School Readiness

An Integrative Outlook on STEAM Education

By: Annika Anderson, MPH

As summer winds down, you are likely preparing the children in your lives for the 2022-2023 academic school year. Experts at Connecticut Children’s are thinking about what back to school in ’22  looks like, too. Professionals recommend fixing healthy snacks, coordinating a routine sleep schedule, and having conversations about back to school nerves with children. Amidst buying glue sticks and composition notebooks for your kiddos this year, you may happen to hear a little buzz about STEAM education.

What is STEAM?

STEAM, formerly known as STEM, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. The learning framework, created by researcher and educator Georgette Yakman, has been a catchphrase in Pre K-12 education since its emergence in 2006.

STEAM education is often cited as a pathway for children and youth to acquire “21st century skills.” According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, youth in the 21st century should strive to acquire critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creative skills to thrive in and outside of the classroom.

The STEAM framework is commonly contextualized as disjointed academic and professional fields, but it is also a powerful guide for employing interdisciplinary systems thinking. When students bridge the content of two or more disciplines together, they apply integrative STEAM education.

The STEAM Framework

The five echelons of the STEAM framework demonstrate how content-specific activities (ex. algebra, geometry) are couched within discipline-specific silos (ex. mathematics). When expertise and skills amongst content areas are integrated in thought and practice (STEAM), they have the potential to yield novel, even innovative solutions. 21st century learning skills prepare children to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow at an individual and cultural level in and outside the classroom.

Students can build 21st century skills through inquiry-based learning, a framework that challenges the traditional methods of delivering material. Rather than listening to a lecture, or repetitively reading, or writing, students learn by doing. Hands-on experiences encourage students to be active agents of their own learning, which often increases engagement. Providing space for students to ask questions and test solutions nourishes their natural curiosity for meaning-making.

STEAM Outside the Classroom

While STEAM activities can feel daunting to plan, adults can take solace in knowing that silly and spontaneous experiences are deeply meaningful. Core skills from STEAM education can be infused into everyday play or activities, like creating a grocery list. Caregivers and childcare professionals can support STEAM education by facilitating spontaneous, “snack-sized” experiences – even in their communities!

Childhood Prosperity Lab (the Lab), a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, focuses on cultivating and advancing social innovations that address challenges children too often face where they live, work, learn, pray and play. The Lab supports individuals and organizations to use new strategies, tools, and resources to incubate and advance socially innovative ideas including The Children’s Museum in West Hartford!

In 2018, The Children’s Museum participated in a Mastermind Session with Childhood Prosperity Lab to get feedback and guidance on a project that brings STEAM learning directly to Hartford neighborhoods. This intergenerational program engages children and their caregivers in experiential learning sessions and concludes with a trip to the Museum. This programmatic social innovation addresses financial and transportation barriers that some community members face in pursuit of a STEM and museum experience for their children.

Try this Integrative STEAM Activity at Home!

4-8 Years

STEAM activity

Read “How to Code a Sandcastle” by Josh Funk with the child in your care. In the picture book, Pearl has a difficult time building a sandcastle that will withstand the tide and clumsy beach-goers. Luckily, she has a helpful robot friend named Pascal that codes. Together, Pearl and Pascal use design thinking methods to build a castle that will endure the last day of summer. After you read the story, consider using dramatic play to reenact the story with your child. You can pretend to be a robot that responds to instructions that your child gives you to achieve a goal they are passionate about.

How is this STEAM?

This activity leverages early literacy, the “arts” of STEAM, to facilitate a basic understanding of the inquiry-based learning process rooted in technology and engineering. Through reading the story, children learn the value of following instructions, delegating tasks, identifying problems, developing a hypothesis, and brainstorming resources. Pearl even learns simple terminology for code in the story – did you know that a “loop” describes a repetitive sequence of events?

Annika Anderson, MPH, is Program Coordinator for Childhood Prosperity Lab, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

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