Stepping up STEAM integrates skill sets, expands thinking

Were you the child who couldn’t wait for math class or the one who lit up in anticipation of art class? Once upon a time, the choice was black and white. Then followed a period in which fewer and fewer choices existed at all. Today we’re seeing a trend of blending skills, with everyone benefiting from the mix.

This past April the TeacherCast Educational Blog posted “Why STEAM Education Is Important for Both Our Teachers and Our Students,” by Brenda Berg. It suggests that STEAM education isn’t just about adding art or the arts to the curriculum but integrating ways of seeing and thinking. Berg writes that “Using the arts means that children can learn essential skills in an entirely new and holistic way.”

Berg cites specific means for opening students’ minds to what comes less naturally to them and changing up what’s considered “unliked,” “hard,” or in some cases, dreaded. For example, with older kids she suggests engineering students may be more receptive to art if they’re “asking to sketch out a plan or idea, using certain images.” Similarly, “coding can be taught as part of a video creation project.” Berg also mentions combining languages with any other subject; for example, kids can be “asked to try explaining an experiment in French.” Plus, Berg notes that STEAM can be a great way to get girls into “typically male dominated subjects.”

Showing and teaching kids that our world is multi-dimensional, and that combining creativity and critical thinking results in superior problem-solving and innovation, is important.

To some degree, even the long-popularized idea of right-brain (creative) or left-brain (logical), to some degree, is being challenged. Four years ago, in an article titled, “The Truth About the Left Brain/Right Brain Relationship,” by Tania Lombrozo, writing for the NPR blog, Cosmos & Culture, interviewed Kara D. Federmeier, professor of psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “where she is also affiliated with the Neuroscience Program and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.”

Federmeier notes the challenge of and disagreement on even defining “creative” and “logical” in the first place. She adds, for example, that there are different kinds of math skills, and “research shows that, overall, the abilities that make up math skills arise from processing that takes place in BOTH hemispheres [of the brain]…and that damage to either hemisphere can cause difficulties with math.” She also says that “It takes two hemispheres to be logical—or to be creative.”

Beginning the integration of creative and logical as early as preschool makes it seem natural—just as it really is in our world—and sets the stage for (fingers crossed!) ongoing seamlessness. The Preschool STEAM website offer super-simple “All About Me” Math Activity for Preschoolers + STEAM Challenge.” They are combined counting/early math and craft activities based on the number of family members and the construction of a “house” big enough for all of them.

Big workbooks that combine learning in multiple areas are an additional tool for developing two-hemisphere brain power. For example, Big Preschool, Big Kindergarten, and Big First Grade workbooks deliver up 320 pages of practice across the curriculum, including pre-reading and pre-math skills, early math and reading, and then language arts, math, science, and social studies. 

Boxed sets that combine games with other learning strategies are another great way to help kids see multiple ways to learn the same skills. Examples include Counting Money Learning Set, Spelling Words Learning Set, Telling Time Learning Set, and Making Fractions Learning Set. Each set offers an amazing number of playful learning options including board games, game cards, quiz cards, and learning pad. Use it at home, travel with it, or keep more than one child busy in the classroom as a reward or while others are finishing their work.

Colorful game cards such as Go Fish Alphabet Game Cards, Three-Letter Words Puzzle Cards, and Numbers, Colors & Shapes Puzzle Cards create other fun, compact, take-anywhere ways to merge game play with learning and the creative with the logical.

Seeing the beauty in math and the patterns in what’s beautiful will benefit everyone and lead to a tomorrow full of world-class ingenuity.