How Schools Can Encourage STEAM Education
STEAM education is for everyone.
STEM — standing for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — is a foundational part of learning that sets students up for success across the board. STEM uses those subjects in purposeful ways, aiming to offer experiences that show the real-world application of the content.
STEAM takes that approach and adds the Arts in a comprehensive learning approach. This addition focuses on feeding into kids’ innate curiosity and cultivating their desire to ask questions, explore and solve problems.
Schools can encourage STEAM education in many different ways, from small tweaks in classroom activities to larger investments in technology or programming. Let’s take a closer look at how to promote STEM education through STEAM learning, including their benefits and when you should start teaching them.
Why Do We Need STEM in Education?
STEM and STEAM education teach students both hard and soft skills. While learning the valuable STEM subjects necessary for a 21st-century workforce, kids can also learn skills like problem-solving, critical thinking and evaluating evidence. They learn about the scientific process and experience the excitement of exploration and discovery. Kids are curious, and STEAM encourages that curiosity to build understanding, literate and well-informed citizens with the power and confidence to make positive change.
STEM has a lot to offer. Studies show that early STEM is an effective predictor of future academic achievement. In the workforce, STEM careers have higher-than-average employment growth rates. Their average salary is also more than double the median annual wage — in 2020, STEM workers made almost $90,000 annually, while non-STEM majors made just over $40,000.
However, the latest American College Testing (ACT) report shows that while 43% of tested students showed interest in STEM fields, only about 20% of graduates displayed readiness for the coursework.
STEAM is a wide-reaching discipline that can have positive effects on students of all ages, teaching them hard skills while fueling their curiosity. It can prepare older students for their future career options and help build their knowledge of various subjects. STEAM education can also benefit younger kids, helping them develop lifelong skills and cultivate curious mindsets.
When Should STEAM Education Start?
Kids are innately curious. By the time they enter school, they’re already capable of thinking in the ways that STEAM requires — drawing conclusions on cause and effect, making inferences and reasoning about the probability of events. Since many kids develop this type of thinking before their first birthday, parents often start teaching STEAM before their kids start school. Simple activities and discussions can encourage discovery and cover STEM principles at home, and preschool and kindergarten are the perfect time for schools to start encouraging STEM education in children.
Early STEAM education builds on kids’ natural curiosity to develop critical thinking and pattern recognition skills. It offers a more engaging type of learning with hands-on experiences and real-world impacts that lean into a child’s sense of wonder.
From creating simple slime to building and competing with robots, educators can apply STEAM education at every level. An older student in a science class might take samples from the outdoors and look at them under a microscope. Younger kids can still explore the outdoors, learning about biology by watching a plant grow.
STEAM can also help with childhood development. While developing STEAM skills, students learn about topics like:
- Language: Kids can build their vocabulary and language skills as they reason through problems and learn about new topics.
- Collaboration: Many parts of STEAM rely on contributions from others. As students talk and work together, they learn to collaborate and communicate.
- Social responsibility: Something as simple as picking up litter can teach kids about their role in helping the planet and others.
- Creativity: Problem-solving is a significant part of STEAM, which often calls for creative solutions. Kids can learn to think outside the box.
10 Ways Schools Can Promote STEAM Learning
You can implement STEAM education in many different ways. Here are a few ideas.
1. Form a Science Club
A science club is a great way for kids to develop a love of science and take part in exciting hands-on activities. They can hone their STEAM skills by discussing their activities and building on the topics they learn. The club can involve teachers, parents and volunteers, many of whom would love an opportunity to help.
2. Hold a STEM Camp
While classroom-based activities can make the school day fun and interesting, sometimes you might want something more immersive or in-depth. STEM camps can bring together community members and students for exciting, more comprehensive learning events. Whether they focus on one subject or incorporate many of them, STEM or STEAM camps can provide detailed, fun and hands-on experiences.
A STEM camp might span several days and cover activities like building a robot, creating a rocket launcher or setting off chemical reactions. You can even turn to your community for support. Get volunteers involved or ask local businesses to donate supplies. A STEM camp allows you to get creative and work with whatever topics interest your students and community.
3. Involve the Community
You probably have STEAM resources all around you in the community. Look to local businesses and figures to help students learn about various topics. You can also help them see how STEM translates into successful careers.
Bring in some local professionals to talk about their work and possibly teach a small lesson about it. A civil engineer might teach a bridge-building class, while a software designer could show students how to create an app. You can even incorporate STEM lessons in non-STEM professions. A baker, for instance, could talk about how they use math in their recipes.
Reach out to your community to find these professionals. You can reach out directly to businesses, and you might also find some help through your students’ parents. Many of them would be happy to help.
