Monday, February 2, 2015


What is the big deal with moving from STEM to STEAM? Why does this slight acronym shift even matter? We have found that adding design and the humanities into our STEM classes has increased student engagement, leverages a variety of student strengths and builds confidence. Girls are particularly drawn into STEM courses and projects that includes opportunities to contextualize learning, make connections and build confidence through the use of strengths. By adding the arts and design to many of our high school STEM electives, girls who would not normally have taken a computer science or engineering course have been drawn to the courses. 

I believe that by shifting from STEM to STEAM educators can foster the true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer.
At my school we often utilize a team teaching approach that allows teachers to know all students as individuals and to collaborate across disciplines. In 9th grade "Voice and Vision" students explore the theme of water. The class is co-taught by a science, visual arts and history teacher. The class is also participating in the Adobe Youth Voice program this year and has two international school partnerships. In 10th grade we have "Culture in Context," a class co-taught by our chair of visual arts and a computer science and engineering teacher. Students are exploring public art across the City of Pittsburgh and designing and coding mobile APPS. In 11th grade, we designed a class that I co-teach with our chair of history called "Global Leadership x Design." In this course the juniors are exploring personal leadership and how to foster strengths, building global literacy and designing social innovations for girls in developing countries through the use of human-centered design. 

You don't have to be an art teacher or even have a co-teacher to get started with the shift from STEM to STEM. 

  1. Think about allowing students to describe science labs through digital media or infographics. Math is prime for infographics, particularly with the growing need to teach students about big data and data visualizations.
  2. Students can also build their technical or persuasive writing in science labs, engineering notebooks and "visual thinking" journals.
  3. Design thinking is my favorite STEM to STEAM practice that offers an excellent companion to project or problem-based learning. 
  4. Leave time for students to "make," build prototypes, document their design process electronically and build presentations to share their project progress. Leave time for critique and to build presentations skills. 
  5. Buy tools to support STEAM like the Hummingbird Robotics Kit and Makey-Makey. 
  6. Create low-pressure tinkering stations (we call them innovation stations) that allow students to explore the intersection between STEM and the Arts. 

The purpose of STEAM isn't really about teaching art but to apply art in real situations. Applied knowledge leads to deeper learning! During the course of this month I will share several STEAM projects at my school from all disciplines and grades. 

The Ellis CoLaboratory promotes a STEAM approach to learning. 

No comments:

Post a Comment