennifer Broddle, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Page Rander Dee Scott, Win Weber © AFTCCISD2021

STEAM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. STEAM is both an educational philosophy and an approach to instruction that emphasizes hands-on, experiential learning in across the curriculum. Optimally, STEAM-inspired curriculum starts in elementary school and grows to create entire high school courses designed around practical, real-world applications and critical thinking. Proponents of STEAM point out that this model is flexible, future-oriented, and better prepares students for their lives after high schools.

Is STEAM a new curriculum concept?

No. Rather, STEAM is best thought of as an active learning environment, in which teachers both provide a foundational understanding in each area and apply this knowledge in real-world situations. Typically, students work on problems or challenges in groups, developing communication and teamwork skills. Often the problems students solve involve brainstorming, designing, building, and testing. Through application, and students gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of STEAM concepts.

STEAM been a part of a student’s education for most of modern history, inspired by Leonardo DaVinci, the Renaissance polymath who studied and invented hundreds of machines and used art across all five disciplines. The STEAM disciplines have been a part of our curriculum for centuries, and they have been the foundation for each of society’s advances and transformations, for example:

  • The Renaissance and Enlightenment Periods (14th – 18th Century)
  • The 1st Industrial Revolution (1760s-1870s) – Coal-based and transform Western economies from agriculture to industry
  • The 2nd Industrial Revolution (1870s-1940s) – Use of electricity, gas, and oil to power the economy, transportation, and mass production
  • The 3rd Industrial Revolution (1940s-1990s) – Use of electronics and alternative energies
  • The 4th Industrial Revolution (1990s – Present) – Use of digital technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics, and interconnectivity

Why is ‘Art’ included in the “mix”?

Creativity and imagination are integral to design, whether a new technology or a symphony. Creative skills and knowledge of the arts such as design, writing, and history help students and practitioners solve problems in a more innovative way. As education policy makers realized that STEM focused on innovation but was missing the critical element of creative thinking and design, the arts were incorporated, including visual arts, social studies, history, physical arts, fine arts, and music. Teachers reported increased creativity, improved academic performance, improved motor skills, higher level decision-making skills and better visual learning.

What does the research say?

An influential National Science Foundation report (2001) indicated that US students, especially females and at-risk populations, were not entering the collegiate/training fields of STEM at the same rate as other industrialized countries. This was also troubling, as it appeared that the US would not have a significant workforce ready for 4th Industrial Revolution. A meta-analysis of 44 studies found that a) the definitions of STEAM are not uniform; b) creativity is rarely measured; c) interdisciplinary studies trail discipline-based courses both in terms of application and measurement; and d) STEAM programs were effective compared to traditional discrete programs. The findings indicate the importance of teaching the process, with the implication being that students may arrive at solutions and conclusions with differing results. Therefore, the process becomes the learning, and the evaluation becomes part of the solution.

What is the downside of a STEAM curriculum?

There are three common criticisms of STEAM programs:

a. Cost: It can be expensive to fund technology, materials, and the teacher education necessary to incorporate a comprehensive pre-K – 12 curriculum.
b. Accountability: STEAM projects and activities are not as neatly tested or graded as traditional instruction.
c. Teacher preparation: Developing STEAM lesson plans, managing STEAM groups, and having the breadth and depth of knowledge necessary for a comprehensive program can be challenging for teachers who have not prepared for this instructional model.

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