Getting (and putting) an A in STEM education

20th April 2016 at 17:19
 Remember, S&M is fun but it’s important that you get plenty of TEA in your life

I read an interesting article the other day about STEAM. Now, I am more than familiar with STEM but I found this new acronym to be more appealing to my creative side.

If you haven’t already worked it out, the "A" adds "art and design" to the existing STEM subjects and is, to quote Deron Cameron, principal at the US’s 1st STEAM certified school, "a paradigm that shifts traditional education philosophy based on scores to one that values the learning process as the results. It dares students to be wrong, to try multiple ideas, listen to alternate options and create a knowledge base that is applicable to real life as opposed to simply an exam."

Sounds great, sign me up.

What does STEAM really mean?

It proceeds to explain how innovation remains tightly coupled with science, technology, engineering and math the traditional STEM subjects. As the creative industries are now driving marketplace innovation, it makes perfect sense that creative art and design has an important part to play in transforming the economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.

As a technophile with a background in art who then moved into design and technology (D&T), I can see how this makes perfect sense. I have made my thoughts clear about how under-appreciated art and design can be and also how design is intrinsically linked with other subjects. I have also discussed the growing demand for, and increased interest in, creative digital careers and questioned who is best served to provide the necessary skills for such careers. I could discuss the differences between art and design technology, after all they share design only in the title, but more about that later.

By adopting the STEAM approach we could cover most bases, as there are the usual science and engineering skills in there, but also an education that potentially could prepare for careers that range from film storyboarding and digital image manipulation to fine art and architecture. The question is what is your school’s position on creative subjects? Have they already been dismissed as less important than the pursuit of standardized tests?

Should your school be forward thinking enough to look beyond the ideals of one particular political party and to the needs of the future, they will likely value creative subjects and the synergy that exists between the arts, science, math and D&T. If not then the subject is doomed and we are already seeing this happen in many schools, especially so if it’s not a particularly high-achieving area of the curriculum. 

Specialist versus generalist education

I have my own ideas about creative education but they don’t necessarily fit within the current curriculum. Then again, industry has made it clear that the curriculum doesn’t necessarily fit with what industry needs.

In an area of the curriculum gradually being squeezed into one indistinguishable and often neglected subject area, art and design could exist as a single subject area, as could science and engineering. By adopting the STEAM paradigm, artistry and creativity could happily coexist with technology as it often does in the real world. It would be tragic to lose specific areas of study such as fine art, sculpture, graphics and photography, but in a diminishing area of interest at examination level we may well have to group subjects and staff to survive and that may mean combining once separate specialist curriculum areas into multi option subjects such as art and design. 

Adaptability is the key here with the ability to "teach across the range of creative subjects" and the days of being meaningfully employed as a single subject specialist may soon be a distant memory. I believe that, even under a new government with different ideas about education, creative subjects will struggle to regain their popularity in schools for quite some time. 

I have a genuine love of creative subjects and witness each and every day at school how they contribute to development of the whole pupil. While math and science have a strong foothold in the current secondary curriculum, it is the creative aspects of STEM, or rather STEAM, that struggle. This really needs to change and I am all for bringing art into the existing STEM setup so that it, and design, might survive in the future.

Remember, S&M is fun but it’s important that you get plenty of TEA in your life.

Paul has taught Design and Technology for 23 years in a range of schools and also writes and illustrates children's books.

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