Master of Education

STEAM Education: A 21st Century Approach to Learning

In recent years there has been a growing focus on the need to better prepare students for higher education and arm them with the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful innovators in a 21st century workforce. STEAM has gained popularity among educators, parents, corporations and institutions, as well as the President of the United States, as a way to fulfill this need.

By engaging students around the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, STEAM aims to spark an interest and life long love of the arts and sciences in children from an early age. Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) are similar disciplines in that all involve creative processes and none uses just one method for inquiry and investigation. Teaching relevant, in demand skills that will prepare students to become innovators in an ever evolving world is paramount, not only for the future of these students but for the future of the country.

What is STEAM?

STEAM is an educational initiative created by the Rhode Island School of Design that adds the arts to the original STEM framework. According to the Rhode Island School of Design, “The goal is to foster the true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer.” The addition of the arts to the original STEM framework is important as practices, such as modeling, developing explanations, and engaging in critique, and evaluation (argumentation), have too often been underemphasized in the context of math & science education.

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STEAM empowers teachers to employ project-based learning that crosses all 5 disciplines (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) and fosters an inclusive learning environment where all students are able to engage and contribute. As opposed to traditional models of teaching, educators using the STEAM framework bring the disciplines together, leveraging the dynamic synergy between the modeling process and math and science content in order to blur the boundaries between modeling techniques and scientific / mathematical thinking. Through this holistic approach, students are able to exercise both sides of their brain at once.

For example, a U.S. News article reported that a high school in Andover, MA teaches geometry through the lens of art. “Through a scavenger hunt at a local museum, math and art students come to understand that scale in geometry is the same thing as perspective in art, says Meghan Michaud, a teacher at Andover High,” according to the article.

Beyond the classroom both scientists and engineers use models—including sketches, diagrams, mathematical relationships, simulations, and physical models—to make predictions about the likely behavior of a system. They also collect data to evaluate the predictions and possibly revise the model as a result.

Michael Leak, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign said in a Richmond Art Center article, “Typically, engineering students are not comfortable with sketching,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, I can’t draw.’” But being able to quickly sketch to communicate an idea, he said, “is an enormously useful tool.” It also helps “see” an idea. “To do engineering you’ve got to be able to visualize.”

Why is STEAM so Important?

In today’s world, setting students up for future success means exposing them to these disciplines holistically in order to develop their critical thinking skills. “Education is under pressure to respond to a changing world,” writes Jeevan Vasagar in a Financial Times article, Countries that excel at problem-solving encourage critical thinking. “As repetitive tasks are eroded by technology and outsourcing, the ability to solve novel problems have become increasingly vital.”

And the earlier students are exposed to the STEAM disciplines, the better. In a study by Microsoft Corporation it was shown that 4 in 5 STEM college students (78%) say that they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier and one in five (21%) decided in middle school or earlier. Yet, only 1 in 5 STEM college students feel that their K–12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM. There also appears to be a major disparity in the female to male ratio when it comes to those employed in STEAM fields. Getting more girls interested in STEAM disciplines is another facet of the movement.

Not only does a STEAM framework teach students how to think critically, problem solve and use creativity, it prepares students to work in a field that is poised for growth.

According to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, “The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that jobs in science, technology, and math will grow 17% by 2018, nearly double the growth of non-STEM fields. By 2018, the U.S. will have more than 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs.”

Even for students who don’t choose a career in one of the STEM or STEAM fields, the skills students gain from a STEAM education can be translated into almost any career. Stephen DeAngelis, President of Enterra Solutions and nationally recognized by Esquire and Forbes for innovation, said, “Educating students in STEM subjects (if taught correctly) prepares students for life, regardless of the profession they choose to follow. Those subjects teach students how to think critically and how to solve problems — skills that can be used throughout life to help them get through tough times and take advantage of opportunities whenever they appear.”

The growing movement towards a STEAM framework in grades both primary and higher education is gaining traction and for good reason. Students who are taught under a STEAM framework are not just taught the subject matter but they are taught how to learn, how to ask questions, how to experiment and how to create. As Naveen Jain, Entrepreneur and Founder of the Innovation Institute said in Schools Out for Summer: Rethinking Education for the 21st Century, “If the children and students of today are our future, this is the type of education we need. This system of standardized, rote learning that teaches to a test is exactly the type of education our children don’t need in this world that is plagued by systemic, pervasive and confounding global challenges. Today’s education system does not focus enough on teaching children to solve real world problems and is not interdisciplinary, nor collaborative enough in its approach.”

Moving from the current standard approach to teaching towards a holistic interdisciplinary method only makes sense in a world facing so many challenges and opportunities.

USD offers a Master of Education with a concentration in STEAM that aligns with common core standards, is 100% online and taught by accomplished faculty with extensive experience in K-12 instruction and research. To learn more about our nationally ranked program visit our admissions page.


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