National STEAM Day falls on Nov. 8 this year, and that date is fast approaching. You can hardly walk into a school without coming across a few students or teachers who are excited about a STEM or STEAM curriculum, but it isn’t as popular as it should be. STEAM fields are in high demand, meaning STEAM education will only increase in the coming years. What are the learning objectives of a STEAM education, and how can you celebrate National STEAM Day?
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STEM vs. STEAM — What’s the Difference?
The STEM curriculum has gotten a lot of press, thanks to its focus on helping students hone science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. You can even find STEM academies, private schools that focus strictly on STEM. So where does the A come in?
The A in STEAM stands for art, and while that might not seem like it fits with science and technology-based curriculum pieces, it can be the most critical part of the learning process if handled correctly. Art ties in with a lot of technology and engineering careers — graphic design, for example, falls under the classification of a STEM career, but it is primarily art-based.
STEM and STEAM curricula are vital to help these students succeed once they leave school, too. Current estimates project careers in STEAM and STEM fields will grow up to 14 percent between 2010 and 2020. For comparison, the rest of the job market is growing at 5 to 8 percent, and right now there aren’t enough STEM and STEAM graduates to fill the jobs that are appearing. Roughly 0.8 percent of graduates annually are focusing on these fields.
Adding art to the sciences doesn’t take anything away from the impact of these fields. It can make it easier for a student who has never seen a line of code or worked with a computer to adopt the skills because it meshes with something they know. What can teachers, parents and students do to improve adoption of these new curricula across the board?
Teachers and STEAM
STEAM careers are all about the process — the journey from hypothesis to experiment to conclusion or idea to design to finished product. That is one thing missing from current curricula — instead of learning the process, how to get from start to finish or what questions to answer, students instead learn to memorize dates and formulas they’ll forget soon after turning in their final exam.
Teachers can incorporate art into nearly any subject, whether it falls under the STEAM umbrella or not. If you’re a teacher and wondering how you can get your students excited about STEAM, start talking to your co-workers. Getting a STEAM curriculum started in your school is a lot easier if more than one teacher feels fired up about it.
The main foundation of STEAM is to gently guide your students to find their own conclusions and learn in their own way. That is counterintuitive for schools that are using a Common Core curriculum, which is very teacher-led. Teachers, especially new teachers who have only ever used Common Core, will have to take time to learn a new way of thinking and a new way of teaching.
Parents and STEAM
Teachers aren’t the only ones who need to work to get kids excited about STEM and STEAM in schools — it falls to the parents, too.
Getting kids interested in STEM or STEAM isn’t the most significant challenge — it’s the parents who don’t encourage their kids to follow their dreams, or get out of their way when the kids find something that they love or are interested in. Kids today are under so much pressure to succeed at things like math — which is part of STEM and STEAM, by the way — and English and history so they can get into a good college, things like art get pushed to the back burner or forgotten entirely.
Encourage your kids to play and to explore and learn about the things they are interested in. The core subjects might be essential, but they aren’t the only important thing about learning, and if we can foster a love of learning in our children, we won’t have to push them to get good grades or succeed in school. We’ll have to step aside and watch them take an active interest in their education.
Students and STEAM
If you do it right, it isn’t hard to get students excited about STEM or STEAM lessons in the curriculum. A few tricks can make it easier for parents and teachers, though.
We’ve already briefly mentioned how STEAM lessons are vastly different from traditional teaching, so the first step is to teach the teachers. Get them away from the “memorize-this” lesson plans and show them how to guide their students without stepping all over the learning process.
The next step is to tie things into the 21st century. Yes, you can learn how to program from a book, but the lessons sink in better when you can write the code on a computer screen and see how the finished product works. Plus, it’s a lot easier for teachers to grade a working program than it is for them to try to evaluate handwritten code on a sheet of paper.
STEM and STEAM have applications even in a traditional curriculum, and allowing students and teachers to focus on these STEAM fields can help prepare them for the working world once they finally graduate. STEAM fields are growing faster than any other fields in the country, and the number of current graduates isn’t enough to keep up with the demand.
It’s up to parents and teachers to fight for STEM and STEAM curricula in their schools. Support from administrators helps, too, but this sort of change happens best when the teachers are leading the charge. If you want to help your students succeed after they graduate, introduce them to STEM and STEAM fields — you might be astonished by what they create if you give them a little nudge and get out of the way.