By Penny Bauder, Environmental Scientist, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
While STEM programs get a ton of attention and accolades (and rightfully so!), STEAM programs are just as important. Many people are familiar with the popular educational initiative of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but lately many parents, educators, and school administrators are favoring a new term: STEAM. The phrase retains the original STEM subjects as tenets, but includes an A which stands for Arts. The shift addresses the focus on creative skills to boost engagement by making learning more fun and accessible.
Why is STEAM learning becoming such a hot topic right now? Both STEM/STEAM related careers are in such high demand that the Federal Government has just extended a provision allowing foreign students that are earning degrees in STEM fields a visa extension, now allowing them to stay for up to three years of “on the job training.” The US Department of Education reports that the number of STEM jobs in the United States will grow by 14% from 2010 to 2020, growth that is considered “much faster “ than the national average of 5-8% across all job sectors. Computer programming and IT jobs top the list of the the hardest to fill jobs, according to a recent study done by McKinsey. Despite this, the most popular college majors are not STEM related. So how can we get more kids involved in STEM, and create a strong and able workforce.
By teaching STEAM, of course.
The inclusion of the arts component into STEM makes it more fun to learn, and more approachable to kids, especially younger kids with shorter attention spans. A child who has never seen code or computer science learning will be less intimidated and more engaged if it includes something they are familiar with, like an art component. Children need to be engaged in learning, and learn in ways that can hold their attention, the way social media, and internet sites like Youtube do. The easiest way to do this is to make it fun and interesting. The inclusion of arts does this, for a wider range of children.
Art education allows students to learn things in a more open-ended and less restrictive way and make them applicable to real life. Arts and creativity are crucial to the sciences, technology, engineering, and computerArts are used in website and user interfaces design, advertising, product design and usability, branding and start-up creation among countless other uses, all things that are paramount to STEM learning and careers. So STEAM education is crucial to educate and prepare the next generation of the American, and global workforce, and to allow this generation to create jobs, grow the economy, and address emerging environmental and societal challenges.
Here are six specific reasons why STEAM learning should be a integral part of every educational program.
1. Encourages independent thinking
STEAM education is not about hand-holding. In a STEAM curriculum, kids are given room to think, evaluate, and determine how to best achieve their goals and complete projects. The results are not to be measured simply by success or failure; instead it’s the way of thinking that they learned while completing the projects that matters most. By working in learning environments that offer minimal risk, the idea that making mistakes is okay and that failure can be productive is encourage and reinforced. Along the way, learners go at their own pace and skill level; they can spend time with beginning foundations or challenge themselves by working with complex concepts. Students can pursue new tangents of thought, and there is a free-flowing exchange of ideas that isn’t bound by intellectual constraints or fear of failure.
2. Interdisciplinary approach
A STEAM-centered education is driven by a cross-disciplinary emphasis, exposing learners to multiple, lateral ways of thinking. Subjects such as science and tech aren’t valued more than the arts, but all subjects are presented in relationship with one another. It’s one thing to write up code for efficient software, but it takes strong artistic skills to make sure the product has a user-friendly appeal. Some might think STEAM has always been the basis of most schools and institutions, but true STEAM programs involve subjects taught within the same lesson. With this philosophy, students are able to view the unique advantages of each discipline. It teaches students that they’re not limited to one particular subject, or must pick between a technical or artistic topic; their expertise can be formed through a combination of these. The equal representation of subjects promoted by STEAM makes it a truly well-rounded program that appeals to students’ evolving curiosity and range of interests.
3. Project-based learning
A central component of STEAM education is hands-on, project-based learning. Children work on projects specific to what issues appeal to them. They are encouraged to decide on a goal and choose which skills they want to explore to achieve it, allowing them to discover and experiment with various methods. The addition of an artistic component makes complex topics such as math and programming more approachable and less mentally intimidating. Unlike traditional STEM projects, the emphasis isn’t on obtaining or analyzing facts or data. Projects are evaluated against a subjective criteria that values creativity, rather than whether the student has concluded a right or wrong answer. This method supports the child’s educational journey and promotes creative expression.
4. Development of creative problem-solving skills
While technical knowledge is a requirement in many industries, creative, think-outside-the-box problem-solving remains one of the most sought-after skills within the job market. Creativity might seem like a skill that comes naturally to certain individuals, but it’s actually one that can be fostered by a well-rounded STEAM education. Inspiring open-ended, creative exploration serves as a form of productive play and inquiry. The lack of rigidly defined rules to follow encourages young learners to demonstrate adaptive critical thinking, think around a given problem, and consider the effects produced by changing different variables. Students ask themselves “How do I design a solution to best fit the problem?” Without having to rely on a fixed procedure, learners hone their ability to assess a large set of details and understand that problem-solving models can be flexible.
5. Engagement with real-world applications
Though STEAM is becoming increasingly common in elementary and secondary education, it’s equally critical to implement in higher education and beyond. As concepts become more advanced, students can make better, sophisticated connections to the real world. STEAM programs expose students to “big picture” concepts seen in the real, physical environment. The hands-on approach that STEAM education encourages can also benefit even individuals who don’t end up with careers in a STEAM field since it emphasizes creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. These are all essential skills in just about any field of work, as well as daily life, that give individuals an edge in the workforce as well as better equip them to handle stress and other life challenges in a composed, calm, thoughtful and constructive way.
6. Encourage more girls towards STEM careers
Science and math are traditionally fields that have been dominated by men — today, women hold only 25-percent of STEM jobs in the US — and many girls have been discouraged from these careers from an early age. But those statistics have nothing to do with aptitude! Implementing STEAM during the elementary years levels the playing field somewhat by implicitly encouraging girls’ interest in these subjects and building their confidence in a natural way.
7. Well-being and mental health
There is a significant amount of research in the medical field that has suggested that art — and, more specifically, being creative — is, in fact, quite useful for our mental, emotional, and physical well-being! We undertake creative pursuits such as writing, acting, drawing, or dancing simply because we enjoy them. Intuitively, we know that creativity is good for us, and our creative passions make us happy. Science seems to agree with us on this.
Green Kid Crafts combines art and science to make STEM fun and accessible so that kids can begin to see themselves as scientists, artists, and makers. We offer many project ideas, like this dancing rice experiment, on our blog, and we also send tens of thousands of kids across the country a monthly science and art subscription box full of fun projects through our company’s subscription program. Voted the best kids subscription box by Red Tricycle and winner of the Academics’ Choice Brain Toy Award, both kids and parents love our award-winning STEM and STEAM subscription boxes!