From the early 1990s, educators and policy makers in US felt that the US was trailing behind other countries in science and maths and would need to increase student proficiency in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in order to develop a future workforce which will ensure its position as a global leader. This led to a fast development of STEM Learning methods and its integration into mainstream curriculum not just in US, but globally across many countries. As a trans disciplinary approach, STEM enables students to perform diverse hands on projects using concepts from science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Currently there are National level STEM centers across the world that encourage and fund teacher training, grants, research and measurement of STEM Integration in education sector.
The Journey from STEM to STEAM
As STEM progressed, policy makers and educators questioned if too much focus on STEM was downplaying other disciplines like art, humanities, drama, dance, music, visual arts, design and new media. As the economic downturn hit the world, business and industry started to look at Design Thinking and Creativity as critical skills to nurture innovators, educators, leaders and learners of the future. John Maeda, former president of the Rhode Island School of Design championed the STEM to STEAM movement, campaigning to add “arts” to STEM and bringing the initiative to the forefront of educational policymakers. He set out the main objectives of the STEAM movement as:
- transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
- encourage integration of Art + Design in K–20 education
- influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation
Significance of including Arts to STEM
"The greatest scientists are artists as well" - Albert Einstein (the greatest physicist, amateur pianist and violinist)
What Einstein meant was that science and art are inexplicably intertwined. In 1959, he once elaborated to Max Wertheimer( psychologist and scholar of creativity) that he never thought in logical symbols or mathematical equations, but in images, feeling and even musical architectures. To Einstein, imagination was more important than knowledge. If we see the works of Michelangelo, we see his avid interest in anatomy which yielded accurate human depictions like the statue of David. Closer home, Sir M Visvesvaraya ( eminent Indian Engineer and statesman) was an arts student who studied civil engineering and went on to design and build intricate systems for flood management and irrigation in India.
STEAM Learning bridges the disconnect between science and arts and maximizes the output from STEM Learning. The critical thought and enquiry of STEM gets blended with the creativity, wonder and imagination of Arts and provided students with a highly intuitive and effective way of learning.
Benefits of STEAM Learning
Students who participate in STEAM learning:
- bring all students into the circle of learning, not just those who are
- good at math or science
- think outside the box
- feel safe to express innovative and creative ideas
- feel comfortable doing hands-on learning
- become self-directed learners
- demonstrate high team work and collaboration skills
- are able to connect how science, maths, the arts, and technology work together
- become increasingly curious about the world around them and feel empowered to change it for the better.
STEAM in Schools
Some key areas that need to be taken into consideration before planning and integrating STEAM in schools are given below
- Start Simple and Small STEAM projects: This will allow teachers and students to understand the principles of STEAM and their feedback could be helpful when schools plan for a full-scale STEAM integration. A good example of a small STEAM project done in Australia was to build a small organic garden in schools which required Grade 1 and 2 students to blend creativity with science and work collaboratively to grow their own produce.
- Fail fast, improve and keep going: Give teachers and students time to tinker, fail and improve.This freedom to fail and them come up with solution after many iterations will empower students to think out of box and feel safe in expressing their innovative ideas.
- Utilize Summer and Winter breaks: In case of time constraints, schools can start by introducing STEAM projects during school vacations which students can sign up for and give feedback on. This will help change the mindset of educators, parents and teachers to explore STEAM and the fees collected from these program could be a source of funds when schools plan to do full-scale implementation.
- Integrate STEAM and Coding with Core curriculum: Educators and school policy makers will need to explore newer curriculum methods and age appropriate design approach.
- Design Infrastructure: Invest in Smart Spaces, Maker Spaces, AR Labs and Design labs which are well equipped with tools and programs to ensure a perfect environment to foster innovation and creativity. Ensure easily accessible, cross-platform, reusable, integrable tools and programs that can be easily integrated with arts and crafts material.
- Teacher Professional Development: Providing formalized STEAM training to teachers
- Invest in Starter Kits: There are many private players producing STEAM starter kits to accelerate design thinking and logic.
- Connect STEAM Projects with Community and Real-World Problems: Students should be able to identify a real life problem that they care about and go about brainstorming solutions and solving it using STEAM approach. Schools can participate in government hackathons providing solutions to real world community problems that the students can relate to and engage.
- Create a culture around STEAM: Cultivate the culture of making and innovating by holding schools level competitions, showcasing the projects at various inter schools events and fairs and celebrating teachers and students who are true proponents of STEAM Learning. Many schools will cite lack of time and space for integrating. The only way to address this is by making them aware and changing their beliefs by showing them the positive results of introducing their kids to STEM learning methodology.
- Guidance and Support: Set up a guidance and support cell for teachers and students as a safe space to clarify their doubts and brainstorm their innovative ideas.Over a period of time, when STEM Learning in ingrained in students, they will come up with innovative ideas to further improve their learning process.
- Continuing professional development: Set up formalized continuous STEAM training for educators. An effective well-trained teacher will ensure that the highest potential of utilizing STEAM approach is realized.
- Full suite STEAM solution: Invest in a full suite solution, like EdSense, which seamlessly combines project based learning with robotics, math lab, soft skills lab, AR/VR Lab, programming and design thinking tools and proper maintenance support.
Relevance of STEAM in India
The emergence of government initiatives like Make In India and Skill India have further given impetus for schools and universities to make investments into integrated learning methods like STEM and STEAM and ensure a future-ready workforce who are equally adept in technology as well as creative skills. Despite having the best of the brains in India, the exam focused education model had limitations related to innovation, problem solving and creativity. The need of the hour is to look beyond implementing ICT infrastructure in education and focus on integrating "Hands On" application based learning with regular Indian curriculum. In fact many private players have emerged who are providing technological solutions to incorporating hands on learning projects in school like Electronic Blocks, Robotics, AR Labs, 3D printing, and design labs.
STEAM Learning challenges the traditional way of thinking - "I am good at maths and science, so I am not creative". STEAM brings about a highly intuitive way of learning that will develop students who are critical thinkers, innovative and more adept at tackling the real-life world problems.