Photo by Mike Fox / Unsplash

There are many approaches to developing effective learning initiatives. Ask any teacher or professor about what they think are the best teaching methods, and you’ll get very different answers. With so many tools at educators’ and students’ disposal, it can be tricky to determine which approaches produce the best results that lead to enriched learning.

Many people are familiar with the popular educational initiative of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but lately many educators, administrators, and instructional coordinators are favoring a new term: STEAM. The phrase retains the original STEM subjects as tenets, but includes an A which stands for Arts. The shift addresses the focus on creative skills to boost engagement in classrooms. This simple inclusion carries implications that break down common misconceptions about effective pedagogy.

Here are several reasons why STEAM learning should be a integral part of every educational program.

1) Encourages independent thinking

Once instructors explain the basic lessons, students operate largely by themselves or collaborate in small groups for their projects. It’s up to the students to examine their and their peers’ skills to determine how to best complete a project. In a STEAM curriculum, students work in learning environments which offer minimal risk, and reinforces the idea that making mistakes and failure can be productive. Along the way, learners go at their own pace and skill level; they can spend time with beginning foundations or challenge themselves by working with complex concepts. Students can pursue new tangents of thought, and there is a free-flowing exchange of ideas that isn’t bound by intellectual constraints.

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2) Interdisciplinary approach

A STEAM-centered education is driven by a cross-disciplinary emphasis, exposing learners to multiple, lateral ways of thinking. Subjects such as science and tech aren’t valued more than the arts, but all subjects are presented in relationship with one another. It’s one thing to write up code for efficient software, but it takes strong artistic skills to make sure the product has a user-friendly appeal. Some might think STEAM has always been the basis of most schools and institutions, but true STEAM programs involve subjects taught within the same lesson.

With this philosophy, students are able to view the unique advantages of each discipline. It teaches students that they’re not limited to one particular subject, or must pick between a technical or artistic topic; their expertise can be formed through a combination of these. The equal representation of subjects promoted by STEAM makes it a truly well-rounded program that appeals to students’ evolving curiosity and range of interests.

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3) Goal-oriented, project-based learning

A central feature of STEAM programs is hands-on, project-based learning. Learners are working on projects specific to what issues appeal to them. Students decide on a goal and choose which skills to achieve it, allowing them to explore and experiment with various methods. The addition of an artistic component makes complex topics such as math and programming more approachable and less mentally intimidating. Unlike traditional STEM projects, the emphasis isn’t on obtaining or analyzing facts or data. Projects are evaluated against a subjective criteria that values creativity, rather than whether the student has concluded a right or wrong answer. This method supports the individual’s educational journey and promotes creative expression.

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4) Development of creative problem-solving skills

While technical knowledge is a requirement in many industries, creative problem-solving remains one of the most sought-after skills within the job market. Creativity might seem like a skill that comes instinctually to certain individuals, but it’s actually one that can be fostered by a proper STEAM education.

Inspiring open-ended, creative exploration serves as a form of productive play and inquiry. The lack of rigidly defined rules to follow encourages learners to demonstrate adaptive critical thinking, think around a given problem, and consider the effects produced by changing different variables. Students ask themselves “How do I customize a solution to best fit the problem?”. Without having to rely on a fixed procedure, learners hone their ability to assess a large set of details and understand that problem-solving models can be flexible.

STEAM programs assert that creativity fostered by the arts play a valuable role alongside STEM disciplines. Photo by Mike Fox / Unsplash

5) Engagement with real-world applications

Though STEAM is becoming increasingly common in elementary and secondary education, it’s equally critical to implement in higher education and beyond. As concepts become more advanced, students can make better, sophisticated connections to the real world.

STEAM programs expose students to “big picture” concepts seen in the real, physical environment. Projects like building a website or constructing a basic robot enables students to better interact with real-world problems on a smaller scale. This helps them identify and relate to their immediate physical and social environment, such as building software that analyzes statistics or designing architecture that can exist within a major city. This on-going relationship with learning is what makes STEAM stand out as an empowering initiative, and promotes the idea that a concrete education benefits from all academic areas.

And fixing last-minute structural issues will be less of a headache. Photo by Chinh Le Duc / Unsplash