The Arts have been incorporated into the previously known STEM philosophy to give us STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. With this addition, it opens the concept of cross curriculum planning to include the more creative side of our students.
Traditionally, students have developed skills and understanding for each subject discreetly. What we often find, however, is the inability to transfer these developed skills to other subjects.
Students may study formulae and functions in Maths or Science, but when they attempt to create a spreadsheet in ICT, they become confused, as if looking at this logic for the first time. STEAM allows students to develop skills across the curricula, building an in-depth understanding of what they are learning, and ultimately allowing them to apply these skills in a range of environments.
Having a variety of tools at your disposal can enhance the learning environment for students. Schools are starting to invest in technologies such as drones and 3D printers. In a STEAM curriculum, this allows students to progress further down the design and prototyping path than previously possible. They have an opportunity to hold a physical prototype in their hands, analyse its effectiveness and plan realistic improvements.
There are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when beginning to implement a STEAM curriculum.
Careful planning is required. For this, staff need to be able to allocate time to collaborate. It is important that staff have a chance to investigate each other’s discreet curriculum and see where there is opportunity for overlap and joint planning.
There is usually a range of topics covered over the year by different subjects. If planned correctly, these could create marvelous opportunities for a STEAM environment.
Teachers are still responsible for their own subject area within the STEAM curriculum but it is crucial that they plan with other departments.
It is necessary to consider the impact and value that creating a STEAM curriculum would have for your students. At Key Stage 3, it is much easier to develop an exciting curriculum without the shackles of the exam boards.
The primary school environment also works well for promoting a STEAM curriculum, as the teacher is able to manage the different subjects’ content around a centralised theme.
In secondary, being able to develop personalised schemes of work with matching grading criteria allows us to engage with a range of departments to merge curriculums and add value to the students’ learning.
As teachers, we so often find ourselves wrapped up in our own cocoon, working within our departments, settling into the comfortable, yet busy, daily routine. We seldom grasp the opportunities to explore the wealth of activities taking place around the school.
It becomes exciting, looking for ways to collaborate with other departments. An example unit of work could be about Superstructures, where students research existing structures and develop their own design.
Through STEAM, we can enhance this unit as the students learn about architecture, geography, weather and materials used in building. They can go further and consider how their structure could be eco- friendly, by incorporating solar panels or vertical farms. They could also consider dimensions and location. When finished, they get to print their computer generated 3D model on the 3D printer. Approaching the work with real world scenarios allows students to further consolidate their learning and gives them the ability to apply their new-found skills beyond the classroom.
By Malachy McGrogan