Why more principals need to embrace STEAM education

A low percentage of principals view STEAM as a top priority and many who do have more pressing matters to attend to, says report
By: | March 11, 2020
An elementary school principal from a building that adopted STEM education in 2012 shares STEM ideas and how to start a STEM program in elementary school in response to a STEAM survey. Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash

Principals either don’t prioritize the advancement of STEAM education or don’t have the means to do so, according to a recent survey. Only 23% of principals agreed STEAM was a top priority while 66% said it was important but other problems took precedence at their school.

Over 139 elementary and middle school principals participated in this STEAM survey by Unruly Studios, an EdTech company that focuses on coding for kids.

“Many principals who began as teachers only made the discipline they taught a priority instead of STEM or STEAM when they became leaders,” says Principal Catherine Jones of Prescott South Elementary School who led numerous STEM sessions at FETC® 2020. “But it’s important to realize that by integrating STEM or STEAM, you get kids thinking in a different way and expose them to so many careers.”

How to start a STEAM or STEM program in elementary school

For Prescott South Elementary School, a designated STEM school, administrators chose not to name art directly in their STEM program, though it does incorporate a creative process where students make prototypes and original creations, such as fairytale shoes.

Jones recommends that school leaders who can’t pursue STEAM still incorporate art into their science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiative. “Art can be integrated into STEM education, but it would be a disservice to art for STEM to replace that opportunity,” adds Jones, who presented on STEM Culture From Reaching to Realization at FETC this year.

STEM education also needs to be fully integrated into the curriculum, so an educator who teaches reading, for example, should incorporate STEM into the lesson plan. This involves every teacher collaborating on STEM ideas rather than school leadership devoting only one faculty member to it. “People who try to do STEM as an add on will be frustrated,” says Jones “It won’t become a STEM program. It will just be what it is, an add on.”

Related: STEAM Academy

Related: Why schools of education step up with STEAM

Related: How a teacher codes with special needs students who are deaf

When looking for inspiration, leaders should not try to adopt an entire STEM initiative. They need to begin by identifying a portion of it that could be successful and then adapt it to their school. “The program will build upon itself naturally,” says Jones.

The process of fully integrating STEM into the curriculum also takes time. Jones’ school started in 2012 and, on a grading scale from A to F, still gives her building a C letter grade. “You can’t just say, ‘In the fall, we are going to do STEM,’” says Jones. “You can get started in the fall and see what works, but it involves letting go of initiatives that don’t work and adding others that will numerous times. It’s a constantly moving target.”

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