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What is STEAM Education & Why is it Important?

What is STEAM Education & Why is it Important?

STEAM education is an exciting way to include cross-curricular subject matter in a way that’s meaningful to students. SAM Labs is passionate about empowering educators to help everyone understand STEAM education’s benefits. Implementing STEAM in the classroom can be challenging, but it’s important to remember the benefits.

Keep reading or jump ahead to learn:

What is STEAM Education?

STEAM education is an innovative and collaborative method of education that combines Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. This effective teaching method not only concentrates on the development of students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills but also promotes creativity and innovation through hands-on, collaborative experiences.

Why is STEAM Education Important?

STEAM education is important because it helps students bridge the gap between theory and practical applications, allowing them to become more versatile and adaptive in the face of rapid technological advancements.

STEAM education produces a whole host of benefits, such as developing soft skills (creativity, problem-solving, collaboration), increasing engagement and motivation, and personalizing the learning experience.

What’s even more powerful about STEAM learning is each of these benefits works together to give students one of the biggest benefits of all: preparing them for the future world they will lead.

Soft Skills

For many students from kindergarten through elementary, middle, and high school, soft skill development isn’t at the top of their list as something to focus on in school.

Completing homework and getting good grades is the crux of graduating throughout the school system or ultimately moving on to college.

However, soft skills are essential not only to students’ academic careers while in school but also to ensure they are successful in the future workforce later in life. Soft skills have become so important that the US Department of Labor has even created curricula around them, such as Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.

The curriculum highlights six critical skills that students should master before graduating to succeed in their future job. While these six skills are just the tip of the iceberg of what educators can help students develop in the classroom, STEAM education can help bring out even more through activities, products, and social interactions.

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Student Engagement

Here’s a troubling statistic: a recent report by Gallup stated that with each school year, students become less engaged.

Elementary school students start off very engaged with school, but by high school, students have lost most of their motivation and engagement. This is critical for educators because engagement contributes to a variety of factors to success, both in the classroom and for future workplace success.

Another statistic in the study stated that 45% of students in grades 5 through 12 had aspirations to start their own businesses someday. This goes to show the creativity, drive and want for a curriculum that allows students to apply their ideas to solve problems.

More traditional methods of teaching and learning can often fail students when it comes to engagement and motivation.

STEAM education as a methodology is not restricted to a certain grade level, and many solutions are meant to help students graduate from concepts learned in elementary to middle school and then continue to build upon them in high school.

STEAM education is often meant to build computational thinking skills, often young in elementary and middle school, and then gives high school students the ability to start experimenting with more complex coding and engineering challenges.

These projects that students are able to work on give students the exact motivating factor that they may be looking for: the ability to exercise creative control on coming up with a solution using a subject area that interests them or they consider themselves good at.

Personalized Learning

One of the final but arguably most important reasons why  STEAM education is important is the ability to customize the learning experience for each student. 

Personalized learning is becoming an integral resource in the modern teaching toolkit and is quickly becoming a popular way to teach students in the US.

Personalized learning sets itself apart from traditional teaching models for a variety of reasons:

  • It customizes learning for each student’s strengths, needs, skills, and interests
  • It works with each student around a custom-developed learning plan around what each student knows and how each student learns best

Personalized learning contributes to students’ self-advocacy and their ability to speak up about what interests them. It prioritizes learning using technology, often at their own pace, but does not replace intervention programs.

Because STEAM learning incorporates so many curricular areas within its wheelhouse, educators have the ability to present students with options for projects and lessons. And with a plethora of lessons, educational technology tools, and curricula available for educators to pick from to challenge students and align to their learning plans, students can almost always find a way to align their interests to something within STEAM education.

There are lots of free STEAM lessons available to spark student interest and inspire educators on how to solve these problems and push the personalized learning movement in a positive direction.

8 Benefits of STEAM Education

1. Technology Literacy

In a study conducted by from 2012 to 2017, 75% of fifth and eighth graders were found to be lacking in technology literacy. 

This identifies a critical issue for students who will be required to utilize more and more technology and skill sets in the working world. 

STEAM education pushes students to incorporate technology, computer programming, and engineering elements into classwork and projects. 

For educators, there are a number of high-quality STEAM kits and supplemental curriculum solutions that incorporate technology to give students the opportunity to truly dive into exploring complex coding, engineering, and technological tasks.

2. Computational Thinking Skills

Like technology literacy, computational thinking skills are an excellent on-ramp for students to begin thinking about coding before diving into text-based or visual-based applications. 

But computational thinking skills can also be used to help dissect problems and look objectively for solutions. 

