Benefits of STEAM Learning in K-12 Education
With STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) education on the rise as a teaching tool, it’s important for educators to understand what incredible good can come out of a STEAM education.
STEAM 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 is that each of these benefits work together to give students one of the biggest benefits of all: preparing them for the future workforce.
STEAM and Soft Skills
For many students, 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.
“Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.”
However, soft skills are pertinent, not only to students’ academic careers while in school, but also to ensuring 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 curriculum 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 prior to graduating to be successful 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 can help bring out even more through activities, products and social interactions.
Computational Thinking Skills
Similar to technology literacy, computational thinking skills are an excellent on-ramp for students to begin thinking about coding before they dive 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 kit 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.
One of the best parts about STEAM is that educators are not confined when it comes to the curriculum. STEAM activities can be completed in lessons or administered as projects. STEAM also gives students a cross-curricular toolset at their disposal, as they have access to science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. This gives students the ability 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, as traditional classroom work has always segmented curriculum to that given timeblock and textbook.
Collaboration On Tasks and 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 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 also gives students creative autonomy to solve problems with the educator as a guide and the curriculum as a resource. With STEAM, there can be many ways to solve a problem, but it’s up to the students to come together and agree upon the best way to solve it. This is an excellent way to foster collaboration in the classroom and challenge students to work together.
Developing social skills are critical to a student’s development, both 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. With STEAM, 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.
STEAM and 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.
The study highlighted that interestingly enough, many of the disengaged students were not troublemakers or simply lazy. Most disengaged students were actually those who have high entrepreneurial talent and stated that they were the future job creators of America.
Another statistic in the study stated that a whopping 45% of students in grades 5 through 12 had aspirations to start their own business 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. This is because lectures, worksheets and tests are often one-sided for students and often don’t give them the opportunity to actively participate in a way that is meaningful to them.
STEAM 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 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.
There are dozens of stories that show that STEAM truly does motivate students, and the benefits of engagement come with it, from increased attendance, to higher scores on homework to full participation in lessons versus traditional methods of instruction.
Free Resources for STEAM Education
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 can create in the classroom, but success stories with students are some of the most eye-opening ways educators can see STEAM benefiting students.
Eleanor is an EdTech writer who’s passionate about changing the world one classroom at a time. When not spreading the news about the latest in K-12 technology, you’ll find her geeking out about the latest startups or video games and adding to her ’80s toy collection.