Latest buzzwords: STEAM and STEM

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Science, technology, engineering, art and maths (STEAM) education integrates different disciplines into a unified curriculum that prepares students for a world of technology.
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Science, technology, engineering, art and maths (STEAM) education integrates different disciplines into a unified curriculum that prepares students for a world of rapidly changing technology.

Ryan Maney is a STEM coach at Concordia Elementary School.

STEM education creates, utilizes Makerspace   

At Concordia, our mission is to provide a holistic education for our students. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is an integral part of this holistic educational experience. Beginning in the elementary years, our teachers and instructional coaches look for engaging opportunities to bring the curriculum to life for our students. Whether it is engineering with preschoolers, coding and addition with first graders, or investigating magnetic putty with third graders, our elementary students are given opportunities to experience the standards and skills being taught in the classroom.  

STEM education does not start and stop in the classroom. A key piece to a strong STEM program is offering a variety of electives and after-school courses for students to participate in. At Concordia, our co-curricular activities include a number of STEM opportunities for our students to choose from. These include First Lego League Robotics, High 4 Math, Video Production and many more. The uniting thread amongst all of these STEM electives is that they require students to think critically, collaborate with others, and solve real world problems. By developing these skills in our students, we create global citizens who are ready to make positive contributions to our society.

Another piece of STEM education is the creation and utilization of Makerspaces. Each division has a designated Makerspace that includes age appropriate materials and learning opportunities depending on its location (elementary, middle or high school). These spaces are an area for students to inquire, imagine and collaborate on projects that span the entire spectrum of content areas. By fostering a Maker mindset, students are able to apply these skills into any of their content areas. It is through creative problem solving that some of the world’s biggest dilemmas will be solved. We hope to equip our students with these skills in the Makerspace.

While the challenges of effectively implementing STEM education are real (logistics, time, integration), I believe that the benefits far outweigh these obstacles. STEM education is an essential piece of the holistic educational experience. By providing our students opportunities to connect learning across multiple content areas, we foster deeper learning.

(Ryan Maney is a STEM coach at Concordia Elementary School.)


Victoria Solway is deputy head and director of Teaching and Learning at The British International School Shanghai.

Exercising young minds with Design Thinking  

Once in a while, something new arrives on the educational scene that is “hot,” and in recent times this has rather fittingly been STEAM education. Science, technology, engineering, art and maths education gathers its potency from the combination of the different disciplines in the students’ efforts to solve a given problem.

At the British International School Shanghai, we follow a very particular pedagogy, or way of teaching and learning, to support our students’ learning in STEAM, which is known as Design Thinking. 

The Design Thinking model we use exercises students’ minds by giving them real word problems to solve, rather than esoteric, abstract problems. So from the get-go, students are aware that their job is to use their subject specific skill set in a combined way to have a real impact on a real world problem. This imperative to use academic skills to have an impact on a real problem that someone is facing is a fantastic benefit of the Design Thinking approach to STEAM all on its own. However, when the process itself adds so much value to the students’ learning and skill acquisition it can be life-changing for everyone.

At the heart of the process is the idea that students keep working reiteratively on their project. This is a crucial point in the students’ mature understanding of how designs make the transition from drawing board to reality. Historically, students may have been more used to thinking of completing their tasks as something of a sprint: getting to the “finish line” as quickly as possible. However, as we mature we come to realize that producing a high quality output is much more cyclical, with many initial drafts or prototypes preceding the final finished product. Of course each prototype is carefully evaluated and examined to see what can be learnt from its weaknesses to make an improved new version. It is this very process of prototyping, evaluating and revising that forms the central philosophy of Design Thinking and which is the backbone of STEAM education.

So, here at the British International School Shanghai, students get to experience exactly this sort of deep learning, in two state of the art, world class STEAM facilities, and as a result we are able to nurture their analytical and problem solving minds in a way that will equip them to meet any challenge they are likely to face in their 21st century future.

(Victoria Solway is deputy head and director of Teaching and Learning at The British International School Shanghai.)

Sharon Moan is a science teacher at Harrow International School.

Opening up options for girls in fields they never knew existed   

STEM is very much today’s educational buzzword, but the importance of a strong STEM education goes far beyond the current trend.

As a female STEM graduate, at a time when few women studied STEM subjects (there were only two women on my course including myself), the opportunities my materials and engineering background presented to me were seemingly limitless. Employment as a polymer development chemist in a male-dominated industry would have been a daunting task were it not for the strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and maths laid down at university. In the six years I worked in the field, I came across only one other woman who worked in the same field as myself, a situation that ultimately led to a career in teaching. In the decade that I taught STEM subjects in the UK, I was determined to increase the uptake amongst girls, opening up possibilities for them in careers they never knew existed and extolling STEM careers as the tools of the future. 

