Over the past decade, there has been growing recognition of the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in education. Students who study these subjects at A level typically go on to enrol in higher education and subsequently work in a range of specialised fields.
More recently, however, there has been more talk about how the arts can be incorporated into STEM subjects to yield even greater results. The “A” in STEAM stands for the arts, which include visual arts and design in addition to music and the humanities. When the sciences and the arts successfully come together, new connections yield exciting discoveries and ideas.
One of the core differences between STEM and STEAM is that while STEM focuses primarily on scientific concepts, STEAM takes a more problem-based approach. Instead of purely looking at the concepts, STEAM encourages the creative process so that these concepts can be used to identify and solve real-world problems. When creativity is injected into STEM, innovation becomes possible.
To quote the co-founder of MTV, Tom Freston, “Innovation is taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way.”
This type of innovation cannot happen by investigating scientific concepts alone. Students must engage creatively with the concepts so that they can make new and exciting connections between the ideas and drive these ideas towards creating something new.
Science and Art Are Not Mutually Exclusive
STEAM is not a new concept and it is being integrated into learning all around the world. At Cambridge University, for example, professors are working alongside 12-year-olds to create music using coding live at STEAM education exhibitions. In Australia, STEAM learning is being integrated into the educational system.
By highlighting the value of creativity in STEM, we are able to break out of the common misconception that children are either good at maths and science or they are good at art and creative subjects. By traditionally failing to recognise that the arts and sciences are not mutually exclusive, we have been limiting children. STEAM creates a space where children can learn valuable scientific concepts while also stimulating the creative parts of their brain and enhancing their talents across the board.
Rather than monitoring the success of STEAM in terms of exam results, we prefer to look at STEAM in terms of successful real-life application. Recently, we shared an example of an innovative drone created when the non-profit research organisation Draper teamed up with Sprout Studios and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S.
All around the world, microplastics in the ocean and rivers pose a threat to the ecosystem. These tiny pieces of plastic become embedded in animal tissue and are then passed up the food chain. Considering fish is one of the primary sources of protein for humans around the world, this risk of contamination should not be taken lightly. Consumptions of these toxins have been linked to a wide range of disorders.
Draper highlighted the problems of microplastics in the ocean and created an innovative solution. They applied concepts of drone technology to create a bot that scans the water for miscroplastics. The bot then analyses the data and feeds back to scientists. By identifying the key problem areas, resources can be more effectively utilised and the cleanup process is made more efficient. This is an example of how scientific and technological concepts result in innovation when creative problem-solving is added to the mix. This is one of the driving forces behind STEAM.
STEAM Classes at Building Imagination
At Building Imagination, our co-curricular classes are a space where students can experiment with scientific and technological concepts without fear of “getting it wrong.” We teach STEM concepts and then plant the seeds for the children’s imagination to run wild. Our STEAM classes take a problem-based approach to inspire children to put new concepts together and to innovate.
One example of how we are incorporating the arts in STEM learning can be seen in our block coding lessons. Rather than teaching screen coding in the traditional learn and repeat way, our students have the chance to gain hands-on experience of programming robotics. Our students also program their own interactive stories and games, using the technology of coding to bring their creative imaginations to life.
STEAM Vs. STEM
There is no doubt that students who study STEM subjects develop a variety of skills that are essential to success. The wonderful thing about STEAM is that adding more creative elements to the STEM curriculum enables students to tap into the same scientific concepts but from a wider range of angles. Students that may not typically get much out of standard science lessons may find themselves stimulated and even inspired when they approach the same problems in a way that plays to their personal strengths.
Ultimately, we do not believe that STEAM and STEM are necessarily in competition. What we do believe, however, is that inserting creativity into both STEAM and STEAM creates more opportunities for innovation, solutions, and a whole lot of fun.