What is the buzz about STEM or STEAM?
Teachers are always thinking about the world in which they will be sending students. It is a world that we might not experience ourselves, but it is important to get a sense of that future in order to prepare its citizens, workers, and leaders. Being mindful of the future led me to take a special interest in STEM education. STEM has become a huge buzz word in education since the United States took major steps to improve STEM education at all levels of schools and universities. It is apparent that the economy of the future will involve careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in order to develop new products and businesses that will make us competitive globally. Workers will also need to be creative and innovative.
Innovation will drive the future. Because technology changes at a rapid pace, it is impossible to predict exactly what jobs will be available to the students in classrooms today. One cannot assume, either, that the United States will lead the world in innovation as it did in the 20th century. According to a study of 58 countries in 2008 published in the World Competitiveness Yearbook, the U.S. slipped from 1st as the most innovative economy to 3rd behind Singapore and Hong Kong with Switzerland in 4th place. More recently, the U.S. was ranked 4th, 6th, and 8th in the World Economic Forum ranking, Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) ranking, and Boston Consulting Group poll, respectively. If conditions do not change, the U.S. is predicted to slip even if it does not keep up with other countries in graduating locally trained scientists and engineers.
A way to increase the number of students in STEM fields is to attract more girls to those disciplines, and both girls and boys need to be exposed to STEM early in their academic careers. Research shows that students who receive STEM education in elementary are better equipped to be successful in those fields as they progress in their schooling. Without early exposure, girls are especially at risk for losing interest and/or self-confidence in these areas, particularly math. It has been shown that boys outperform girls in math in cultures, like we have in the U.S., where there is a belief that boys are stronger in math than girls. Studies also show that a negative interest in science begins in elementary school where about 33% of girls and boys express negative attitudes about science. By eight grade almost 50% of boys and girls have lost interest or deemed science irrelevant to their future plans. As a result of all of this research, it is obvious that there needs to be a strong emphasis on STEM in elementary school, or perhaps STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).
What does art have to do with these left brain, logical-mathematical disciplines? Art supports the creative and instinctual thinking necessary for creativity and innovation, developing the right side of the brain. It is interesting to note that almost all of the great inventors and scientists were also artists, writers, poets, or musicians. Albert Einstein played the violin, Samuel Morse was a portrait painter, Galileo was a literary critic and poet, and Leonardo da Vinci was an artist who also happened to be a scientist and inventor. China is one of many countries that understand the need to marry the arts with STEM through STEAM. The United States has not formally adopted the art component, but it must.
Pine River is working to develop STEAM education. Last year, the School Improvement Team explored STEM as a strategy to address a gap in achievement between our boys and girls in math and science. In order to improve the success of girls in math and science and expose all students to the engineering design process, STEM activities were developed for all grades. The students created amazing STEM projects that turned out to be clever works of art. It was obvious that the elementary art curriculum and fostering of creativity positively impacted the STEM work. More projects were developed by teachers this year, and we focused on aligning the projects closely with our science units. Through their STEM activities, students in kindergarten through fifth grade developed the concepts that they had just studied in science and also applied math and technology skills using engineering design methods. All of students saw themselves as scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and inventors. They also realized the value of creativity and innovation. Through STEAM, our students got a glimpse of the future.
Check out the video posted below to get a glimpse into our fourth grade STEAM lab. Watch how Sophie and David share and evaluate their design for a head lantern.