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How STEAM is Improving Student Problem Solving Skills

Integrated science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) is an upgraded take on the popular education model, STEM. It's sometimes referred to as "STEM enriched with Arts" and is a promising field of research and practice for the evolution of education. According to the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM

"STEAM is an integrated approach to learning which requires an intentional connection between standards, assessments and lesson design/implementation. True STEAM experiences involve two or more standards from Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and the Arts to be taught AND assessed in and through each other."

When we utilize STEAM in our classrooms, we teach students problem-solving skills beyond those taught through the less versatile STEM model. 

Problem-Solving Through STEAM Activities

In an article published in Technology and Engineering Teacher May/June 2020Thomas Roberts and Jerry Schnepp assert that educational activities that follow the STEAM model "provide a context for authentic problem solving" while simultaneously reaching a wider range of students than its predecessor STEM.

With the addition of Arts to the STEM acronym, STEAM becomes a vessel for problem-solving and education with room for aspiring creators or designers alongside future scientists and engineers. This is a positive for education in general, as it broadens the appeal for students while enhancing the overall learning experience.

Roberts and Schnepp write that STEAM focuses on solving "authentic problems," which are characterized by the following ten elements:

  1. Real-world relevance
  2. Ill-defined problem
  3. Complex tasks requiring ongoing investigation
  4. Multiple perspectives
  5. Collaboration
  6. Reflection
  7. Interdisciplinary connection
  8. Integrated assessment
  9. Polished products
  10. Multiple interpretations and outcomes

At their core, projects that follow the STEAM model "provide [students with] a context for authentic problem solving" while appealing to a broader range of students than STEM. Moreover, STEAM activities are ideal for informal, authentic learning environments and provide students with the capability to solve problems with higher variables. It encourages reflection and engagement with peers. The ultimate goal of STEAM activities is to "create a variety of tangible solutions."

Summer Camp

In an attempt to gain further insight into problem-solving through STEAM, Roberts and Schnepp organized a week-long "STEAM summer camp that focused on authentic problem-solving through art and robotics."

The camp sought to "provide access and opportunity for learning to code and develop students' abilities to communicate, collaborate, and apply critical thinking and creativity to solve problems." These camp-goers engaged in multiple projects that utilized the ten qualities of authentic problems, and there was an improvement in participants' emotional intelligence and collaborative skills from these activities.

Encouraging Creative Solutions with STEAM

One of the main goals of STEAM education is to encourage creative solutions to "real-world problems." Students can think of solving real-world problems in a large-scale way, wherein individuals benefit from STEAM education via nurturing their problem-solving and collaborative skills in general.

It can also be thought of in ways more specific to whichever field the student chooses to pursue in further education and their professional pursuit (i.e., scientific creativity, artistic creativity, social creativity, etc.). While research suggests that nurturing and encouraging creativity, regardless of the field, is beneficial to the given field, we have difficulty understanding creativity in and of itself.

In their article for Smart Learning Environments 7, Catherine Contradty and Franz Xaver Bogner write that,

"Creative thinking is required to solve problems. The more complex the problems are, the more creativity is needed. For this reason, creativity was recognized as a key skill for the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, school environments are accused of discouraging children for more creativity, although school could also very well encourage creativity."

Moreover, STEAM education seeks to "reintroduce creativity" to the STEM model through arts integration.

Improving Scientific Creativity with STEAM

One major area of research within education and professional development is improving scientific creativity. This is a field that experts and educators have stressed the importance of enhancing without having a clear path on how to teach individuals to strengthen and nurture their scientific creativity.

In a study designed "to investigate the effectiveness of a STEAM-based curriculum on junior high school students," researchers concluded that introducing STEAM-based education has the potential to "maintain or continue" students' scientific creativity. The data from this study suggests that we should conduct more research in this area and that there may be more value in the Arts infusion of STEM than previously thought.

Final Thoughts

While introducing STEAM into our lessons may seem daunting, the education system must continue to nurture children's creativity.

Written by Taynne Wallace
Education World Contributor
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