At Harrow, we have an integrated STEM program as part of the curriculum. STEM lessons are not structured as ordinary lessons and have a strong emphasis on project management. Pupils are encouraged to think independently, manage their time, research and work together on a variety of projects ranging from designing and building wind turbines to designing UV blockers for use in space. Projects have a real-world meaning and provides a window to the world for pupils who are beginning to have a greater understanding of what it is to be a global citizen. 

STEM subjects embed invaluable skills to pupils that have applications to their everyday lives. With greater investment in STEM subjects directly driving development, the correlation between jobs and graduates in STEM fields cannot be ignored. Here in China, as many as 40 percent of the 7.7 million graduates have a STEM degree and it is no coincidence that STEM is seen as vital to global prosperity. STEM subjects prepare students now for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Companies such as NASA, Pepsi and even 21st Century Fox are already leading the search for the “next Elon Musk” and the visionaries of tomorrow, with scholarships provided to teens at the forefront of innovation and sustainability. 

As we move into a world less reliant on oil and the possibility of a future with greater limitations on resources, it is the STEM subjects that will provide the solutions to ever increasing global problems.

(Sharon Moan is a science teacher at Harrow International School.)

Hari Raye is a Secondary science teacher at Nord Anglia International School Shanghai, Pudong. 

NAIS Pudong, MIT work with eye on future 

STEAM is a hot topic in education today. Increasingly, efforts are made into developing programs that aim to integrate the individual content areas into a unified curriculum that offers greater connection to the real world and provides authentic opportunities for learning and solving problems.

To promote the culture of STEAM, Nord Anglia International School, Pudong (a member of the Nord Anglia Education family) collaborates with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is the world’s leading university in technology and innovation, repeatedly ranked as the world’s No. 1 university, according to the QS World University Rankings. NAIS recognizes the need for integrated skills and knowledge that have traditionally been taught separately to meet the demands of our rapidly changing technology, and consequently employment opportunities. Job creation has changed significantly in the past 10 years with the introduction of automation and development of artificial intelligence in manufacturing and service industries.

Self-driving cars, for example, are not science-fiction anymore and will be seen on our roads in the future. Many traditional educational settings don’t seem to address the fact that we are teaching the young generation for jobs that may not exist by the time they become graduates.  

STEAM education addresses this issue by bringing together the subjects and looking how to solve problems through the lens of multiple disciplines. At NAIS Pudong, we promote opportunities for students to combine the theoretical skills they have learned in different subjects to innovate, design and engineer products that could solve some of the world’s problems. Some examples of students’ projects include a solar-powered mobile charging station that will be stationed in the school park and a coded multi-functional display with a live feed of air quality index along with weather features. These projects promote a much deeper conceptual understanding through problem solving. 

However, we must be mindful of the deliverable curriculum requirements that we have and this sets a limitation in terms of the time that can be devoted to the STEAM approach. Another limitation is that not all teachers are comfortable in adjusting their long-established teaching style although some schools are investing in staff training to address this issue. At NAIS Pudong, we were lucky enough to have some teachers attend a professional development workshop at MIT during the summer.

The dean of Admissions for MIT commented how students who get involved in actively making products or attempting to address some of the real-life challenges the Earth and humanity are facing, stand a better chance of getting into the world’s leading universities compared to students who have the same academic profile without having had opportunities in STEM. Hence, many schools are promoting the philosophy of “creating or making” through extra-curricular activities and some collapsed timetables to strike a balance between regular curricula and project-based learning. 

(Hari Raye is a Secondary science teacher at Nord Anglia International School Shanghai, Pudong.)

Ian Baverstock (second from right), head of Design at Western International School of Shanghai, guides students in science experiments.

Nurturing the perfect growth mindset 

Our school is a full IBO continuum school and as such STEM is not a grouping that we officially use. However, it is a natural grouping, one that I support and is easy to nurture either through specific interdisciplinary units or by explicit usage within the subject. Design is after all a very rich and diverse subject and designing a product from concept through to actualization, in its basic form, requires the designer/student to research, analyze, design, make and evaluate the success of the product. 

Many subjects in schools are taught in isolation and as a result students view them in isolation, but as we know this is not how the world works. Design is a dynamic subject and unlike most subjects, it naturally brings together a range of disciplines and uses them together in real life situations. It places a design cycle at its heart and gives students the opportunity to bring their ideas to life through a creative process. Students use knowledge and skills from a range of other subjects, such as science and maths, in context when solving real life design challenges and the process is so fluid that quite often students don’t even realize the skills transfer that they are utilizing. 

