Learning

Shaping Early Experiences: Integrating STEM, STEAM and Experiential Learning Concepts

Dr Manimekalai Mohan
Shaping Early Experiences:  Integrating STEM, STEAM and Experiential Learning Concepts

The search for an elementary school is an overwhelming experience for parents. They are faced with the pressure of choosing the right school even before their child learns to speak. Between the multitudes of curriculum, infrastructure and school walks; it is often a difficult choice. 

One of the most common decision areas faced by parents is whether to choose a school with STEM, STEAM or Experiential Learning pedagogy. Each of these new learning pedagogies believes in exposing children to multiple approaches and evaluate the impact on student learning. Let’s have a closer look at each of these teaching styles and understand what they deliver.

STEM and STE(A)M - How does the learning look like?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Educators believe that even before children graduate to universities and select their specials, they must engage with these subjects when they are young. Alison Graham, a STEM coordinator at Atkins’ Cardiff office, feels that engaging primary school children around these subjects help them immensely in their future careers. Moreover, children enjoy it too. They respond to these activities positively as it nurtures their problem solving and creative skills.

In the recent past though, STEM has seamlessly transitioned into STEAM as education experts felt that STEM fundamentally lacked the creative element. To ensure that creativity and innovation as a focus area is not lost, STEAM was introduced. An additional A for Arts was added to the earlier STEM. Both these curriculums emphasize critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration and creativity at each grade.

STEM learning creates meaningful learners. STE(A)M learning environment, however, allows students to draw connections between concepts learned in school and real-life challenges. To help develop problem-solving skills STE(A)M encourages them to master foundational skills.

The children are further challenged to solve these issues using their critical thinking skills. Although STEM is associated with mathematics and science techniques, integrating other disciplines like Art, Language and Social Sciences enable students to gain a macroscopic view of world problems. In the process, developing the STEM habits of the mind.

How does STE(A)M benefit learners?

a. Exposes students to creative thinking processes

When students engage different concepts of STEAM in a project, they experience guided inquiry where they must ask thoughtful questions, engaging in a deeper dialogue, discovering answers and slowly learning to problem-solve creatively.

b. Encourages meaningful collaboration

Most STE(A)M projects involve teamwork, coordination and thoughtful dialogue to discuss ways to solve problems. It strengthens teamwork, responsibility, authority and knowledge of the group.

c. Enhances critical thinking

STEAM activities enable learners to think systematically through problems, applying the approaches of engineering and technology to solve and also understand when to step back and look at the larger picture.

d. Develop unique ways to solve a problem

Since STEAM projects provide equal opportunities to all students, unique ways to solve a problem are discovered. This challenges stereotypes and creates “out-of-the-box” learners.

e. Show them different ways to value Art

Along with STEM application that focuses on Mathematics for problem-solving, Arts connect various mediums like vocal music or visual arts to increase engagement. This brings about creative innovation to the fore required in specialised services.

Experiencing Experiential Learning

Opposed to STEM or STEAM learning techniques, experiential learning focuses on building life skills. Early learning in an Experiential Learning environment entails the student to seek beyond academic pursuits. Quite literally, it encourages learning by doing. American educational theorist David Kolb believes that true learning happens through transformative experiences. He brings to the fold learning by observation and reflection, concrete experience, forming abstract concepts, creativity and active interactions.

To provide a better understanding, preschools, which practice Experiential Learning, encourage the development of life skill concepts through these select scenarios:

1. Grocery shopping in Math

A pretend grocery store that allows students to select, weigh, count and calculate. These activities enhance their math skills while gaining a view of real-life scenarios.

2. Fancy Dress and Food

From school plays and other special days at school, students are encouraged to think of trademark dishes to suit the occasion and get it to school. It creates multi-ethnicity in kids.

3. Combining subjects into one lesson

Hands-on art activities such as using dough or clay, students are encouraged to make geometric shapes they have learned so far. Also termed as crossover learning, these activities sharpen their thinking abilities.

Experiential learning enables children to pursue their areas of interest through simulated problem situations as they arise in real-life. STEM focuses on Mathematics as the base to develop problem-solving abilities, STEAM uses arts to train well-rounded and creative minds. Experiential Learning, on the other hand, focuses on empowering children to become more patient, resilient, quick thinkers, problem solvers and tough to deal with life’s challenges by working on their life skill abilities. 

Conclusion

It is increasingly felt that the young learner’s imagination is shaped with a perfect blend of STEM, STEAM and Experiential Learning today. Educators are embracing a framework that integrates the values of each of these key approaches to create world-class learners.

An interplay, therefore, of all 3 frameworks, is essential to create empowered, aware, sharp and empathetic future learners. Fascinating it may sound but primary schools are borrowing the best of each value system to create successful learners today. So, parents are best advised to seek out schools with a blended approach.

According to Education Closet (2017), STEAM creates students who are willing to “take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process” and describes these learners as the “innovators, educators, leaders, and learners of the 21st century”.

Dr Manimekalai Mohan is Founder, Managing Trustee and Correspondent, SSVM INSTITUTIONS, Coimbatore

 

Image Courtesy: franchiseindia.com

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