If you answered, "no" or "I'm not sure"...there's a problem!
When we combine these individual branches of knowledge into one comprehensive body of knowledge, the tasks involved require a whole new way of thinking. The STEAM exploration allows for making connections across knowledge areas, it enables us to see the math that is embedded in the science, the science that is behind the engineering and development, the compliment that the Arts bring to the technology we use, etc. The process fosters higher level thinking skills such as making connections, synthesizing information and ultimately, creating something new.
So how is it that our young children are supported to think in these ways? We need to pique their curiosity; enable them to explore, discover, and hypothesize on their own; allow them to question and experiment; and encourage the mistakes and retakes along the way as a wonderful learning experience rather than a failure.
A colleague of mine had 4-year old children examine a paper Chinese lamp made as a Halloween decoration today. She then encouraged them to work in teams and figure out how to make one. With minimal support, they worked in partners and then shared whole group with each step that they figured out. Not only did they make the lamps, but they had a situation that was a life lesson for all! One friend in the group cut the paper in the wrong direction, noticed it before even opening it up, exclaimed, "Ooops! This won't work!" and asked for another paper to cut in the other direction. This insightful teacher's response was, "Oops! is good! That's how we learn and figure things out." The whole class was all smiles about this project! They were beaming with pride. They didn't sit down and get step-by-step directions on how to fold and how to cut and where to tape, etc. They worked as a team, they figured it out and they created something that was all theirs! It was so exciting!!!! This is serious learning.
The students in that class explored the sample lamp to gain some background knowledge, they discussed their questions and ideas together and then tried them out. They changed their path if it wasn't working and tried a new idea, and they eventually found success. This is a very basic example of what STEAM thinking should look like. This particular teacher is easing this group into STEAM, and hats off to her for beginning with encouraging the critical thinking and confidence-building that the team will need to delve into more complicated projects. Oh, did I mention that the lamps light up? VERY COOL!
Think about how you are conducting your STEM and STEAM activities.
- Are they student-centered rather than teacher-directed, with students leading the learning?
- Are the students questioning and hypothesizing as they go through the process?
- Are they making mistakes and finding it comfortable to "go back to the drawing board"?
- Are they "owning" the project?
- Are they demonstrating the excitement of new discoveries?
- Are they connecting the work they are doing with the world outside, past experiences, other work they've done or plan to do, or the adult world around them?
If you answer "YES!" to these questions, then you are creating the foundation for the work these children will do beyond your classroom and into adulthood. Nice job!
If you answered "NO :(" to any of these questions, then you'll need to "go back to the drawing board" yourself, and in doing so, demonstrate to your students how even adults have to reflect and revise their original plans to find true success! :)
STEAM on with Full Confidence! :)