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This week we are looking at STEM and the rise of STEAM. STEAM has been around for a while, at least in practice, with Leonardo Da Vinci combining science and arts to make new discoveries. It’s no secret that students with project-based STEM skills will be needed in the future.

There are some fairly compelling statistics to demonstrate why there is so much discussion and funding focussed around STEM education. Let’s investigate further.

In 2015, PWC found that 75% of the fastest growing occupations in Australia require STEM skills and transforming just 1% of Australia’s workforce would add AUD$57.4 billion to GDP.

‘We know that almost all of Australia’s industries, including the mining industry, the banking industry as well as the retail industry, will be subject to major, technology-driven disruption and will need technology-literate people to counter that disruption with new innovation.’
Jillian Segal, Chairman of the General Sir John Monash Foundation

With rapid advances in technology and AI, we just don’t know what kinds of jobs students will be doing 10 years from now. This represents a key challenge for educators when it comes to the types of teaching and learning schools should be engaging in. However, some believe the answer can be found in encouraging the act of taking on new data, and being creative with it. Enter, STEAM.

STEM and STEAM – What is the difference?

STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and maths. STEAM is STEM plus the arts – humanities, language, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media. The main difference between the two is STEM focusses exclusively on scientific concepts, while STEAM focusses on the same concepts but does so through inquiry and problem solving based learning methods that are more typically used in creative processes. What could this look like in the classroom? Activities from origami, to robotics, to gardening, to coding are all opportunities to show how science and art are interrelated and offer the chance to develop skills in this cross-curricular context. There are many resources available online.

The rise of STEAM and why the ‘A’ is important

There are some very good arguments for including arts with STEM, however incongruent it may seem at first glance. Here is a brief round-up to show why:

‘Creativity is the cornerstone for our next steps into the future… The reason it’s so important is because the world is changing so rapidly now that it’s just not clear if the particular skills we are teaching them are going to be important and relevant…’

Professor David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author from Stanford, expands on these ideas in more detail on an ABC podcast here.

‘With STEAM, we can challenge preconceptions that learning areas are separate, and move past the “I’m good at maths and science, so I’m not creative” way of thinking. This will change the way we see STEM problems and create a new way of thinking that is engaging, multifaceted and inclusive, with diversity of representation and thought.’
Jessica Vovers, Melissa Silk and Bronwen Wade-Leeuwen in The Conversation.

But the benefits of a STEM education are beyond purely economic. As the world’s most well-known scientist says:
‘To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.’
– Albert Einstein

Educators often comment on the satisfaction students experience when they have a real “A-ha” moment while exploring real-world scenarios in a STEM context. It is in the enthusiasm for learning, innovating and exploring where STEM/STEAM has the greatest potential to impact the lives of our students.

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