Twenty-first-century schools remain eager to incorporate a STEAM-based curriculum, but it's not always an easy task. Successful STEAM programs go deeper than an after-school robotics club. Bridging STEAM with different content areas helps ensure a well-rounded education as students deepen their understanding of each subject. Read on to learn more about the benefits of incorporating a STEAM mindset into your daily curriculum.
What is STEAM?
STEAM draws key principles from science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. These subjects teach students to begin each activity by developing an inquiry question (Riley, 2020). Students sharpen their critical thinking skills and learn to solve problems.
Many educators think of STEAM as a premade curriculum, a set of standards, or a buzzword. But STEAM isn't a fad. Rather, it's a flexible and enduring approach to education. Educators can incorporate STEAM principles into every grade level and content area. A robust STEAM approach encourages students to take risks, collaborate with others, communicate effectively, and explore different solutions. STEAM principles support lifelong learning and intellectual growth.
What is a STEAM Mindset?
STEAM emphasizes persistence, exploration, and creativity. Students develop a growth mindset and focus on the learning process rather than the result. STEAM doesn't emphasize memorization or skill-and-drill exercises. Instead, students engage in flexible projects that allow for mistakes and multiple outcomes.
Many educators already focus on the 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity (Stauffer, 2020). STEAM builds on these practices. Educators learn to be intentional about creating hands-on activities and inquiry projects. Meanwhile, students explore new ways to tackle problems.
Why Bridge STEAM with Other Subjects?
STEAM focuses on problem-solving and critical thinking. Educators often assume these skills apply only in math and science subjects. Actually, English Language Arts (ELA) and social studies curriculums emphasize critical thinking, too. Students begin by developing a thesis, argument, or hypothesis. Next, students work with classmates to conduct inquiry projects. Through their research, they deepen their understanding.
You may not realize it, but you might be using a STEAM mindset in your classroom. If your students do several inquiry projects and hands-on collaboration, STEAM already plays a role in your lessons. That's great news because activities using a STEAM mindset or approach can produce better-trained students. Consider the following benefits of STEAM.
STEAM Teaches Computational Thinking
Computational thinking represents "the thought processes involved in expressing solutions as computational steps or algorithms that can be carried out by a computer" (Wing, 2010). Programmers use this type of thinking to write code and build machinery. Computational thinking can take place within the classroom, too. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be an expert coder to use this type of thinking.
Students use computational thinking when they ask questions, define problems, and examine data. This type of thinking also plays a role in planning and carrying out investigations. Teaching computational thinking in ELA subject areas deepens students' metacognitive skills.
STEAM Teaches Lateral Skills
STEAM can unify your school's curriculum. Too often, schools teach subjects like math and ELA separately. Students struggle to understand how different subjects relate to one another. Many students become frustrated when subjects remain taught in isolation. They feel that the skills taught in one content area don't seem to apply anywhere else.
A STEAM approach teaches a unified set of critical-thinking skills. No matter which subject they work on, students practice the same techniques. Students learn to ask questions, create a hypothesis, and build a project. As a result, students emerge with a deeper understanding of each subject area. They begin to fit together different subjects into a cohesive whole. STEAM is everywhere in the world. It should be in every part of your school's curriculum, too.
STEAM Excites Students About Learning
The educational landscape has shifted during the last few decades. For years, teachers pushed students to memorize facts and numbers. Students demonstrated their learning through multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank tests. Often, students promptly forgot everything they had learned.
Today, we understand that students need to build critical thinking skills. Memorization remains a poor substitute for learning. Deep understanding requires inquiry projects, experiments, and hands-on activities. Students also need the opportunity to take charge of their learning and practice collaboration.
STEAM puts students in the driver's seat. As a result, students receive a more well-rounded education. School projects become an exciting activity rather than a mundane assignment. As they engage with their lessons, students learn teamwork, leadership, and negotiation. These skills help to carry students into college and the workforce.
STEAM Boosts Educator Involvement and Enthusiasm
Educators don't enjoy fill-in-the-blank lesson plans any more than students. Teaching from a textbook becomes dull for everyone involved. STEAM gets educators excited and engaged. Educators begin to think deeply about their lessons and explore creative opportunities. A STEAM approach discourages activities with a predetermined outcome. Instead, students explore and experiment.
Educators are often surprised with their students' outcomes, and this unpredictability can make learning exciting for everyone. Students may enjoy surprising successes or bewildering failures. As students explore, educators can roll up their sleeves and conduct inquiry projects of their own. With no outcome guaranteed, teachers can help students determine why their experiment succeeded or failed.
How Can I Incorporate STEAM into My Lesson Plans?
A STEAM approach doesn't require an expensive new curriculum. Educators can draw from key principles and practices to enhance their existing activities. Consider the following tips for applying a STEAM mindset to your lesson plans.
Choose an Essential Question or Problem
Encouraging a STEAM mindset in your activities begins with a focus question or a problem. Clearly define your question. This starting point will shape the entire lesson and guide your students' learning.
Use Real-World Data or Relevant Issues
STEAM connects events in your classroom to the world outside. Sometimes, projects draw inspiration from something happening in the community. You might ask students to consider why a local bridge project failed. Students can also engage in community service or charitable activities (Muir, 2019). STEAM helps students spot connections and understand the real-world impact of their studies.
STEAM requires students to work together to solve the problem. Students will need to divide up the work and have dialogues about their findings. Educators may need to help students sharpen their collaboration skills during this step.
Get Creative About Materials
STEAM lessons require hands-on materials, but they don't have to break the bank. Many educators use simple materials like magnets, pool noodles, balloons, or cardboard. STEAM is all about creativity and innovation. Even if strapped for funding, your school can still manage to incorporate STEAM principles.
Robotics is a great way to incorporate STEAM into your classroom. Students engage in hands-on technological lessons that emphasize real-world problems. With robotics, students can create a task and explore multiple pathways to achieve their goals. These tasks require students to communicate and collaborate as they program their robots. If students explore programming languages, they can also deepen their fluency and literacy.
What is Sphero?
Sphero’s products and curriculum is ideal for novice STEAM educators. Take advantage of Sphero's small programmable robots designed for experimentation. This does not require previous experience with coding or robotics. Teachers can jump in and learn alongside their students. Sphero offers supplemental curriculum guides, including scaffolded lessons and step-by-step teacher support.
Sphero fits neatly into many existing curriculums. With Sphero robots and littleBits, students learn to design creative projects, communicate, and collaborate. Students also see the impact of their decision-making skills. Each choice affects their project's outcome and their robot's behavior. Sphero robots offer an ideal supplement to a wide range of subjects, including ELA and literacy.
Ready to jumpstart your STEAM journey with us? Check out our full product catalog, take a look at our educator offerings, or watch our recent webinar on incorporating Sphero and STEAM into ELA subject areas.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020, September 01). Computer and Information Technology Occupations: Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm
Muir, T. (2019, January 22). How Students Can Engage in STEM and Fight Cancer at the Same Time. Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://www.weareteachers.com/pennies-for-patients/
Riley, S. (2020, July 31). Is it Arts Integration or STEAM Approach: Education Closet. Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://artsintegration.com/2016/11/30/arts-integration-steam/
Stauffer, B. (2020, May 7). What Are the 4 C's of 21st Century Skills?: Digital Curriculum for CTE & Elective Teachers. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.aeseducation.com/blog/four-cs-21st-century-skills
Wing, J. M. (2010, November 7). Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~CompThink/resources/TheLinkWing.pdf