You can involve the community by asking for their support. Local businesses can make great sponsors. See if they’re willing to donate to a STEAM camp, sponsor your supply list or allow employees to volunteer during their workday. Many companies jump at opportunities to help the community — it’s good for business and can even give them a nice tax write-off.
4. Implement Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning (PBL) engages students with real-world projects that have meaningful effects. Kids may finish these projects within the week or spend the entire semester or year working on them.
Educators can use these projects to build awareness of the complexities of real-world problems and allow students to demonstrate their knowledge with a final product or presentation. Woodshop students might build a structure, such as a storage shed, to donate to a local charity. Chemistry students might test their town’s water quality and present solutions for cleaning it up.
Younger kids can also engage in project-based learning. Consider a small class garden where they learn to be self-sufficient, a short film used to raise awareness of a topic or a house made of popsicles sticks.
PBL puts kids’ problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to work and allows them to see themselves as members of a larger society who can make real, valuable changes. Many projects also help kids incorporate personal interests with their education for more engagement and relevance.
5. Teach STEM Concepts Through Play
One way to get your students engaged is to teach STEM through play, where you can link up STEM education with exciting, unstructured activities. You might be surprised to see how many concepts you can teach on the playground, such as:
- Physics: Discuss gravity on the slides, centrifugal force on the merry-go-round or balance on a spring rider.
- Senses: Mirrors, noisemakers, textural elements, sand and water tables and even smelly plant life can help kids explore sight, sound, touch and smell.
- Kinesthetics: Different types of movement on playground elements can show kids how their bodies work and what they can do to stay healthy.
- Math: Have students compare their heights on a jump panel or use a giant abacus or calculator to learn about math.
- Wildlife: A critter puzzle can help kids learn about animal anatomy, while a sound panel can familiarize them with animal sounds.
- Problem-solving: Many games, like mazes and sliding puzzles, can help students hone their logical problem-solving skills.
- Engineering: Gears, wheels, pistons and other fun interactive elements teach how these parts work and fit in well with imaginative play, such as pretending to be a pilot.
6. Invest in Technology
The Technology in STEM is essential for digital natives. However, technology can also help you achieve overall STEAM goals. Consider investing in new tech to further your STEAM initiatives. Some popular pieces of technology to familiarize students with digital tools and boost engagement include:
- Robotics: A wide range of robotics toys and kits on the market offer accessible supplies to create a working robot. Add some challenge by having students compete, either with each other or together in team robotics competitions. Many robots come with modular pieces like LEGO® bricks, so kids can get creative as they build and hone their technological problem-solving skills.
- Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR): You can bring technology into the classroom with AR and VR. While expensive versions certainly exist, low-cost AR and VR headsets have made it easy for educators to use these exciting tools in the classroom. You can transport students to the bottom of the sea for a science lesson or learn about the human body by overlaying anatomical images of a skeleton over another student.
- SMART Boards: These interactive whiteboards allow teachers to write and move things around on a large digital surface. Teachers can create high-tech lessons and have students write on the board and play games while they learn. SMART Boards are highly versatile and useful in classes of all ages.
7. Create Field Trips and Work-Based Learning Opportunities
Field trips are a fun way to incorporate STEM topics. Plan field trips to STEM-focused locations like science museums or a botanical garden. Kids can learn about various STEM topics by immersing themselves in the environment. Field trips are great for place-based education (PBE), in which students immerse themselves in local landscapes, cultures, opportunities and experiences. Its emphasis on participation makes PBE a great fit for STEM topics.
You can go a step further for older students with work-based learning. Students spend a day “on the job,” similar to a mini apprenticeship. This opportunity pairs well with career exploration programs, letting kids explore STEM careers like agriculture or engineering in a hands-on environment.
8. Create a Makerspace
Makerspaces are incredibly versatile. As the name implies, these are places where kids can create. They get to explore their interests and learn to use tools and materials that they may not otherwise have access to. In a makerspace, you might find:
- 3D printers.
- Sewing machines.
- Laser engravers.
- Woodworking equipment.
- A recording studio.
- Art supplies.
- Robotics components.
- Filmmaking equipment, such as a camera and greenscreen.
- Computers with coding software.
While you may want to limit access to some tools to older students, you can also create makerspaces for younger students with items like tablets and arts and crafts supplies.
Makerspaces are the perfect entry point for STEM experiences and cultivating authentic interests. When it’s open year-round, a makerspace lets students continue their STEAM hobbies after school or in between semesters. Invite parents to get involved and create new things alongside their kids.
9. Get Immersed in Nature
What better way to learn about the world around us than by going out into it? This type of PBE can help educators teach about flora and fauna in a more direct, engaging setting. It’s also great for creating hands-on experiences that show students the impact they can have on our planet.