A part of my learning environment approach fosters the growth mindset philosophy. Creating vibrant learning environments in which students feel inspired, safe and free to experiment with new ideas helps nurture the growth mindset. Carol S Dweck’s findings in her book “The New Psychology of Success” suggest that “people believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education, and persistence.” I believe that passion and persistence can only thrive when we are happy and feel engaged by a subject or topic. Providing engaging learning environments supports our students and helps them achieve far more than they ever thought possible.

(Ian Baverstock is head of Design at Western International School of Shanghai.)

Malika Meidinger is a kindergarten teacher at SCIS.

Coding has a naturally authentic purpose 

STEM is a rapidly expanding area in education. Just like the technology around us, STEM education is constantly evolving to keep up with our daily lives. The direction that the world is headed definitely opens up endless possibilities related to the STEM field. However, sometimes the pendulum can swing too far in education and other subject areas such as reading and the arts can get swept under the rug. 

Still, early introduction to areas of STEM is important. One aspect of STEM that is leading the way is coding. Coding is typically seen as something that older students can explore. But there are so many wonderful resources that provide access to coding for early elementary students. As a kindergarten teacher, I have successfully investigated algorithms, programming, binary, and more with my students. Code.org is a fantastic, free website that starts children off with the very basics and can guide them through creating their own computer programs. Coding has a naturally authentic purpose.

Many children use technology daily. Many have interactions with something that has been programmed. With much of our lives going digital, understanding how programming works is almost essential. 

STEM education is often a hands-on experience that allows children to explore, experiment, test out theories, and develop everyday ideas. I believe providing quality STEM instruction to all students, especially early elementary children, is critical for their success in the world. Not just for future jobs, but to develop important critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

(Malika Meidinger is a kindergarten teacher at SCIS.)

Students work on a STEAM model at Dulwich College Shanghai.

SE21 helps in connecting disparate areas 

What’s SE21? It’s a new initiative for students of Dulwich College Shanghai campuses. The “S” stands for STEAM, the “E” for entrepreneurship and the 21 for a 21st century educational agenda. It also happens to be the London postcode for Dulwich College.

Craig Davis, who has just joined the DCI group and has extensive STEAM experience, will be working on the development of SE21 for the schools over the coming years. He shares his thoughts and experiences in this interview:

Q: What is the difference between STEAM and STEM? Do you favor one over the other and if so, why?

A: The “A” in STEAM stands for the arts (in addition to science, technology, engineering and maths) and I definitely favor STEAM over STEM.

Q: What is the most important lesson that you gleaned from your experience with that program?

A: Adaptable spaces and a skills framework that can move with change. It is critical that STEAM spaces should be flexible given that the agenda is the development of shifting 21st century entrepreneurial skills. 

Q: What can you tell us about the SE21 spaces that are being developed across the Dulwich College International network of schools? How can the design of STEAM spaces affect learning?

A: Our spaces are just being developed, so the way they will be used and kitted out will depend on who uses them first and how. The spaces will be very different in each school, depending on the projects that they decide to lead with. The content and focus could be very different so we are looking for maximum flexibility so they can be potentially repurposed. 

Q: How do you see SE21 fitting in with the group’s newly refined vision and purpose?

A: I see it as totally aligned — the initiative is pioneering, with the goal of creating space and a framework to allow innovation to happen in an authentic way. The future is collaboration in all senses of the word.   

Q: How would you like SE21 to affect learning and teaching?  

A: STEAM is about interdisciplinary connections, collaboration and a stronger focus on the experiential. It is also about developing student dispositions and skills rather than simply content and knowledge (though these are clearly still important). I would like to see all of our schools linked in terms of a consistent skills framework.

By providing a skills framework that can capture what happens in the taught curriculum, co-curricular programs and beyond SE21 can potentially help schools, students and parents link otherwise disparate areas of their learning experience.

These skills are absolutely pivotal to the interdisciplinary agenda that schools will want to cultivate and enhance, and this gives us a great opportunity to continue forming relationships with universities and outside providers in all sorts of areas — computational thinking, design-based skills, and so on. Our partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company is a perfect example — this gives our students the chance to work on their improvement and performance skills beyond what they can do in class.   

Q: How will our students fit STEAM into their busy schedules?

A: As mentioned, STEAM is not necessarily additional lessons but rather skills focused that can be made more explicit within the existing taught curriculum or an enhanced co-curricular offering. 

Q: Is there a minimum age for students to take part in STEAM?   

A: This is a whole school agenda, not specific to any age. STEAM is an umbrella term for a number of different things that our students are already doing to develop these 21st century skills. 

This not only ties into computer simulations, such as Minecraft, where primary school students build virtual realities, do basic coding and think through philosophy, but also to the outdoor learning program in Early Years, and the design of those spaces. 


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