NH is moving full STEAM ahead
Out-of-school programs that have adopted the STEAM curriculum complement the classroom experience
STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – is an educational term most parents are familiar with. But STEAM, which focuses on the aforementioned educational disciplines but also incorporates arts education, is becoming more prominent.
Some disagree whether the inclusion of arts is taking away from concentrating on the original hard sciences makeup of STEM, but regardless, STEAM is, pardon the pun, picking up steam and nowhere more so than outside the classroom.
Increasingly STEAM programs are offered in out-of-school settings, which Tracey Tucker, Executive Director of New Heights in Exeter and Portsmouth, said reflects an important trend in education because many budget-strapped schools are unable to offer STEAM-related programs in the classroom during the school day.
“Out-of-school and after-school programs need to develop programs that reflect the latest educational trends to complement what happens in the classroom while filling in other gaps,” she said. “We need students to not only understand science, math, engineering and technology, but be able to apply their knowledge in creative ways.”
Colie Haahr, STEAM & School-Aged Programs Coordinator at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover, agrees with Tucker and said creative thinking can be encouraged in prescribed and measured ways.
“Often, when we introduce a creative project, we do not give an example of what the finished project should look like because we want kids to come up with their own ideas,” she said.
She said this creative process and the problem-solving skills developed alongside it can be applied to other areas of students’ lives.
“There’s also something to be said for meeting kids where they are in terms of interests,” added Haahr. “Maybe STEM topics do not sound super exciting, but art projects do, and this can open a door to other interests.”
Tucker said the backdrop to STEAM is that it addresses needs in the workplace of tomorrow as well as those of today.
“Research is clear in showing that the incoming workforce is struggling with their problem-solving, social and emotional skills,” she said. “There is also a gap between the number of available STEAM-related jobs and available skilled employees and businesses are looking for help. Out-of-school STEAM programs fill that critical need in industry.”
At New Heights, its transition from STEM to STEAM in the past few years has resulted in a variety of new workshops that incorporate art and creative thinking. Beautiful Biology and Sacred Geometry are just two examples of recent STEAM programming.
In Beautiful Biology, participants create fiber arts inspired by microscopic views of plant life. In Sacred Geometry, participants use mathematical formulas to increase artistic aesthetics used by ancient architects.
Other recent STEAM workshops at New Heights include STEAM: The Science of Color and STEAM: Eco-Dye Chemistry.
“The feedback has been great with these programs,” said Arts and Culture Coordinator Becca Pawling. “I personally have been very excited to see research demonstrate art’s importance within education. Creative thinking, problem-solving and better communication skills are just some of the benefits from STEAM.”
At the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, Haahr said one of her favorite lessons in their STEAM lab is a roller coaster building activity, which she said incorporates physics, up-cycling, creative problem solving, and teamwork. Within the activity, she said kids use pipe insulation tubes—a foam material that is easy to cut and bend — to make roller coasters for marbles.
“The challenge is to make one loop, one turn, and one trick, which can be anything they want,” she said. “This activity really only works in teams, so it is great to see kids meet other kids in the lab and work together or bond with their caregiver while working on the project.”
She said the sense of excitement and accomplishment they feel when their roller coaster works is one of the best outcomes from the activity.
“Kids can often be seen jumping up and down, cheering, and laughing — and yes, they also learn a little bit about gravity, momentum, and problem solving,” she said.
Haahr said the goal behind all of their STEAM programs is to help children develop the 21st-century skills they will need to pursue their interests while developing critical thinking skills.
“In this age where knowledge is at our fingertips and on our phones and computers, it is more important than ever to help children become critical thinkers who do not simply digest information,” she said. “We want children to be able to assess what they find and use it to come up with creative solutions.”
While there are different frameworks for 21st-century skills, each one centers on four critical areas of development, which include: 1) collaboration and teamwork, 2) creativity and imagination, 3) critical thinking, and 4) problem solving.
“We need to go well beyond just providing a student with a laptop or access to software,” said Tucker. “We need to help kids develop these 21st-century skills so they can better succeed in a global environment that is much different than it was for us as kids. STEAM is an important part of the equation.”
According to Bob Baines of STEAM Ahead, which is offered during the school day in the Manchester school system, STEAM is as much a shift in pedagogy as it is a specific curriculum.
“We need to retrain how teachers how to teach,” he said. “The traditional classroom is no longer viable. We can no longer teach subjects in isolation to one another. We need a whole comprehensive approach — STEAM is part of that.”
Former mayor, high school principal and college president, Baines said STEAM also necessitates a redesign of the physical space in which students learn.
“We have redesigned six classrooms at Manchester West High School with flexible moving furniture and chairs on wheel,” he said. “STEAM incorporates a project-based approach to learning and flexible learning environments are key.”
Haahr referred to STEAM as “an essential building block in helping kids prepare for the future.”
“I think the growth mindset approach helps kids to focus on their efforts rather than results — and a lot of the STEAM movement is as much about the process as the product,” she said.
Tucker agrees and added, “It’s important parents understand the value of STEAM, why it’s relevant and where opportunities for it exist in their school and community…businesses are in need of employees that have developed emotional, social and other related skills — STEAM in education answers that need.”
Rob Levey is CEO of Exponential Squared, a marketing and organizational development company focused on helping small to medium businesses achieve their business goals and promote wellness in the workplace. Rob never strays too far from his roots – you will find his freelance writing in numerous publications, including Parenting NH.