Go for a nature walk, teach a class outside or create a wildlife habit. You can also identify plants or test soil and water. Students can develop hypotheses and learn about the world right from their school’s backyard. If you have limited outdoor space, a playground with natural-looking elements can offer opportunities for wildlife education and creativity.
10. Involve Underrepresented Students
Although the numbers are changing, female, Black and Hispanic workers are underrepresented in U.S. STEM fields. Across all jobs, 11% of workers are Black and 17% are Hispanic. However, Hispanic workers hold only 8% of all STEM positions and Black workers hold only 9%. Black workers account for 11% of health-related jobs, though they hold under 10% in all other STEM fields.
Similarly, while women are overrepresented in health-related jobs, they make up a smaller portion of the workforce in many STEM fields. The numbers are particularly low for computing and engineering, where women make up 25% and 15% of workers, respectively.
This underrepresentation is structural, and educators have a significant role in helping underrepresented groups pursue STEM careers. Make sure your program is aware of these gaps and makes efforts to close them. For example, some of the biggest reasons women turn away from STEM include gender stereotypes, confidence gaps and male-dominated cultures.
Educators can help by breaking down those stereotypes, assuring girls that they are just as capable as boys, providing the same opportunities and presenting women as role models in STEM. You can help encourage your students by ensuring your STEAM programs are gender-neutral and offering opportunities and support for anyone who wants to join.
Nurturing a School Environment for STEAM Education
STEAM education requires ongoing efforts to overcome barriers. One of the most common challenges in STEAM is the idea that it’s primarily for high school-age boys. Younger kids and girls often find themselves subtly left out of the equation.
Another issue is the lack of alignment. The entire school needs to be on board with STEAM education and aiming for the same goals. Educators, administrators, parents and organizational partners all need to work together.
You can work toward a school environment that supports STEAM by providing the following elements.
Strong supports help educators provide high-quality STEAM education. Professional development is one of the clearest examples of this support. Robust professional development allows educators to see STEM strategies in action with clear, actionable examples and solutions for overcoming problems. Professional development can also bolster confidence and create a sense of ownership over teaching STEAM.
Another significant type of support is funding. Administrators can help STEAM initiatives by providing adequate funding for supplies and activities in and out of the classroom.
Parent and Community Involvement
Involving parents and community members helps you access a stronger, more diverse network of helpers. Spend some time connecting with these people to increase your school’s capacity for STEAM education. More help will let you reach more students, cover more topics and improve the program overall.
Remember to vet your educational partners. You can find many organizations out there to help with STEM programming — look for those that offer tried-and-true, evidence-backed programs.
Parent involvement is also critical for a child’s effective STEAM education. Help parents be active partners in their kids’ education, teaching STEM throughout the day and indulging their curiosity.
A Clear Vision
Your STEAM program needs to align with your curriculum and your partners’ goals. Spend some time ensuring everyone understands the program and its goals so educators and parents can take on collective responsibility for its success.
When it comes to spreading your vision, look for people who can act as champions of STEAM. These ambassadors should be motivated, with strong leadership skills. They’ll play a key role in getting others on board and building out the STEAM program. Collaborate with them and involve them in decision-making.
A STEAM program is a great way to expose kids to more topics and ways of learning. Include a wide range of topics in your STEAM program and allow students to explore different interests. Remember to include a mixture of formal and informal learning, such as pairing a classroom lesson on force with unstructured playtime where kids can see it in action on the playground.
Be sure to include diverse speakers, such as women and people of color. Diverse representation is essential for breaking down stereotypes about the field and encouraging more students to pursue their STEAM interests.
Appropriate Classroom Structures
Educators can provide more support in the classroom with better physical spaces. Teachers might rearrange their classrooms to allow for more collaboration or create space for hands-on work conducive to STEAM learning.
Contact Miracle® Recreation to Start Designing a Playground for STEM Learners
STEAM education comes in many forms, including the engaging and exciting form of play. Playgrounds make an excellent foundation for STEAM education, creating opportunities to learn about movement, the natural world and more.
From classic playground elements like merry-go-rounds and slides to unique pieces like the Momentum Corridor and the Dynamics Lab, Miracle® Recreation offers a wide range of pieces and collections to help you create the ideal playground for STEAM learners. We’ve even worked with The Rube Goldberg Institute for Innovation & Creativity to build our STEAM-focused Miracle Machines™. We’ve packed this upcoming lineup with dynamic moving mechanisms like levers, gears, spinners and balls.
Miracle Recreation has been a playground pioneer for decades. Our themed components and inclusive elements offer fun and excitement for kids of all abilities. We’re here to help from start to finish, with knowledgeable sales representatives and plenty of resources for planning and funding. To learn more or start designing the perfect STEAM playground, request a quote today!