Is There Value in Teaching Elementary STEAM Education?
By Dipty Desai, STEAM Educator, Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy
Five years ago, I was asked by my administrator if I would develop and teach the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program at Holy Trinity’s Lower School. I felt honored and humbled to be asked to join such a strong and experienced faculty. I started researching and looking for a good elementary STEM program to buy and implement, but to my dismay there were few, incomplete, and very expensive programs on the market. That summer I went to work, educating myself about what a good STEM program involves and then creating one. Most importantly, I needed to understand why we need an elementary STEM/STEAM program. This is how my STEAM program at the elementary level contributes to your child’s learning:
Making Learning Relevant Is the industrial revolution really a big deal? What if nature is artistic? Why is learning about perimeters important in math? Most students wonder or may ask, how is this important in my life, why do I need to learn or care about these things? That is where STEAM education becomes relevant. Products and services created for human beings are influenced by history and culture. Everything that meets a human’s wants or needs is part of the STEM field. We are surrounded by a technological world; therefore, is it not of relevance to be exposed to and learn about it in the early formative years?
Integrating the Five Areas of STEAM My curriculum focuses on project-based learning, which is “. . . a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.”1 Beginning in kindergarten, I expose my students to challenges involving slopes and inclines, which integrates the friction (science), use of materials (technology), design of product (engineering), creativity and construction of ramp system (arts), and angles of slopes (math). As the grade levels increase, so do the complexity of the projects.
Thinking Critically In STEAM, critical thinking forces a student to start asking a series of questions so they may discover more about the project. They have to apply what they already know from past experiences about a particular subject and combine it with their new knowledge, presented by me, to make inferences and work toward finding a solution. They need to be creative and reflective in order to meet their goals. They are instructed to make claims about their projects and provide evidence to support their work.
Having Fun Nothing is more rewarding to me than seeing my students truly engaged in their learning. When students collaborate with their teammates and build, test, and see their designs and ideas come to fruition, it is so exciting for them as well as for me. This all translates to FUN! “Fun has a positive effect on motivation levels, determining what we learn and how much we retain. Learning isn’t a one-off event. It requires repetition and dedication. If the experience is fun, learners will stay curious and keep coming back for more.”2
Jobs Related to the STEM Fields “STEM is important because our world depends on it . . . This year 2.4 million STEM jobs projected to go unfilled.”3 When a child has a positive and fun experience in their STEAM class, it helps them to formulate strong memories that will lead them to further education in the STEM fields.
The CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, had this to say: "One of the things that my experience has taught me is that if you are trained as a scientist in your youth – through your high school and college – if you stay with the STEM disciplines, you can learn pretty much all of the subjects as you move along in life. And your scientific disciplines play a very important role, and ground you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is.”3
It has been five years since I began my STEM to STEAM journey. My curriculum has evolved to meet state standards and enhances the core subjects taught here at Holy Trinity. I applaud our administrators to have the foresight to implement a STEAM education program into our school curriculum. I walk into my classroom in the morning happy and rejuvenated by the energy of our young students and their enthusiasm to learn about how one day they will impact our future.
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