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STEAM-powered learning 

click to enlarge STEAM catapults the learning process creatively. - PROVIDED BY IMAGINATION CELEBRATION
  • Provided by Imagination Celebration
  • STEAM catapults the learning process creatively.

How do we prepare our youth for college and careers and life in the 21st century?

This is a compelling question for me. As executive director of an education organization, I have been deeply immersed in studying our education system, following thought leaders, attending national education conferences, meeting with school administrators, listening to teachers, visiting our schools and observing young people on a daily basis.

Much is discussed about the need to prepare our youth for the skills needed in this 21st century. We need to prepare them for jobs and careers that may not currently exist. We need a workforce of innovators with a higher level of collaboration and adaptability than ever before.

Mitchel Resnick, a professor of Learning Research at MIT Media Lab says "the key to success in the future, is not about what you know, but whether you are able to think and act creatively."

Imagination Celebration created the annual What IF... Festival of Innovation and Imagination to engage people of all ages in creative exploration in diverse fields of study and diverse aspects of our economy and community. STEAM education was our inspiration.

What is STEAM? It involves collaborative explorations in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs are all icons of genius who integrated these five pursuits! They recognized the value of simultaneously studying the creative process and the scientific method of inquiry. STEAM represents a paradigm shift from traditional education philosophy, based on standardized test scores, to a modern ideal that focuses on valuing the learning process as much as the results. Students are challenged to be wrong, to try multiple ideas, to listen to alternate opinions and to create a knowledge base that is applicable to real life as opposed to focusing on preparation for testing.

Collaboration, trial and error, divergent thinking skills, dynamic problem solving, and perseverance are all skills that are fostered by the arts. These are all skills that serve explorations in science and engineering. Math, technology and hands-on projects directly engage the students with tools to probe problems and identify outcomes.

The "creative process" and the "scientific method" for problem solving in science require multiple revisions and inventive thinking. The scientific method is a way to explore a problem, form and test a hypothesis, and answer questions. The creative process creates, interprets, and expresses. Curiosity and inquiry are at the heart of both of these methods. Both of these processes are cyclical. There is a question or problem, followed by hypotheses, and then experiments are conducted in an effort to answer or express an understanding of the problem or question. The researcher, or artist/performer, analyzes the results, which leads to more questions. They typically develop more than one solution. They fail. They try again. They revise. They try again. They evaluate. Revise. Try again.

Several schools and arts organizations in our region are engaged in STEAM education. Ormao Dance Company provides inspired learning with their Mathtastic program. Concrete Couch teaches science, engineering, math and art through weekly Skill Share workshops.

Carla Rae Smith, a science teacher at Eagleview Middle School Academic Arts Academy, recently attended an Imagination Celebration national touring production at the Pikes Peak Center, The Science of Magic with Bill Blagg, and afterward challenged her students to create their own science-based magic tricks. She says, "Using the arts to teach science, or any content area offers another way to reach students. Many arts-integration strategies involve students creating a product (visual or performing) to show what they know. This freedom to choose and create offers students a chance to take ownership of their learning and learn the material more deeply than through many traditional teaching methods. Through our program students learn alternative study techniques that align with their learning style, which is a great skill going forward to high school and college. Additionally, we find that students develop outstanding collaboration skills way beyond what you would expect of middle school students. The real joy I have found as a science teacher has been helping students expand their view of creative careers. Many students have a narrow view of creative careers, and being able to demonstrate to them that designers, architects and engineers soar when they think outside the box and that these careers offer all sorts of creative outlets is an important part of what our program does."

Talbott STEAM Innovation School in Widefield School District 3 gives students the freedom to think critically, creatively and innovatively using teaching methods that are more student-centered and grounded in real-life applications, according to Michelle Blasko, assistant principal.

"We engage in school-wide, project-based learning activities. Our teachers believe that STEAM is not just a class, it is a culture. STEAM is a culture of creative thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. Students are excited to showcase their learning. We are all learning to fail forward and find success through discovery and exploration. By engaging in hands-on, minds-on activities students think critically to solve problems. They engage in teamwork and collaboration to go through the engineering design process: ask, explore, model, evaluate, explain. We are seeing a shift in thinking from working for the right answer to solving a problem to find the best solution!"

Kids start out excited by learning because they are naturally curious. STEAM education inspires them to continue to be curious through life!

Recommended reading: Closing the Innovation Gap by Judy Estrin and Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner.

Deborah Thornton is the Curious Choreographer of Creativity for the Imagination Celebration.

  • How do we prepare our youth for college and careers and life in the 21st century?

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