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STEM/STEAM Instruction and Traditional Teaching Methods: Five Key Differences

STEM/STEAM Instruction and Traditional Teaching Methods: Five Key Differences

For many educators, teaching STEM/STEAM can be a challenging shift in mindset. This is natural – so don’t feel overwhelmed – as it varies from traditional formats and requires learning some new skills. 

As you read this today, perhaps you’re new to teaching STEAM, are taking time to read around the subject, or looking at how you can structure these lessons to best engage your students. Possibly all of the above! 

Wherever you’re coming from on your STEAM journey, it’s helpful to understand the key differences between STEAM instruction and the traditional teaching methods you may be more familiar with. This will allow you to feel more equipped to teach students in a STEAM format.

So, how does STEAM instruction differ from traditional teaching practices?

1. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach

Traditional teaching methods have generally relied on a student’s ability to absorb facts or concepts that are either verbally explained to them, or shown in resources such as books or on a screen. They are then tested on their memory and skill in regurgitating this information. 

Sure, this is a tried and tested approach. But does it encourage true learning amongst the variety of students and skill sets in each class? 

We all make sense of the world in different ways – with some of us auditory or verbal learners, others more visually-minded, mathematical and logical learners, and some who connect best with a hands-on approach – the list goes on. So, a ‘one size fits all’ approach can be problematic.

We believe that STEAM approaches allow all students to put their best foot forward, with teaching incorporating a variety of learning techniques to resonate with all kinds of ‘thinkers’.

Plus, educators can really make the most of the flexibility STEAM instruction offers, shaping projects to work for their unique mix of students. If we’re all learning in a way that makes sense to us, we’re all moving forward.

Distance Learning

2. De-stigmatizing failure

If a student fails to remember and regurgitate knowledge that has been fed to them, traditional ‘right vs. wrong’ approaches automatically stigmatize this failure. When this happens, a student is more likely to experience anxiety over their mistake, and disengage with learning. 

As STEAM teaching encourages experimentation, failure is encouraged – seen as a natural and vital part of the learning process. A chance to solidify learning. 

This is an important lesson on what to expect in the real world, where failures are inevitable but perseverance can lead to incredible breakthroughs. In recent years, many companies are shifting their outlook to embrace failure for this exact reason. De-stigmatizing failure = sparking innovation!

standardize-testing-learning through-failure

3. Practical experimentation 

While learned knowledge and theory take center stage in traditional teaching methods, STEAM lessons focus heavily on practical experimentation.

By moving past theory and getting stuck in with hands-on projects involving trial and error (such as our Autonomous Driving or Madagascar Adventure lessons, for example), there’s room for excitement. Where there’s excitement, there’s engagement and genuine learning. 

When learning is transformed into an experience, we can better understand the different factors at play, even getting creative to problem-solve. As a result, knowledge is reinforced in memorable and tangible ways.

Feeling inspired? SAM Labs products are designed with experiences in mind. Check out our 17 super cool DIY STEM projects to create with your students

4. Lessons shaped around the real world

When these experiments take place, students also need some real world context – the ‘why’ behind the facts and findings. Why is this important to understand? Why is this useful to me?

We all know that the chances of grasping a concept or process are much stronger if we connect the dots to a real world example. STEAM instruction solidifies learning by making topics relatable,  and teaches students about the world they’re growing up in. 

Plus, a typical STEAM lesson can include collaboration, problem-solving, creativity and artistic skills, and perseverance via trial and error – all of which are key skills in the wider world.

Building these skills is particularly important in a world powered by technology, with the World Economic Forum identifying STEAM subjects and soft skills like analytical thinking as key to the future job market.

Open book with a light bulb and education concept doodles around it, symbolizing innovation and learning

5. Out-of-the box thinking

As we touched upon above, traditional teaching methods often focus on facts, rules and parameters. While it’s important for students to grasp accurate information, these approaches  arguably allow little room for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Without whacky ideas and accidental discoveries, genius concepts we know today wouldn’t exist. The Post-it Note, Edison’s lightbulb, peanut butter and jelly – the list goes on! 

STEAM teaching is designed to stimulate the brain to create and problem-solve, pushing boundaries in the name of discovery! By doing something in a new way, finding out the answers ourselves, and reaching our own conclusions, we create room for new innovations.

Are you inspired to channel creativity and inspire new discoveries in your classroom with STEAM? See how we can help or book a demo. If you’re an existing customer and need assistance, visit our Support Center.