STEAM in schools doesn’t have a universal approach, but it’s that dynamic nature that makes it such a powerful tool for student learning.
One school’s success story is a good place to start with the positive impact of STEAM on students.
From there, we’ll share what successful STEAM programs have in common and what it takes to unlock student potential and connect to the broader school community using STEAM.
What is STEAM education?
STEAM education is a learning approach that uses disciplines within the STEAM acronym to guide teaching.
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics.
It’s not about deprioritizing other areas but about preparing students for the future, emphasizing hands-on learning and problem-solving.
The addition of art to traditional STEM approaches adds creativity and innovation to a well-rounded skillset for students.
Schools that have embraced STEAM learning have seen a boost in student engagement, test scores, and teacher satisfaction.
Let’s look at one STEAM school as an example of how STEAM teaching works in the classroom.
STEAM in Schools: A Case Study
Wilemon STEAM Academy opened its doors in 2018. By spring 2019, it was the first STEAM elementary school in the Waxahachie Independent School District in Texas to earn the National Certificate for STEM Excellence (NCSE)–Campus Certificate.
School leaders weren’t in it for the trailblazer status. It was about what was best for the school.
The process involved learning on a schoolwide level — all faculty members had to complete the National Certificate for STEM Teaching. With buy-in coming from the top down and everyone involved.
However, this change in curricula incited more changes in teachers and students than ever imagined.
Teachers became facilitators. Students were more engaged and confident in their learning.
They embraced the 4 Cs — critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration — to solve real-world problems and promote career awareness.
Here are a few more results from Wilemon:
- Daily learning became more student-centered. Students had more fun with the curriculum, which boosted engagement and teacher effectiveness. In classrooms across the disciplines, students looked to one another and their own learning first.
- Test scores improved. From 2021 to 2022, the percentage of fifth-grade students who approached, met, or mastered grade-level learning goals increased by five percentage points in math and 13 percentage points in science on the STAAR.
- The campus is closer to the district's “A” rating than ever before. Considering they opened shortly before the pandemic, this is a massive win for their decision to embrace STEAM as their area of focus.
- Teacher turnover has decreased. With the addition of digital tools from Accelerate Learning, teachers report that daily lesson-planning is simplified. This, paired with student achievement, improves teacher buy-in over time.
The academy isn’t some anomaly, though. Schools across the country are revamping their curriculums, even changing the broader mission of their schools to better prepare students for the future.
How they do it varies, but there are a few essentials for a smoother transition.
8 Essentials for a Successful STEAM Program
STEAM programs may look a little different at every school based on the student population, district limitations, and even teacher buy-in. That said, there are elements that can help make the transition from a traditional program to a STEAM school program more successful.
1. Teacher Training (Professional learning and Professional Development)
Teacher training is essential to help educators enhance their understanding of the disciplines underneath the STEAM umbrella and how they’re all connected. Ongoing professional development is also essential to keep STEAM teachers up-to-speed on trends, technology integration, and innovative teaching strategies using available tools.
2. Curriculum Integration
STEAM best practices are broad enough that they can easily integrate into existing subjects, curriculums, and state or federal standards. Key concepts like problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking are useful in any subject. Schools that allow teachers to collaborate in an interdisciplinary way tend to have an easier time with the transition.
3. Infrastructure and Resources
Sending teachers to certification trainings is a great first step, but schools and districts also need to invest in tools and resources to support that new learning. STEAM programs are hands-on and project-based. Tools like STEMscopes Science from our case study require accessibility to those materials for all students to feel a sense of collaborative exploration.
4. Student Engagement
Many students will be immediately drawn to a more hands-on, student-centered approach to learning. Others may need explicit modeling of how to engage with interconnected concepts. Enthusiasm for the content, opportunities for student collaboration, and creating a safe space where mistakes are learning tools can boost engagement for all learners.
5. Student Enrichment
Successful STEAM program adoption doesn’t just happen classroom by classroom. Schools that create extracurricular activities, clubs, and fairs create opportunities to spark a drive for learning in their students. You can show students how STEAM disciplines are all around them with enrichment opportunities like robotics competitions, coding challenges, or art exhibitions.
6. Assessment & Evaluation
Successful STEAM programs are adaptive. Schools need to have both an individual and schoolwide system of assessment that measures student achievement. Standardized assessments are certainly one way to show whether a new program is working, but the nature of STEAM learning lends itself to possibilities for group projects and big-picture assessments.
7. Teacher Buy-In
Teachers that believe in the efficacy of a program are important to overall student engagement. Students can pick up on how their teachers feel about what they’re teaching. That buy-in doesn’t come naturally, though. Ongoing professional development and tools and materials that make curriculum adoption easier are important to teacher buy-in of any new program.
8. Community Buy-In
Strong community support can mean improved teacher- and student buy-in, especially when it’s coming from parents of students. Districts lacking resources to revamp existing programs can also look to the community for partnerships, field trip opportunities, and guest lectures within the STEAM disciplines. These efforts connect students to their communities on a deeper level.
STEAM & the Future of Education
Getting the right answer often isn’t enough on today’s math assessments.
Students need to be able to explain how they got there.
This gets them thinking about the “why” behind the problem rather than simply memorizing how to solve a particular problem.