Publish at June 25 2018 Updated April 12 2022

The STEAM method: how to integrate artistic approaches in science

STEM in STEAM, a taste of science and technology with a touch of creativity

Everyone who has perused the Anglo-Saxon educational press in the last decade has heard of STEM. Particularly in the United States, this approach emphasizing Science, Technology, Engineering (STEM) and Mathematics has been implemented to attract more children to science and engineering majors. Moreover, in a world that is becoming increasingly computerized, this type of knowledge will be of great use to the future adults that these children will become. However, it seems that lately the STEM method is less in vogue. Instead, it is preferred to the so-called STEAM.

An "A" that changes pedagogy

Here, the A is for "Arts". Beware, however, that the idea is not strictly speaking to add a cultural pedagogy to the scientific one. In fact, STEAM calls for a different kind of teaching. This one is inspired by the creative process of artists. Google engineers aren't just computer scientists who fiddle around. They are creators who think in terms of design, functionality, service, etc. This does not mean that artistic tools are not used, quite the contrary.

Thus, the STEAM approach requires designing programs where the student is put in the middle and must develop his critical, analytical sense and be encouraged in his creativity. The idea is to attract even more students to these scientific and technical tracks with a closer approach to what is being experienced in the technology sector, among others. The interdisciplinary nature of the program is also right in line with what will increasingly be sought in tomorrow's workers, who will need to build many skills. And this approach isn't just of interest to the American or British communities. The whole world is turning to this method.

A lot of feedback

STEAM examples and accounts of experience are multiplying on the Web. It must be said that they are generally very positive. For example, this Israeli student felt like he was wasting his time at one of the best schools in the country. He felt that the issues of the outside world were not really dealt with in the classroom. A STEAM education offered him the opportunity to think about issues, to think about solutions, to work on projects.

A lot of times this approach will incorporate different ways of experimenting and creating. It can be through toys requiring creativity, through programming, robotics while including more artistic notions like drawing. The idea being always to offer creative approaches in teaching. In Montreal, elementary and high schools have worked to transform the classroom into an open laboratory where cardboard visual creations and 3D printers are mixed.

Or, this approach is not only applicable with youth. Adult education can also benefit from the STEAM method. For example, in Lisbon, a class of adults was asked to find solutions to the problem of traffic on a bridge in the Portuguese capital. In groups, the learners had to draw plans, calculate, check their ideas and then create a final video to present to the class. In this way, they learned not only mathematical concepts, but also computer skills in the same exercise. An approach that was successful with these adults who need, as much as young people, concrete learning.

What about the arts in this?

The method is promoted everywhere, especially by UNESCO, which sees it as a good way to attract girls and women especially in scientific and technological branches. Sectors that are still strongly masculine although this is tending to change. An approach that could moreover appeal to young women and men in developing countries and give them tools to improve their living environment.

In this chorus of praise, however, there are a few dissonant voices including this Arkansas professor. For him, STEAM's successes are so far more a phenomenon of correlation than causation. He wonders if an arts pedagogy would have a similar or even more beneficial effect. Because he fears that the teaching of artistic expressions will be disseminated in these programs or that, conversely, science and technology themes will be imposed in art courses. This mixture is therefore, in his opinion, to the detriment of a true cultural education.

The question is therefore whether the STEAM approach will succeed where the STEM approach has rather disappointed observers. It is still difficult to say since meta-analyses on the phenomenon are not abundant. Nevertheless, it seems that no matter where the research goes, schools will increasingly take this pedagogy on board. A decision that could be the beginning of a modern didactic approach that will lead to scientists, engineers and citizens with many skills. Provided that the arts are not misused and do not go out the window.

Illustration : vexrobotics Girl Powered Flagship Event - Dallas, Texas via photopin (license)


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Fenyvesi, Kristóf. "Bringing Learning to Life Through STEAM." SchoolEducationGateway. Last updated : May 8, 2018.

Holzman, Lois. "From STEM to STEAM to Developmental Learning." Psychology Today. Last updated : August 3, 2017.

Joyner, Jennifer. "UA Professor Argues Support for STEAM Education Misplaced." Talk Business & Politics. Last updated : December 10, 2017.

L.M. Gunn, Jennifer. "What is STEAM? Why STEM Education Should Include Art & Humanities." Concordia University-Portland. Last updated : November 8, 2017.

"STEAM Education." Last updated : November 25, 2017.

"STE(A)M, LEARNING AND TEACHING THROUGH LEARNING." EPALE - European Commission. Last updated : 26 July 2017.

"STEAM Learning: European Projects Combining Science and Art." SchoolEducationGateway. Last updated : May 2, 2018.

"STEAM." English Montreal School Board. Accessed June 21, 2018.

Vogelstein, Rachel. "Women and Girls in STEAM Education." Council on Foreign Relations. Last updated : February 15, 2018.

"What is STEM? What is STEAM? The Key is Integration." STEAM Powered Family. Last updated : March 19, 2018.

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