3 Ways to Implement STEAM in a Personalized Learning Environment
In one of our recent blogs, we touched on the benefits of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) and how this innovative methodology, when infused into the classroom, can truly transform the learning environment. STEAM is incredibly versatile because of its cross-curricular nature and has the capability to adapt to students’ needs and interests. This makes STEAM a perfect candidate for a personalized learning environment.
Personalized learning is an emerging and exciting realm of education that unlocks the potential of each individual student. The Aurora Institute defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.” Personalized learning environments aim to give agency to students on their path to learning and often place educators in the role of mentor or coach.
Studies have shown that when implemented effectively, personalized learning can drive learning outcomes for students and increase academic achievement. However, this is heavily dependent on how educators choose to structure their personalized learning environment.
To maximize the benefits of your personalized learning environment, here are three ways you can strategically insert the STEAM methodology in a meaningful way.
1. Choose The Right Technology
Personalized learning has a heavy emphasis on utilizing education technology, but only when the tech is used correctly. This means not just digitizing worksheets or settling for drill-and-skill applications that aim to replace the educator. It’s especially important for STEAM-focused personalized-learning environments, as STEAM challenges students to solve problems, demonstrate their knowledge and connect their thinking to the real world.
There are a number of education technology solutions on the market that allow students to model their projects in real-time, both physically and digitally, which can make a huge difference for both the learner and teacher. For students, this gives them the opportunity to connect the digital with the real-world and often provide ways to bring in the arts in a more tactile way. Additionally, when debugging a problem, students have two ways to check their work, both in a virtual and physical environment, providing them the opportunity to make the computational-thinking connection as to how things relate.
For educators, it can make the world of a difference when providing just-in-time intervention. When teachers are advising on digital-only applications, it can be frustrating trying to understand where a student arrived at an answer without sitting down at their computer and working backwards. With both a digital interface and physical hardware component, the educator can see how the student arrived to their answer, how the digital application connects to their hardware, what may or may not be working in the student’s solution, and take away some of the abstractness of coding that some students find hard to relate to. As we’ve mentioned before in other blog articles, this gives teachers a birds-eye view of students work and gives them the chance to intervene early and often to advise before frustration may set in.
Lastly, it’s important to choose an education technology solution that comes with a comprehensive curriculum designed not only for your education technology solution, but with students and teachers in mind. While personalized learning environments give students a choice in what direction their learning takes them, that doesn’t give them a pass from still needing to learn fundamental concepts. With the right educational technology STEAM solution paired with powerful curriculum, you’ll appeal to your students’ interests while hitting the important concepts they’ll need to know to succeed.
2. Give Students a Choice
One of the biggest benefits of a personalized learning environment is giving students a voice in their own learning. For many educators, this means helping learners design a customized learning plan and goals that meet their individual interests and needs. STEAM is an excellent pairing with personalized learning environments because there are a number of curricular areas that are met within its wheelhouse, and chances are very likely that your student will also have an interest in at least one of the curricular areas that STEAM covers.
In many personalized learning environments, educators often let students take part in how lessons are delivered, such as read-alongs in groups vs. annotations or even recording their thoughts verbally as they study.
This can be replicated for STEAM with projects by offering students a number of related options and giving them a choice on what they want to work on. The STEAM projects may all have a similar curricular theme, but may have different delivery methods or solve different problems. Then, have students divide into groups and work on their chosen project that piques their interest the most.
Examples for educators could include:
- Choosing how the project is presented, such as a presentation, a paper or even a play using the finished STEAM project
- Choosing a real-world problem that the STEAM project aims to tackle and letting students choose which problem they would like to solve
- Choosing a number of unique materials, such as Legos™, popsicle sticks, paint or clay and letting students choose which medium they’d like to use to enhance their STEAM project
Students are much more likely to feel empowered about their learning if they also feel that they have a choice in the learning process, and STEAM offers many avenues for educators to open that door.
3. Let Collaboration Happen Naturally
One of the most important aspects of a personalized learning environment is letting conversation and collaboration happen naturally, and this can be difficult for educators who are primarily used to giving out instructions that students must follow. With a STEAM approach, it can become much easier. STEAM is often project-focused and poses inquiry-focused questions that solve complex problems, and this allows the educator to not only ask questions about how students would come to a solution, but give them space to discuss how they would solve it.
This isn’t to say that collaboration is easy, as students have different personalities and may have conflicting ideas when arriving at solutions. However, these skills are important and studies have shown that exposure socio-emotional curriculum can actually help them score higher academically.
As an educator, this is a normal part of the collaboration process, as STEAM also pushes students to develop additional soft skills that complement collaboration, such as:
- Computational Thinking Skills
- Critical Thinking
- Communication on tasks or projects
- Technology Literacy
- Social Skills
While some students may excel in some of these skills before others, exposure is the best way to let students experience a collaborative environment and become used to hearing others and developing their socio-emotional skills. STEAM is an excellent way to bridge this curricular gap without making the effort feel forced for students.
More Resources for K-12 STEAM Education Programs
Personalized learning environments are just one of the many places STEAM can succeed in the classroom. STEAM is a versatile methodology that can fit into many different teaching models and transform the student learning experience.
For more STEAM resources from SAM Labs, check out:
- STEAM vs. STEM Learning for K-12: The True Definitions, Differences and Best Practices
- STEAM Product and Curriculum RFP Template
- Sample STEAM Lessons
- SAM Labs’ STEAM and Maker Course Kit Bundle
- The Ultimate Edtech Grant Writing Guide and List of Grants 2019-2020