Why STEM and STEAM Matter: An Expert Tells Us Why
What is STEM and STEAM? We know that it involves science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, which is an educational method to teach children to be critical thinkers. But the importance of STEM/STEAM as part of children’s education and lives goes deeper.
We talk to the author Christopher Emdin, Ph.D. from STEM, STEAM, Maker, Dream: reinventing the culture of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Dr Emdin It is also the Robert A. Naslund Chair in Curriculum and Teaching and Professor of Education at the University of Southern California, who also serves as Director of Youth Engagement and Community Partnerships at the USC Center for Equity and Race. In other words, she’s pretty smart.
Dr. Emdin also shared how children can use STEM/STEAM in their lives. He also gives us insight into why all children are naturally “STEAM people” and how parents can encourage their children through positive reinforcement through STEAM/STEM language.
Why is Stem/Steam essential for our children?
For our children to grow up in a world where they are not just blind consumers of products, research and media, but producers of them, it is essential that they both see themselves as scientists, techies, engineers and mathematicians and are equipped to have careers in these fields.
STEM subjects are the anchor of the future of our society. STEM is where the jobs and careers of the future are. So that children are not left out of the careers of the future, it is important that they are part of these disciplines today. However, even if they choose not to have STEM careers, it is important that they are not afraid of these topics and are familiar enough with them that they are scientifically literate, can understand basic ideas and principles, can ask questions, and are not intimidated.
Fortunately, ALL children are naturally “STEM people”, and all we have to do is maintain and grow what already exists. Children naturally think deeply, tinker, play, question, categorize, create meaning, interpret, and make connections. They come into the universe curious about everything around them and have innate dispositions and inclinations that can make them successful in STEM. When you think about the birth of a baby, the first set of knowledge they use is scientific knowledge. They are smelling their surroundings and making observations on the world. They are not using English. They’re not using history. They are using math and science. They make observations, identify patterns, test hypotheses, and draw conclusions. Once they begin to associate language with what they see, they begin to express what is unfolding before them. There is magic in that unleashing to reveal. This process is the foundation of STEM. This is what we need to build on and it is essential that the adults in their lives remind them of this so that when they come into contact with experiences in school or other spaces, it works to steal their trust.
Finally, I want to clarify that being a STEAM person (when you incorporate the arts in STEM) makes our children more complete. STEAM teaches us to question, explore, discover, create and imagine. When intellectual challenges are encountered in STEM, STEAM finds ways to bring out the imagination and creativity that drives kids to be resilient and hard-working. These are the skill sets that help children throughout life and areas of academic interest. When they become part of our children’s identity, we enhance their life skills in whatever area of study they choose when they grow up.
What kind of impact does Stem/Steam have on society?
Without STEM/STEAM, we would not have the luxuries and opportunities that we currently have as a society. These themes are the anchor of all our new discoveries and are the solutions to many of our current challenges. The only way we address climate change, save endangered species, solve world hunger, and improve existing technologies is through the intelligence and creativity inherent in STEM. Furthermore, our society is more inclusive and democratic when all people can participate in all aspects of STEM. Currently, our society is in dire need of a new generation that has had hands-on and hands-on experience with STEAM. We need a population that sits comfortably at the intersections of all the multiple disciplines and understands how to solve complex problems. Decades ago, a person could have a career in a very specific field and do well. Today we need engineers with arts degrees, mathematicians who work in art museums, scientists who are journalists, and many more mergers of previously separate fields. We need to give students the opportunity not only to imagine, but also to design systems for a more just society. Entrepreneurs today are not only growing their businesses, they are developing their STEM effectiveness, sharing ideas and adding value through the services they provide to their communities in all fields. We need young people to grow up with the necessary mentality to be part of the future. We cannot train them for jobs and careers of the past.
How does a Steam/STEM education teach children to learn to make informed decisions?
For decades I have advocated teaching children to develop what I call a “scientific mindset.” Mindedness is an inclination to think in a particular way. The scientific mindset is an inclination to think like scientists and requires the ability to use certain traits or decisions in the way you move through the world. It is, in essence, how to think like some of the most brilliant scientists of our time. If children learn these skills, they will make sound decisions instead of having decisions about their lives made for them. The scientific mindset includes demanding that a person’s claims be based on evidence, expressing curiosity or a desire to know more about anything one finds, making cognitive connections by using analogies to make connections between ideas, being creative, always leading with a healthy skepticism, open mind, and have the ability to be analytical. When one works on these skills, which can be applied to any endeavor one encounters, one will always make informed decisions.
STEAM empowers youth to develop these skills. As one goes through STEM experiences, they learn to identify these skills in themselves and then, with the right support, build these skills for the rest of their lives.
in your book, STEM, STEAM, Maker, Dream: reinventing the culture of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, shares how the need for arts and culture can serve as an anchor for instruction. Can you share a little information about this?
When we think of STEM or STEAM, we should think of art as the main key to unlocking scientific or mathematical genius. When we think of art in this way, we gain the necessary respect for it and also begin to think of it in broader ways. When I think of art, I consider aesthetics and not just a drawing or a painting. Aesthetics includes fields such as poetry, philosophy, music, and dance. It also includes more traditional crafts, which require the work of the hand and special knowledge such as pottery or playing an instrument. These can be classified as areas of aesthetic expression. The A in STEAM is about art (in traditional forms), aesthetics, and also about seeing art in young people and the places they come from. That idea of seeing people as works of art allows us to value the cultures they are embedded in and use their culture to convert them, or have them become STEM people.
Art is a vehicle for culture in the same way that culture shapes art. You cannot separate the two. Recently, we have seen a huge push to bring identity and culture into the STEM classroom. It is absolutely essential. You can teach STEM as well as the arts, but you don’t connect with young people unless you tap into their culture and identity.
Psst.. check out bilingual education for kids
The STEM/STEAM classroom or even the STEM/STEAM support home must do more than teach facts and remain neutral. It has to be culturally sensitive to who the children are. If we don’t radically shake up what STEAM is and bring it to people who have long been categorically excluded, our efforts to improve and expand STEM will fail. I have written in my book that when students think of a scientist, they rarely imagine themselves. If they don’t imagine themselves capable of doing well in STEM, there is nothing we can do in the classroom or through textbooks to get them to learn or engage in these subjects. What if we try a different approach? If we broaden our definition of art, we can explore its application through different models. We can validate both arts education and STEM education and radically change the future.
How can parents start incorporating Math and Science with their children early?
There are some things parents can do. The first is simply offering students positive reinforcement through the language of STEM as children compete in everyday activities. We need to expand our vocabulary with our children and make sure to include STEM statements of themselves. A child working hard on an art project needs to hear I love your resiliency and hard work. I know you can do that in all things and topics too. In addition to including new words and phrases, we need to remove some phrases from our conversations with the children. Parents can’t say things like “I’m not a math or science person” in front of their children because they will adopt those same beliefs. I also encourage parents to solve math problems or read science books in their daily lives. Children learn more from what you model than from what you say. When they see you participating in STEM, they do the same. Finally, parents must play and cook with their children. Measure the dirt and count the bounces of the ball. Create a ratio of missed baseball swings to hits. Make mixes. Talk about your recipe like a lab experiment and watch for reactions when you mix certain items together. Incorporate STEM/STEAM into everyday life.
Christopher Emdin, Doctor of Philosophy, is the Robert A. Naslund Chair in Curriculum and Teaching and Professor of Education at the University of Southern California; where he also serves as the Director of Youth Engagement and Community Partnerships at the USC Race and Equity Center. He previously served as the Director of the Science Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University and an alumnus at the Archive of Hip-Hop and the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. The creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement and Science Genius BATTLES, Emdin has previously been named Multicultural Educator of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Educators, MOTHER White House Access Champion of Change and Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the US Department of Energy. He is the author of MOTHER, STEAMMake, Dream (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Ratchetdemic (Beacon Press), and For the Whites Who Teach in the Neighborhood…and the Rest of You Too (Beacon Press).