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STEAM education

January 12th

Stem, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths education is an often discussed topic in modern education and for good reason. There are a plethora of statistics boldening the case for a more applied and technical classroom, such as;

1.  In the US, the average median hourly wage for STEM jobs is double that of the average for all other jobs.

2. STEM professionals enjoy half the unemployment rate to their non-STEM colleagues

3. STEM jobs will grow by 17% compared to 12% in other industries

4. There is an 83% chance that if you earn less than $20 an hour your job will be automated by robots, the STEM median wage is $37.44.

These pro-STEM statistics, while being reason enough to apply STEM education in the classroom don't discuss STEM over STEAM or the value of one over the other. This, however, is precisely the point. STEM is STEAM and STEAM is STEM. The A is for art, yes, this could mean numerous things; finger painting, poetry, or ballet. Well, It does, plus much much more. The arts have always been a part of STEM, STEAM is merely an updated, improved and apt version.

Another factor in promoting STEAM is that social studies and humanities are being seen as less important subjects in school and universities as graduates make statistically less money and are less employed than STEM graduates. STEM over arts and humanities. No way. STEM builds bridges and buildings. STEAM creates Golden Gates and Louvres. This is avidly summarised by Steve Jobs, a man who was neither coder nor engineer but a visionary that put the "A" in STEAM.

It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.

 

Steve Jobs

Job's attributes much of Apple's success to aesthetics not just the nuts and bolts of the hard and software. STEAM isn't science or technology or engineering or arts or mathematics. It is science and technology and engineering and arts and mathematics. It's everything in the classroom combined. It's 21st-century real world education, integrated.

STEM is rigorous but can be too structured, to focused on specialised problems and thinking. The moment we throw an A into the mix, we get the Aristotle effect, the DaVinci code and of course the enigma of Einstein. What do these three famous thinkers have in common? To start with, they are engineers, scientists, mathematicians - their creativity, innovation, critical thinking and ability to communicate their ideas to the world is what sets these intellectual giants apart from the intellectually average. The genius of man comes about when the arts are incorporated into more technical and applied aspects of our world.

For contemporary evidence for this check in on STEAM based startups that is making waves out of Silicon Valley. STEM is the mechanics that makes everything work, the features. STEAM is the ideas and innovation that are the benefits technology holds for the world.

A is for Arts


It's more than painting; it's really about expression.

In relation to STEAM, what are the arts? When we talk about the arts in STEAM we include a broad range of ideas, topics, processes and thinking, including;

Digital Arts

Digital arts can come in many forms and almost always cross over with communication arts. Best signified by coding, that is, writing computer languages to display, analyse, explore or extrapolate data or information. In its basic form, you might have a front-end developer writing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to display the content. Pushing the information onto the web and making it dynamic requires server-side languages such as PHP or Ruby. Web apps and operating systems rely on languages such as Python, Java and C. A full stack engineer is a true polyglot (a person fluent in many languages).

Traditional STEM is interwoven from the ground up with people using coding in a creative way to;

Design

The first step in any STEAM-related activity is design. Design is reflected in the A by the process people go through when coming up with stronger, better, faster or cheaper ways to do things. Design is the first step to innovation.

Design crosses over with the communication arts and also digital arts as well. Take for example the process of developing a website.

  1. Brainstorming or idea creation

  2. Laying out a wireframe for the structure of the website

  3. Designing the website in Photoshop to make a PSD

  4. A front-end developer transforms the PSD into a static web page  using HTML, CSS and javascript

  5. This static website is then made dynamic and launched to the web by a back-end developer

  6. At every stage of the process in designing, coding and creating a web page the arts involved

Communication

For kalebr, the A in STEAM comes into its own via communication arts. Science, engineering, technology and mathematics are made relevant to the real world when their practitioners have the ability to "show" the results, simulations and solutions that are found when applying them. Every scientist, engineer and mathematician will at some point need to show someone their findings or the results of their research.


Presentation / Explanation

 
Presentation, whether formal like a Ted talk or casual when explaining a natural phenomenon to an interested bystander is how ideas are spread and communicated. The explanation of any idea is the art in STEAM. It could be an educator explaining the water cycle to a class or a pair of 10-year-olds discussing how to make bigger splashes at the local pool.

Promotion

 
An often forgotten part of the arts in STEAM is the promotion, marketing or negotiation that must occur when seeking collaboration, selling an idea or influencing a team. The idea is not being sold for money but inviting people to subscribe to a way of thinking or to create unity within a cooperative situation.

Written

 
Learners from a very young age are asked to report on their findings in science reports, in projects, and increasingly when using problem-solving in mathematics. Even formulating an argument to or for evidence from a field experiment is written communication as art.
Another powerful way written communication is used in STEAM is through metaphors or allegories to explain highly complex situations in language and ideas the audience can understand. This is used by Schrodinger in his famous "Schrodinger's Cat" thought experiment to explain quantum mechanics by applying it to everyday objects. Follow the link above for an awesome animation that describes it perfectly.

Visual

 
Visual design work is number one when it comes to conveying ideas or data to people. It could be a simple Excel graph to show a trend or a computer aided drawing (CAD) of a 3d model for use with a 3d printer. This 3d model could be for a jaw bone, bicycle or guitar. Yes, all three of these have been printed.
Also, in its basic form, a simple drawing "on the back of a napkin" to start the basis of a big idea is surely within the realm of art.

Creativity & Innovation

At the very core of STEAM is creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation applied to STEM is art. Everything about science, engineering, technology and mathematics requires innovation and creativity to progress and to push forward. STEAM education can unlock the creative potential in all our learners.

concept-based learning (CBL)

Phenomenon-Based Learning is taking real world ideas and guiding learners to build their knowledge around this by asking open-ended questions. Learners, when participating in CBL find that arts are naturally involved in STEM. No matter what phenomenon learners are describing in the real world, they must be able to present, explain and convince other people, be it their peers, parents or educators.

