According to the US Department of Education, “In an ever-changing, increasingly complex world, it's more important than ever that our nation's youth are prepared to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems, make sense of information, and know how to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions. These are the kinds of skills that students develop in science, technology, engineering, and math–disciplines collectively known as STEM. If we want a nation where our future leaders, neighbors, and workers can understand and solve some of the complex challenges of today and tomorrow, and to meet the demands of the dynamic and evolving workforce, building students' skills, content knowledge, and literacy in STEM fields is essential.”
STEM is a teaching philosophy that integrates science, technology, engineering and math into a single, cross-disciplinary program that offers instruction in meaningful authentic lessons and pedagogy. The US Department of Education has made advancing STEM education a national priority.
STEM based learning creates innovators because it forces students to approach problems through hands-on exploration. This type of successful problem solving, in turn, contributes to our nation’s growth and stability
Difference Between STEAM and STEM
The Country School has added the Arts to STEM. By adding the arts we now participate in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to help develop well-rounded students. Because if our aim is to prepare the innovators of tomorrow, then creativity and design are essential parts of the equation and the arts allow for collaboration.
Our future needs STEAM. To illustrate, visual art is a language unto itself, its images processed much more quickly than written information. Specific colors evoke emotions; intense bright colors alert and awaken, while muted colors calm. Lines and shapes behave similarly: vertical and jagged lines enliven, while horizontal lines relax.
Think about shapes: circles are soft, while triangles are pointed. Shapes affect our perception. Oftentimes visual art speaks to our subconscious and emotional self, which affects the marketing of a product. The arts drive innovation and creativity. Ideas are more easily sold through the use of the arts: a catchy song, a convincing argument, appealing images. Google is now hiring more people from arts and liberal arts backgrounds because these people tend, according to Google, to be better problem solvers and better on-the-job learners than straight STEM students. STEM needs its A.
STEAM engages all learners, and the hands-on, creative nature of a STEAM exploration means the learning will last. Perhaps most important, STEAM gives students the skills they will need for success in the future–communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity–and the inspiration to be tomorrow’s innovators. Experts estimate that an astounding percentage of today's grade school students will end up working in jobs that have not been invented yet.
Through integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, students explore themes in depth and across the curriculum. They tackle real-world problems that require them to ask questions, problem solve, and use trial and error. Designing rich units of studies and often teaching side by side, faculty model the collaborative process. STEAM units allow students to work collaboratively and to learn to appreciate each other’s unique strengths and skills. STEAM units incorporate real-world problem solving, include guest speakers and field trips, and culminate in celebrations of learning at which students present to parents and guests all they have learned.
When asked, 6th Grade Country School students shared how they experience the benefits of STEAM based learning. One noted, “Even if you don’t like one element of STEAM, there are many elements that go into it. Also there are no boundaries to what you can do with STEAM as part of a team. It makes learning fun.”
STEAM’s real world lessons allow students to learn in a different way–beyond a textbook, beyond the basics. Students find that concepts that might otherwise be challenging “click” when applied differently. Country School STEAM students approach problems in new and inventive ways with “aha!” moments occuring during the integration of disciplines: making blueprints before constructing disaster-proof structures, and learning from architects about taking the lead from nature with biomimicry in architecture. STEAM encourages collaboration.
Real World Applications
These same Country School students will host engineering ambassadors from Rochester Polytech Institute who will zoom in to present one lesson on constructing structures: from material choices to how different forces act on structures and another lesson later in the year about engineering and gravity during a unit on space exploration.
However, the greatest testament to the power of STEAM learning at The Country School is the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of buildings all over campus. Dr. Amy Cornell led the 7th Grade STEAM Environmental Engineering Challenge with students on alternative energy sources. They spent 4 weeks working on investigating, re-engineering, and building a prototype in order to solve a current environmental engineering problem in The Country School’s community. The prototype solution needed to embrace environmental concepts of sustainability, conservation of energy, and reduction of carbon footprint. The project entailed writing a detailed lab report, an oral presentation, and designing a marketing pamphlet to accompany the prototype. One of the students' project “TCS Goes Solar” spearheaded so much interest within the school community, that solar panels have been installed across buildings on campus.
Whether STEM or STEAM, the benefits of collaborative learning, integrated disciplines, and opportunities for real-world problem-solving result in long-lasting meaningful learning for students of all ages.