There’s never enough education funding. Or people, or supplies, or time. That’s why allocating funding is always so difficult—it’s all about balancing competing, worthy priorities. (True, the recent surge of education funding, particularly in the U.S., has helped. But while governments are smartly earmarking more funding to education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are years, if not decades of underfunded educational priorities. More resources might be available, but there’s still a lot to do.) In this article, we’re going to make the case for why investing in STEAM & coding should be a top priority for school districts. What we’re not going to do is advocate for what this investment should look like. It could mean buying STEAM tools and courses from SAM Labs, and of course, we would love that. But it could also mean infrastructure, professional development, or hiring additional teachers. As long as more K-8 students are learning about STEAM & coding at a formative age, that’s a win in our books. Without further ado, here’s why you should make investing in STEAM & Coding a top priority.
Core Content & STEAM Integration
Sometimes STEAM & coding education is treated like a bonus, an extra, a “nice-to-have”. If there’s extra time or resources, everyone’s happy for students to take a STEAM class, but the focus is always on core content like math, science, and ELA. “First we have to make sure students are meeting standards,” the thinking goes, “and then we can do the other stuff.” At SAM Labs, we reject this thinking. Not because core subjects shouldn’t be the priority, because they absolutely should. We reject it because STEAM and coding have a powerful role to play in helping students to achieve and exceed standards, because they integrate with core content to enhance students’ understanding of the material. After all, STEAM is an acronym that includes many of these core subjects, like science, the arts, and mathematics! And while technology, coding, and engineering aren’t considered “core” content, quality STEAM lessons are designed to touch multiple subjects. A student might be building a model or coding a program, but they’re also learning about seed dispersal, factor pairs, and mixing substances. This is what makes STEAM cross-curricular. It touches all these subjects, which increases student understanding by giving them the opportunity to utilize their knowledge in different situations. For instance, a 2019 study on the effect of integrated STEM or STEAM education found that STEAM had an overall positive effect on student learning, especially in areas of affective domain, career aspiration, thinking skills, and emotional skills. That’s why investing in STEAM & coding should be a top priority—because it helps students succeed in all the other top priorities. It also helps with…
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
It’s never been more important to educate the whole child. In particular, it’s vital that we support the social and emotional development of our students. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is about giving students the skills, knowledge, and mental frameworks required for them to build healthy identities, manage emotions, feel and show empathy, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. With the mental health of so many students impacted by the pandemic, a strong focus on SEL can help them become happier and healthier in the face of challenges. That’s why surveys show 93% of teachers agreeing that SEL is as important as academic learning. That’s where STEAM & coding comes in. Far from the cliché of students hunched over Chromebooks, STEM projects are often highly collaborative, and there’s no better chance to teach social and emotional skills than when students are interacting with their peers. Whether through group projects or by encouraging students to problem solve with their classmates, STEAM & coding gives educators opportunities to teach Social and Emotional Learning techniques and students a chance to practice them. STEAM projects can even be centered around a SEL lesson! There’s no limit to how SEL & STEAM can work together. That’s why now is the perfect time to invest in STEAM & coding, because it will help lay the foundation for the social and emotional learning that students will benefit from now and in the future. Speaking of the future…
21st Century Skills
Did you know that 65% of children entering grade school today will end up working in jobs that don’t even exist yet? It’s not surprising. Take mobile apps. Mobile apps didn’t exist 15 years ago. There are many people with careers designing, developing, and marketing mobile apps who were in grade school when the first apps were released. But how do we prepare our students for jobs we don’t even know will exist? By preparing them with skills that will cut across all of these new and emerging industries. We’re talking about:
- Critical thinking
- Technology literacy
- Computational thinking
And more. In other words, 21st century skills. It doesn’t matter what job a grade schooler ends up doing 15 years from now. These are skills that will serve them well. Skills they need. They are also skills that STEAM & coding are uniquely suited to teach—the the 2019 STEM/STEAM education study found that “The most frequently mentioned positive aspect of STEAM lessons from interviews was self-directed problem solving,” and that the positive effects persisted into college, showing the potential for long-term impact. State and local governments agree. 33 states have adopted computer science education policies since 2018. Unfortunately, computer science is still not in a majority of schools. That’s why it’s important to invest in STEAM & coding now. These are skills that will serve students far into the future, and cut across all subjects, life skills, and professions. Speaking of students…
Every teacher knows how important it is to keep their students engaged. Engaged students pay more attention, they practice higher-level critical thinking skills, and they have more meaningful learning experiences. And if there’s a shortcut to keeping students’ minds engaged, it’s keeping their hands engaged. The effect of hands-on learning on student engagement is backed by research. Multiple studies show that “learning by doing” causes students to more readily and enjoyably engage with topics, produce higher achievement at all levels of thought, and to progress appropriately at standardized tests while learning additional skills. STEAM & coding are especially well-suited for hands-on learning because building and creation are integral parts. Even coding and running a program entirely virtually is more interactive than a lecture and a test, and when combined with physical components they can build with their hands? That’s a student engagement goldmine. Which is why investing in STEAM & coding is so vital—it keeps students engaged and learning after a school year where engagement was hard to come by. Speaking of this school year…
Summer Enrichment – STEAM & Coding Programs
One of the quickest ways STEAM & coding can provide benefits to students is through summer enrichment programs. It’s one of the categories that received specific attention in the U.S. COVID-19 relief funding bill, and it’s also an area that’s historically struggled for funding, making it ripe for improvement. The research on summer enrichment programs is robust. A 2011 study from The Wallace Foundation found that:
Rigorous studies of voluntary summer programs, mandatory summer programs, and programs that encourage students to read at home in the summer have all found positive effects on student achievement. The combined evidence from these studies suggests that all of these types of summer learning programs can mitigate summer learning losses and even lead to achievement gains. Moreover, longitudinal studies conclude that the effects of summer learning programs endure for at least two years after the student has engaged in the summer program.
The study also notes that “high-quality summer learning program can cost between $1,109 and $2,801 per child for a six-hour-per-day, five-week program.” Though this can be less than two-thirds of what schools spend on programs during the school year, it’s an additional expense compared to lower-quality interventions that repurpose existing materials. Likewise, a 2016 report from RAND found that summer enrichment programs had a positive effect on social-emotional competencies, as well as on mathematics (23-31% over baseline), and language arts (14-23%). However, it went on to emphasize that lack of funding remains a key obstacle. Which is why investing in STEAM & coding now, while the funding is available, is such a good idea—it will help engage, motivate, and educate students over this (and subsequent) summers, so they’re set up for success next school year and beyond. (Speaking of summer enrichment, we recently hosted a webinar about investing in summer enrichment for long-term effects. The recording is available now—just fill out the form on this page to learn more.)
Why STEAM & Coding Should Be a Top Priority
When it comes to education, there are more priorities that deserve attention, funding, and resources than there are resources to give. It’s hard to pick a top priority when there are so many worthy options, much less a #1 top priority. We still think STEAM & coding should be that priority. For the reasons listed above—core subject integration, social and emotional learning, 21st century skills, student engagement, and summer enrichment—STEAM, STEM, & coding gives educators the ability to positively impact all of their other priorities, all at once. When it comes to bang for your buck, that’s hard to beat. So when it comes time to allocate your time, personnel hours, and funding, strongly consider STEAM & coding, for all the reasons listed here. A generation of problem solvers will thank you.
Stephen is an author, writer, and storyteller. As a content writer for SAM Labs, Stephen spends his time talking to educators and crafting cool free resources to help them teach STEAM & coding with confidence. In his free time he enjoys writing fantasy novels, playing board games, kayaking, scuba diving, and being ridiculously tall.