STEAM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics,” but the goal of STEAM in Colonial goes well beyond those five subject areas. The District is developing a “STEAM culture,” where teachers from all grade levels and disciplines can inspire students to use specific skills and processes to explore what they learn more deeply, solve problems in innovative ways and create new things.
Finding new ways to solve problems
Many STEAM concepts help students organize an approach to a challenge.
For example, the Engineering Design Process has five steps:
1. Ask: Ask questions to define the problem.
2. Imagine: Brainstorm solutions.
3. Plan: Sketch ideas and determine needs.
4. Make: Create and test a prototype.
5. Improve: Find ways to make the design better.
The Engineering Design Process is a way professionals in the field organize their thinking and create new products – and it’s also at the core of the technology education curriculum in Colonial. However, it's also a tool that can be adapted for approaching a problem or challenge in any subject.
STEAM also encourages interdisciplinary learning, where lessons incorporate concepts or skills from more than one subject. Innovative units embedded in the elementary curriculum teach students this idea from an early age. The first grade “Wetography” unit combines science and social studies through lessons about how water works and where you find it on Earth. The “Inventors and Innovations” unit in fifth grade brings technology education into the study of Thomas Edison, as students try their hand at creating prototypes for inventions that will help people with disabilities.
At Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, the $40 million renovation project offered the opportunity to move classrooms around and create physical areas that specifically encourage collaboration. The new EDI (Entrepreneurship, Design and Innovation) department finds business, art and technology education classrooms side-by-side with room for groups of students to work together to build and market prototypes.
“The ultimate goal is for students to use a transdisciplinary approach to problem solving, where they tackle a challenge by pulling from all of their unique experiences and knowledge,” said Dr. Liz McKeaney, Director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the District. “By opening up the walls between the different disciplines, we'll see more truly innovative results.”
The Four Cs
Formerly known as "21st Century Skills," The Four Cs (Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking) fit into the STEAM culture by helping students become more engaged in their lessons, work together more effectively and approach challenges in ways that reflect the modern workplace.
New courses focus on STEAM
STEAM also encourages study in the core subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, and new schedules have created opportunities for expanding courses in these areas. New electives at Colonial Middle School include Game Design, Engineering and Robotics, Integrated Design and The Science of Food. The new 5x5 schedule at the high school means students have an additional class period each day and can choose from a number of new STEAM-related electives.