Computational thinking skills are defined as the process used to formulate a problem and express the solution in a way a computer can understand and implement. 

Certain STEAM learning products are designed with computational thinking skills in mind from the start, preparing students for a future in coding or for a better way to diagnose issues while trying to solve problems, particularly in math, science, and engineering.

3. Critical Thinking

One of the best parts about STEAM education is that educators are not confined when it comes to the curriculum. STEAM activities can be completed in lessons or administered as projects. 

STEAM learning also gives students a cross-curricular toolset at their disposal, as they have access to science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. This allows students to think critically about how they would solve a particular problem. 

In many instances, some problems are solved by using an approach that unifies two subject areas at once. This is unique to STEAM education, as traditional classroom work has always segmented curriculum to that given time block and textbook.

4. Collaboration on Tasks & Projects

A recent 2017 study by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and Pearson found that students who collaborated on ideas to solve a problem identified many more ways to solve the problem versus when the first idea came from the teacher. 

STEAM learning is not a single-player sport. Most of the activities conducted in the classroom require pairs or groups and require students to work together to solve complex, real-world problems. 

STEAM projects also give students creative autonomy to solve problems with the educator as a guide and the curriculum as a resource. 

With STEAM learning, there can be many ways to solve a problem, but it’s up to the students to come together and agree upon the best solution. This is an excellent way to foster collaboration in the classroom and challenge students to work together.

5. Communication on Tasks or Projects

Similar to collaboration, communication on tasks or projects is critical both in the classroom and in the working world. 

Yet another study in 2015 by Pew Research highlighted the importance of communication, as a national sample of adults selected communication as the most important skill for students to ‘get ahead in the world today’. Interestingly enough, the 2017 study by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and Pearson defined collaboration as communicating with others, resolving conflicts, and managing tasks. 

STEAM lesson activities give students the opportunity to practice these communication skills face-to-face with one another in a safe environment. 

Most STEAM lesson activities are not pass or fail, so there is no risk in figuring out a solution and working together to determine the best solution. With practice, communication and collaboration can go hand-in-hand.

6. Leadership

Leadership is an important quality to foster in students, particularly those who need to enter the future working world. While some students naturally gravitate towards a leadership role in groups, others might not and tend to work in isolation, sometimes unaware of their strength in a subject area relative to their peers. 

With STEAM in the classroom, because it’s transdisciplinary, students can think of creative ways to bring in more subjects that they are passionate about, maybe more of a subject matter expert on and feel more comfortable speaking up to take the lead. 

Additionally, with STEAM education, there can often be a role reversal. Many students who are often the quietest may find that the subject matter they care about the most is represented in these projects, lessons, and this type of learning style, so they feel more confident speaking up and contributing.

7. Social Skills

Social skills are critical to a student’s development as a child and into adulthood. 

Another study conducted by “Ready to Lead,” a report for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) found that students who received instruction with social-emotional learning built into the curriculum scored 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive the instruction. 

This is an incredibly large difference and goes to show the power of being able to understand, empathize and communicate with others. Social skills include relaying interests and values to others, practicing active listening, and showing respect to one another. 

STEAM education, particularly when working in diverse groups with complex, cross-curricular challenges where everyone may want to voice an opinion or interest, this challenges students to work on every element of their social-emotional learning. 

As an educator, you have a birds-eye view of how your student groups communicate with one another, allowing for early intervention when things get complicated.

8. Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is an important skill for students, as it recognizes that both the classroom and future working world are full of diverse people whom students will need to interact with. 

Cultural competence refers to students communicating with people who may have cultural differences that are different than their own and allowing for an open, inviting dialogue to understand the differences. 

One of the most unique aspects of STEAM education is that it can be applied in so many diverse ways in the classroom. While many of the curricular lessons or projects may have a technological focus, students have an opportunity to showcase ideas that can solve real-world problems that face our cultures today. 

Real-world problems are the distinction here: textbooks and linear lectures often give a snapshot in time of the state of current events or aspects of a problem. 

With STEAM classroom projects, students are often encouraged to research solutions to a problem inhibiting a population of the world and find a solution. 

This gives students an opportunity to exercise cultural competence and work together on solving a problem that may not affect them but is affecting another demographic.

Free STEAM Resources and Lessons for Teachers

With a dedicated spot for STEAM in your curriculum, you’re bound to set your students up for success in the future workplace. There are dozens more benefits STEAM education can create in the classroom, but success stories with students are some of the most eye-opening ways educators can see STEAM learning benefiting students. Looking for more resources on all things STEAM and how you can implement it in your classroom?