The arts also push learners not to accept answers and to explore, question and inquire about everything they are learning.

21st-century skills

21st-century skills are the skills required to be active, functional, useful, happy and employed members of society. The skills include literacy, numeracy and the 4C's

  • Creativity and innovation

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving

  • Communication

  • Collaboration

21st-century skills also incorporate digital literacy skills, career and life skills. When learners apply STEAM in a classroom, they're exposed to the full spectrum of 21st-century skills. STEAM, when taught effectively better prepares learners for the future.

Why STEAM Education is Awesome


STEAM education is fun and engaging because it's relevant.

Relevance

STEAM makes learning in the classroom relevant to the world learners live in. When learners are given the choice research, ideate, question, theorise and present in their own way, they take ownership of their learning.The learners also tend to communicate their learning and understanding the same way they communicate socially with their friends.

Many ideas and abstract concepts taught in school can be mapped to real world phenomena, when learners are asked to take the whole problem, think about a solution and design a way to solve it, it becomes relevant to them and their world. The very nature of STEAM is learning in a real world context.

Even when there are elements learners need to learn so they can grasp harder concepts later, learners can see within STEAM frameworks that there is a point to it all and they're not just learning something because it's in the curriculum.

If all else fails, the body builder metaphor works wonders.

A bodybuilder doesn't lift weights to get good at lifting weights. She lifts weights to look good, get stronger and be healthy.

 

Do you want a beautiful, robust and healthy brain? How about a big serving of calculus for lunch.

Future proofing


Will the skills our learners learn today be useful in the future?

Here at Kalebr, we believe in future proofing learners for the imminent changes coming to their work, life and play. While this may sound like a funny, made up, or irrelevant term, we see it as crucial, necessary and the basis of Kalebr's philosophy of education.

Learners need to know how to apply their specialised skills to the real world when they graduate school. Employers seek learners who have technical skill sets. Moving into the future, this may not be enough. With the onset of the robot age, more and more jobs will be automated out of existence. Learners who have technical skills and who can express themselves, who are creative and innovative, are going to be highly valued in future job markets.

We don't know what the future job market will look like. Of course, we can make assumptions, more of this, less of that, though we can't be sure. What we do know is, that if we equip learners with skills that are integrated and are based on problem-solving, critical thinking and real-world problems, then the future can throw anything it wants at our young learners. If Learners learn segregated subjects that aren't linked or applied to the real world in any meaningful way, they'll be less prepared for the future than those who do.

Apart from employment, STEAM teaches critical problem-solving skills that humans rely upon every single day. Education movements such as STEAM and PBL teach learners to be comfortable in unfamiliar intellectual territory. Traditional education teaches learners to be excel within familiar confines. Take for example the mathematical formula for volume.

Volume = length x base x height 

A learner as young as seven could be taught this method and could apply it with a high success rate. In reality, this calculation, for a seven-year-old, doesn't display a deep understanding of volume, it shows the ability to locate 3 numbers on a page and multiply them together. The smallest change to the question will leave these learners confused. For future proofing, learners need the opportunity and time to explore their studies rather than just quickly move on because of what needs to be achieved due to curriculum requirements.

Engaging and fun


STEAM education is engaging and fun because learners can direct their own learning.

When male and female learners participate in STEAM activities they are engaging in real world ideas, topics and concepts, are engaged, and because of this, they are happy. When concepts are taught in a collaborative, and integrated fashion, learners excel in the areas they are naturally gifted in, raise the level of critical thinking and raise the level at which the group operates. When learners are performing at their optimal level, their understanding increases so fast they're intrinsically motivated to keep on pushing the limits and depths of their understanding and knowledge.

Take a look at the balloon powered car STEAM project that is used to discuss Newton's third law of motion and the relationship between distance, speed and time.

Learners are given a balloon, bottle lids, cardboard, glue and sticky tape to make the fastest race car the world has ever seen. When coupled with a time recorder, measuring tape and a spreadsheet, the learners can make small improvements (design thinking). Everything the student does results in an increase or decrease in speed as shown by some simple calculations. The learners are learning about forces and velocity, design, making and collaboration.

Teaching Newton's third law; For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, without the real world context of the balloon powered car is difficult for even the brightest of learners to understand. How would you prefer to learn about Newton's third law?

Design thinking


The design thinking process used in STEAM Education.

Design thinking is the process of innovation and product development that moves towards a solution by making many small mistakes and constantly testing, improving and executing. It's an iterative process of refinement and improvement that companies such as IBM and Apple use to inspire innovation and creativity. If there is more innovation and creativity, learners will see better solutions to problems, better results in their assessments and be building skills they will use in the future.

Take the oldest STEM project in the book; "The straw bridge". Design thinking is what enables learners to build stronger and stronger bridges. STEAM education tasks learners with describing the journey of their learning. This "meta-language" helps learners develop a deeper understanding of the core principles of structural engineering and of what it is that makes the bridge stronger in the first place.

Growth mindset


If you believe you can get smarter, growth mindset says you can.

A growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, is the idea that people are in charge of their intelligence and can improve it with active dedication and conscious application. STEAM introduces growth mindset because of its entrenchment in technical studies. The arts and design area show learners there are always room for improvement. The learners see this in real time and can actively self-assess and monitor their development. Studies show that learners who develop a growth mindset are more resilient, grittier, get higher test scores, are more employable and are paid more.

Are you ready and waiting at the station, ready to jump on the STEAM train with your learners? We'll pick you up!

We have a ready made platform called Kalebr Projects that you can use to start applying STEAM within your core curriculum.

Full STEAM ahead!