By Dr Neelu Sharma, Head of Science at ACS Hillingdon International School
Few question if STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects should be part of the core curriculum. But why not the arts?
This focus on STEM education comes from the continued push to develop UK talent and plug a shortage of critical skills in the modern workforce. Though the STEM approach, which focuses on learning across core subjects and applying skills to real-world problems, is useful, STEAM, which incorporates the arts, is a better solution to cultivate creative and skilled leaders, prepared for the modern world of work.
‘Traditional’ teaching and learning needs an overhaul
Traditional, didactic teaching methods are no longer appropriate or useful in today’s ever-changing world. Subjects like science and maths cannot simply be taught in a stand-alone way if students are to develop the skills they need to thrive. Young people must develop and apply transferable skills and be able to think across subject boundaries, and beyond the classroom.
Recognising this, STEM education encourages students to understand how subject-specific skills can be applied in different ways, across different subjects, and consider wider possibilities. For example, a biology student can incorporate basic math to develop their knowledge of anatomy by measuring a heartbeat. This application and cross-over of skills enables them to understand the engineering concepts that support the natural dynamic and flow of blood through the heart, and how a pacemaker works.
This practical and interdisciplinary learning that the STEM approach promotes helps students to become highly effective thinkers, doers, problem-solvers, collaborators and life-long learners, with an understanding that their knowledge of a subject area is not finite, it does not stop at school or when they leave the science classroom.
Adding the arts
Implementing any form of art into the curriculum encourages students to think differently or approach a problem in a new way. So integrating the arts into STEM, and adopting a STEAM approach, is about much more than teaching students to paint or draw.
A big difference in STEM vs. STEAM is the ability to not only know the ‘hard sciences,’ but to be able to communicate more effectively. The ‘A’ adds the ability to look at a situation from new and creative angles and express concepts and information clearly. Developing methods of combining STEM facts, figures and ideas with storytelling, community and creativity, takes subjects out of the laboratory and into the ‘real world’. The combined effect can only enrich the learning experience for educators and learners alike.
For example, our school’s Advanced Technology Club, who meet once a week, created, coded and built the ‘100 iPad Wall’ within the school’s IT Lab. The 100 iPad Wall, a huge screen made of one hundred tablets, is able to receive and display images simultaneously in real time. Combining science, technology and art, lower and middle school classes used the wall to create a piece of art to exhibit their findings from a science project. After carrying out a scientific investigation into the microscopic world around ACS Hillingdon, by attaching ProScopes to iPads, and sampling the natural and man-made worlds, students collected over 700 images and created an original piece of art to explain what they’d learnt in a creative way.
The inclusion of the arts component into STEM can also make core subjects more fun to learn, and more approachable to younger students. A child who has never seen code or learnt about computer science will be less intimidated and more engaged if it includes something they are familiar with, whether that is learning via a creative teaching method that incorporates visual art for example, or whether they are learning by actually creating something on an iPad.
STEAM has the power to enthuse and motivate young people, drawing in larger numbers and under represented groups to higher level STEM training. It can break down the subject silos between the STEAM subjects fostering greater creativity and innovation in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Preparing for the future
The STEAM movement isn’t about spending twenty percent less time on science, technology, engineering and maths to make room for art. It’s about sparking students’ imagination and helping them innovate through hands-on STEM projects. And most importantly, it’s about applying creative thinking to STEM projects so that students can imagine a variety of ways to use their skills at university and beyond, in their future careers.
Educators can begin to bring STEAM education to life simply by challenging students to present a topic differently or look at a lesson from another angle. At ACS Hillingdon, for example, lower school students use apps like Hopscotch and Floors as an arts-based way of learning to code. This cross-curriculum approach, combining art, technology and computer science, nurtures logical thinking, problem-solving and persistence, encourages collaboration and communication, and provides the opportunity for students to develop practical, future-focused skills, in an imaginative, fun and creative way.
The STEAM approach, combining all the core subjects, will help to cultivate a generation which is able to express new innovative ideas and perspectives across subjects and projects AND bring these ideas to life with a highly-developed, transferable skill-set, ready to face the challenges of the modern world.