"The principle goal of education is to create individuals who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done." - Jean Piaget
There is no greater integrity, no greater goal achieved, than an idea articulately expressed through something made with your hands. We call this constant dialogue between eye, mind, and hand "critical thinking -- critical making." It's an education in getting your hands dirty, in understanding why you made what you made, and owning the impact of that work in the world. It's what artists and designers do.' John Maeda, former President, Rhode Island School of Design
Although we don't label any of our work with students as being particular STEM or STEAM-related efforts, the roots of much of our students' work lies in these initiatives, and we have been fortunate this year to have seven of our teachers involved in a pilot STEM Learning professional development opportunity that has provoked our thinking and helped us build a vision for learning that is engaging, hands-on and as generative as possible, based on student questions and curiosities.
Merging the study of Science, Engineering, Technology and Math together to promote innovative thinking and problem solving across the disciplines is a widely researched and supported strategy for innovative thinking that has supported space exploration, advances in technology and medicine over the past half century. In schools that focus on STEM education, student learning is focused on using the scientific method in ways that can be applied to every day life, through the blending of science, technology, engineering and math disciplines into formats of learning that encourage students to use computational and critical thinking to solve real world problems. Promoting STEM learning has taken on greater significance in the past 15 years or so because it has slipped in popularity as an area of study and significantly so for girls - yet the need for skilled workers in STEM-related professions is growing exponentially around the world. What STEM teaching does is advance complex thinking and innovation with students to support continued learning in innovation within occupational and research fields such as manufacturing, technology and engineering-related fields.
John Maeda, former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, noted "innovation happens when convergent thinkers, those who march straight ahead toward their goal, combine forces with divergent thinkers – those who professionally wander, who are comfortable being uncomfortable, and who look for what is real." (2012) Adding the arts to the combined study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics brings an element of creativity and greater freedom to add artistic design to innovative thinking and planning. This added bonus of creative thinking also brings the aspect of understanding situations that require innovative thinking to be considered from a humanistic perspective as well, rather than purely through the lens of science or mathematics. When the Arts are added into the equation, STEM becomes STEAM and offers a more open, flexible approach to using the scientific method, computational thinking and critical thinking to generate innovative solutions to modern problems.
Corporations and governments around the world are promoting STEM and STEAM related learning to help draw students - both male and female - to engage in cross-disciplinary, creative approaches to solving highly complex issues emerging from our fast-paced growth and development world wide. And that is essentially the 'why and what' of STEM and STEAM.
In elementary schools, students engage in inquiry-based and real-world problem solving situations to develop an appreciation and understanding of design thinking, computational thinking and critical thinking to promote innovative, creative and hands-on approaches to thinking and learning. As students advance through school, opportunities to engage in related STEM/STEAM learning will seem more familiar and therefore enticing and inviting to pursue as they flex their design thinking skills, understand the meaning and needs of both humans and technology behind the problems they are solving, create prototypes to meet needs and understand the processes they are crafting as essential steps impacting human growth and interactions.
While the theories and practices behind STEM/STEAM learning underpin highly technical innovations that could and will play an enormous role in the future of the children currently attending Eric Harvie School, most of our students see our work in STEM/STEAM related events as fun, practical, hands-on learning. Our new 'Wonder Time' adventures are one element of encouraging students to pursue interests and ideas outside of the everyday learning routines students usually follow while borderless access to the Studio, the provocations in the Hub and the Learning Commons offer multiple, daily opportunities to take a different approach to problem solving using every day items like cardboard, nails, hammers, elastic bands, duct tape, etc - as well as art supplies, books, paper and design tools.
Our goal is to provide seamless opportunities for children to see the world as a strong foundation for learning as well as an infinite opportunity for asking questions and solving problems. Not a blank canvas but certainly one they can change and adjust to as it changes with confidence and imagination. And to have a whole lot of fun in learning, reading to learn, designing, writing to explain learning and creating at the same time!
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal