How to make STEAM hands-on—behind a screen

Integrating STEAM with curriculum and professional development in an online learning environment
By: | April 24, 2020
(Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash)(Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash)
Susan Riley is an arts integration specialist and founder of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM.

Susan Riley is an arts integration specialist and founder of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM.

One of the many challenges with COVID-19 has been the steep learning curve of bringing what we traditionally viewed as interactive experiences into a digital learning space. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) is often seen as one example of a real-world learning approach. It fosters imagination, creativity and connection across multiple content areas. So how can we transition the traditionally hands-on STEAM approach into an online learning environment for both students and teachers?


Read: Updated: 208 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic


Creating lessons off-line

For STEAM lessons, knowing the process and the purpose to lesson design helps teachers create meaningful learning experiences—regardless of where it takes place. For example, teachers can follow this six-step process to design a STEAM lesson:

  1. Focus: Start by selecting an essential question to answer or a problem to solve. Consider how this question or problem relates to at least two areas of the STEAM acronym and connect it to specific standards in each area. This question or problem becomes the prompt for the lesson idea.
  2. Detail: Begin with exploring students’ current background knowledge surrounding the lesson idea. What gaps in skills or processes surrounding this topic exist? Address these gaps before moving to the next stage.
  3. Discovery: Ask students to dig deep into the current solutions that exist surrounding the lesson idea. Have them begin to outline what is missing or not currently working.

    STEAM doesn’t require fancy technology or lots of materials. It’s about the process of facilitating discussion, highlighting connections, and encouraging risk-taking to explore creative solutions.

  4. Application: After students have explored a problem or question and have analyzed current solutions and gaps, they can begin to create their own solution to the problem. This is where they can use the skills, processes and knowledge taught previously and put them to work.
  5. Presentation: Once students create their solution or composition, it’s time to share it for feedback. This gives students the opportunity to learn how to give and receive input on their work to make it better.
  6. Link: This is the step that closes the loop. Students are provided a chance to reflect on the feedback that was shared. Based on that feedback and reflection, students can revise their work as needed and produce an even better final solution.

Each of these steps in the STEAM process can still occur in a remote learning lesson. For example, a sixth-grade math and art lesson could focus on ratio relationships and artistic composition. Teachers could use the essential question of “How do artists use math to show relationships?” as a the focus prompt. Students can use the materials they have at home to experiment with ratios, grids and artistic composition.

STEAM doesn’t require fancy technology or lots of materials. It’s about the process of facilitating discussion, highlighting connections and encouraging risk-taking to explore creative solutions.


Read: Choosing game-based tools for learning, assessment and family fun


Handling PD—digitally

Moving toward a STEAM approach does require professional development for teachers. In the past, it has meant sending our educators to conferences, courses or summer learning academies to get training and bring it back to their classrooms. But with our new reality, that’s probably not possible right now. However, this is where digital learning opportunities for STEAM shine.

Conferences, webinars, courses, certification programs and even master’s degree programs in STEAM are available online. Try to reallocate some of your PD budget to these digital alternatives. They may be a more cost-effective solution, and your efforts to get teachers trained can still move forward.

For free learning opportunities, check social media as a learning outlet for teachers. There are plenty of Twitter chats as well as Facebook and LinkedIn groups that can be used as tools for gaining and sharing ideas. And don’t forget to check your favorite websites. Many are sharing free webinars, e-books, and video series which can be used for STEAM PD.

District leaders could also offer educators the opportunity to participate in a summer virtual book club. Purchase digital or hardback copies of a STEAM methods book and ask teachers to engage in an online learning forum to discuss specific questions. This can be a fun alternative to an in-person PD book study.

To make it even more relevant, administrators can ask teachers to each create a STEAM lesson based on the process they studied and submit it to a central location. This way, teachers are creating their own STEAM lesson bank and practicing the STEAM learning process all at the same time. Lessons can be reviewed by teachers on the team, feedback can be offered, and revised lessons can be shared with the school.


Read: Why more principals need to embrace STEAM education


Making it connect

STEAM is not about what, where or when. It’s about why and how. STEAM is a process of application that allows our students to create meaning for themselves and others. And that can happen anywhere—even online.


Susan Riley is an arts integration specialist and founder of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM.


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