Susan Riley | June 2018
Who are the STEAM Teachers?
As more schools are shifting to include a STEAM approach, there’s a general question that many start to ask: Who are the STEAM teachers? Then, of course, we start to explore follow up questions like:
Once you head down this path, you start to see all of the forks in the road. These can lead you down a totally different journey than what you originally anticipated. Let’s explore each of these variations to get some clarity around an expanding and evolving approach.
Who teaches STEAM?
The answer to this is one is easy: everyone. Everyone in a school has the capacity to be a STEAM teacher. It’s not limited to just the art teacher or just the science teacher. It’s everyone.
This can seem oversimplified, but honestly, it’s an inherent quality of this approach. STEAM, like it’s counterparts STEM and Arts Integration, is based on a foundation of integration. We’re trying to look at these areas of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math in tandem, rather than apart.
By limiting or labeling someone as the “STEAM Teacher”, you’re cutting out the very heart of this idea. We’re all STEAM teachers.
This goes back to the idea of “it’s not my job to teach that”. We’ve all heard people say some version of this:
“It’s not my job to teach those kindergarteners to tie their shoes.”
“It’s not my job to explain basic math functions to these kids.”
“It’s not my job to show my students how to hold a paintbrush”.
Guess what? It IS your job. It’s all of our jobs. We are a community and we all help each other. That’s how communities work. What benefits students, benefits us all.
With that in mind, if the opportunity is there to teach a STEAM lesson, take it! No one teacher has ownership of an approach. We’re all in this together.
When does STEAM occur?
This question ties back to our first one. If everyone is a STEAM teacher, that means that STEAM can happen everywhere at anytime. It’s not limited to a specific STEAM class.
What if your school has a dedicated STEAM time or course? That’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with that. This is usually a first step that schools take to ensure that there is time built in for STEAM. Also, many schools just don’t know where to start. So they appoint a STEAM teacher to become the expert for the building.
Again, this isn’t wrong – it’s just not the only part of the process. You can’t just put a STEAM class in place and call yourself a STEAM school. It’s not just one person’s job to “teach STEAM”.
This is an approach, not a scripted curriculum. STEAM is meant to encourage curiosity, ask big questions and provoke creativity in the exploration of problem-solving. Everyone can be a part of that in every class.
STEAM occurs throughout the day. It’s embedded as an approach to use when it’s appropriate and a natural fit for the intent of the learning opportunity. That means you can integrate STEAM into your math class, your music class, your field day – anything.
This is something that is woven into the fabric of our school culture. It’s just “how we do things”. But that also means, this comes with some responsibilities.
What makes a person qualified to teach STEAM?
Just because everyone can teach through STEAM, doesn’t mean that they can immediately do so with integrity. In fact, most teachers aren’t sure of what STEAM really is, so how can they teach it effectively?
As with most approaches in education, we need to ensure that our teachers receive high-quality professional development before implementation. There are plenty of options available, including STEAM conferences and courses. Whichever you choose, just be sure that teachers have the ability to learn more about how this approach works and how to use it in their classrooms.
Since STEAM is an approach, teachers need to understand how to align curricular standards, create integrated assessments, develop lessons that ensure both the arts and the STEM areas are taught with integrity, and specific strategies that can be used with students.
This isn’t just a step-by-step curriculum or a place to house a maker space or 3D printing lab. STEAM is so much more than that, and you need to have teachers trained in how to use it. So no matter what option you choose, get everyone on your team some training to ensure the best opportunity for success.
Are there STEAM credentials?
This is an evolving approach which means that we’re all actively learning and researching the best possible implementations. Many institutions are now beginning to offer STEAM certificates or STEAM-focused graduate programs. These can be a great option for teachers who want to do a deep dive study. You might want to consider programs like:
University of San Diego’s STEAM Master’s Degree
Clemson University’s STEAM Education Certificate
Concordia University’s STEAM Master’s Degree
Many other institutions offer courses in STEAM, though not a full degree. And of course, EducationCloset offers an online Arts Integration Specialist Certificate which also deeply addresses STEAM.
The only word of caution here is to keep in mind that everyone in your school is a part of STEAM. So you’ll want everyone to have at least a baseline of knowledge and understanding in the approach. This can include teacher-led PD days or even school-wide attendance at an online conference or course.
Do we just transform STEM teachers into STEAM teachers?
In an effort to evolve schools into 21st century learning hubs, many have chosen to simply rename their STEM teachers as STEAM teachers. This unfortunately does a disservice to both the teachers and the approach.
Often, this switch comes without any training. The STEM area teachers are not equipped with an understanding of what makes STEAM different than STEM. So they continue to teach their content the way they’ve always done, with a new STEAM challenge thrown in here or there.
This is also tied to the release of funding due to the updated ESSA law in 2015. This allowed schools to receive funds if they chose to integrate the arts. Many schools added this to their improvement plans without a true knowledge of what it really takes to weave STEAM in and through a learning pathway. Instead, they asked STEM teachers to become STEAM teachers and add in the arts to their current curriculum.
However, it’s important to note that neither STEM nor STEAM can happen without direct instruction of those individual skills/concepts. You can’t teach a STEM or STEAM lesson connecting two areas if students haven’t learned the skills in each area directly.
For example, if you want to connect parabolas and action art making, you can’t do that unless students already know what a parabola is and the specific techniques that artists use to create action art. You need to teach each of these things individually first.
That means that we only use STEAM when it’s appropriate – not all the time. Those science, math, technology and engineering classes need to focus on teaching those skills first. Only then can we intentionally provide a STEAM lesson that puts it all together.
Is STEAM reserved for the art class?
If all this is true, then surely STEAM becomes something that happens just in the arts classes, right? Wrong. STEAM isn’t something we just stick somewhere. We don’t reconfigure an entire arts class to become a STEAM class.
Just like in the STEM areas, in order for STEAM to occur, students also need to have direct instruction in the arts skills and processes. STEAM cannot happen if students haven’t explored arts techniques, master artists and composers, and the critical arts skills for creating, responding, performing/presenting and connecting.
Can STEAM lessons happen in the art or music room? Sure! But they can also happen in the math or science room.
STEAM is not about what, where or when – it’s about why and how. STEAM is a process of application. It allows our students to create meaning for themselves and others.
If we’re going to reconfigure anything, it should be our intentions for what we teach and how we can provide more time for application, creation and evaluation. That can occur in any class with any teacher.
We’re all STEAM teachers because in the end – we’re all teachers.