Part 5 of GSE’s “What We Believe” Series:

It was an important development in education when STEM transformed into STEAM.

STEM is of course an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. It is my recollection that STEM became a political and educational priority because too few university students were pursuing degrees in these fields. In Australia the valuable demand for natural resources was also driving demand for trained staff in the trade and engineering fields connected to mining.

STEM transforming into STEAM
STEM – science, technology, engineering and math

There was of course a broader need for this focus and attention as more recent generations have been criticised for poorer achievements in Maths and Science. A perception by some that teaching methods were not engaging reminded educators that Maths and Science fields were in fact very exciting, especially when genuine and authentic connections are drawn to real life concepts as well as solving problems in new and exciting ways. Making discoveries visible, practical and hands on makes Maths and Science truly come to life.

The ideas truly grew legs though when we understood that the Arts and Creativity are essential components of Maths and Science applications. History has told us that innovation and invention, design and creation require an integration of logical as well as abstract thinking. This is why STEM transformed into STEAM. Inventors are out of the box creative thinkers who embrace the Sciences, Technology as well as the Arts in terms of creativity and thinking processes. STEAM educators, are focussed on a greater need for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) concepts to integrate with the arts (STEAM) across the wider curriculum.

The main difference between STEM and STEAM is that STEM explicitly focuses on scientific concepts. STEAM investigates the same concepts, but does this through inquiry and problem-based learning methods used in the creative process. When STEM transformed into STEAM it embraced real world thinking and applications.

STEM transforming into STEAM
STEM transforming into STEAM

Leonardo Da Vinci showed us countless examples of the importance of combining science and art to make discoveries. Da Vinci is best known for his paintings but he was also a philosopher, designer, engineer, and inventor. He predicted future technologies and laid the ground work through his design drawings for helicopters, tanks, solar power and many other inventions. In fact if you review some of the greatest innovators of recent times you will note that all of them, in some ways, were STEAM leaders. Mathematicians and Scientists are most often very creative.

While there is a need to specialise and to focus in depth on key science areas, as well as the arts, if we do not understand how to integrate and embrace the STEAM fields together we will not continue to invent, innovate and design at the rates so essential for our modern day world.

The crisis of Covid-19 tested us all and in many ways our mindset and ability to respond to new obstacles created new opportunities and solutions. During the Pandemic motor car factories re-tooled to manufacture ventilators. Fashion designers joined forces to make face masks and sew medical gowns for healthcare personnels. Inmates from prisons learnt sewing skills then payed it forward to front liners with ‘home’-sewn masks. Supermarkets quickly responded to panic shopping and emerging needs by setting up special hours for the elderly and disabled to do their groceries. Robotics and automation was applied in many contexts to support social distancing in very creative ways. The list is endless.

STEAM should be our priority

In fact most innovation and inventions are a response to a crisis or significant obstacles. Without the obstacles our need to search and find new solutions is rarely so great.

Let’s sometimes tell kids what they CAN’T DO. Let’s tell them they must pursue unusual pathways and find unique solutions. Let’s force them to travel down the road less travelled.

While I am at it, let’s encourage educational leaders to do the same.

Let’s find and develop educational leaders who are remarkable because they are different. They will create school climates and ways of thinking, through their teachers and students, that celebrate abstract thinking and solutions. School operations, design, policies, procedures and even school culture need to reflect new ways of thinking.

I celebrate STEAM, not only because it improved educational achievement but also because it challenged traditional assumptions about skills and career pathways. Being good at “maths, science” and/or “the arts” can also mean being good at “maths, science AND the arts.”

CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

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Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

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