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STEAM - include, engage, motivate

STEAM as a concept is believed to have been first conceptualised approximately 15 years ago in the USA (by Georgette Yakman and others (see BERA 2018)) as a new framework of subjects to support more integrative, holistic educational theory and practice as well as boosting the ‘knowledge economy’.

Original motivations have been described in relation to improving science, technology, and mathematics education, and creating a catalyst to innovation in new technologies, discoveries and advancements, by linking the so-called ‘hard’ and ‘critical thinking’ STEM subjects with the ‘softer’ ‘more creative thinking’ arts. Others view it at least partly as a response to the tendency towards reductionism in education and an effort to undo the disaggregation of e.g. science education from any other context e.g. history of, ethics in, communication of etc. (BERA, 2018)

The field has been evolving ever since with STEAM variously described, sometimes with additional symbols or letters, as including science, technology, engineering, art, the arts, mathematics, applied mathematics, humanities, language, design, ecological awareness, sustainability, curriculum integration and more. (EuroSTEAM 2018).

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. It started as an extension of the acronym STEM and all that it encompassed, with the addition of Arts. We adopt the broad understanding of the A in STEAM, as including any area of art, arts, design and humanities. 

We also work from the perspective that the ‘A’ is not simply, as sometimes perceived, an add on to improve STEM experiences with associated perceptions of ‘supremacy’ of one discipline over the other. Rather that encouraging and enhancing the creativity and creative thinking of learners as well as the critical thinking is fundamental to improving educational outcomes, and deeper learning experiences. 

The inclusion of the “A” as  representative of the arts is a way to invite those students who are not comfortable in these disciplines and at the same time, a way to carry out a strategy to improve their self-efficacy (Zimmerman & Campillo, 2003).

The specific added value of this approach is the adoption of a multi-disciplinary strategy in which STEM subjects and humanities work together for a common goal, facilitated by a mix of multiple educational methodologies, depending on the topic or context. The added value of this approach goes beyond the benefits of the single methodologies included in it.

A holistic approach that includes STEM subjects and humanities enables students to better perform in every sector of their life, understanding STEM as something very related to the real world, to arts and humanities, fostering creativity and innovation and increasing curiosity.

Interdisciplinary projects make STEM subjects more relevant and inclusive for students that usually find them boring and daunting. Furthermore, flexibility in the methodologies used provides opportunities to engage students from multiple perspectives.