Five things you should know about STEAM in schools

Hint: We're not talking about water vapor.

Posted on Feb. 17, 2014 at 6:23 p.m.

In the past few months, Elkhart Truth readers might have noticed a story or two about schools that are considering STEAM.

STEAM, at least as it relates to education, isn't water vapor or a method of cooking. It's an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. It's similar to STEM, an idea that's been around a little longer.

Roosevelt Elementary in Elkhart will be a STEAM school in the 2014-15 school year. Chamberlain Elementary in Goshen is also considering STEAM.

Here's five questions and answers about STEAM.

1. What is STEAM? STEAM lets kids learn by doing hands-on projects. In December, kindergartners at Roosevelt Elementary School in Elkhart learned about physics by getting down on the hallway floor and trying to propel plastic balls down the hall using straws.

Their teacher, Jenna Labash, said this type of learning is more natural for kids and encourages them to come up with their own ideas and solutions to problems.

"They reached all the right conclusions by themselves,” she said. 

2. How will STEAM change what teachers do?

Horizon Education Alliance in Elkhart County has been proponent of STEAM locally, and director Brian Wiebe said in a Feb. 18 interview that the model will bring a creative aspect to teacher's jobs.

"No Child Left Behind narrowed education, and STEM and the more recent STEAM are a reaction to that," he said.

Students love learning by doing, and they are more engaged and learn more, he said. Teachers love the fact that their students are more engaged and asking questions on their own. 

3. Does STEAM cost money?

There is a cost to schools doing the STEAM model. That mostly includes professional development for teachers and supplies, Wiebe said. 

But Horizon hopes to financially support STEAM for any Elkhart County school that's interested. 

Wiebe told the Goshen Community Schools board at a Feb. 10 meeting that Horizon would fundraise to help Chamberlain Elementary start STEAM learning. Chamberlain and Roosevelt are the only two Elkhart County schools that have publicly made plans to do STEAM.

"Our goal is to never see financial hurdles for schools," Wiebe said.

4. Does anyone regulate STEAM, or do schools have to be certified in STEAM?

The short answer is no, Wiebe said. 

"There's not a certification process in STEAM yet at this point, and I doubt there ever will be," Wiebe said. "There are similarities in the different (STEAM) schools, but there's a lot of flexibility in the exact approach."

5. Why is adding art important?

Employers want creative employees, Wiebe said. 

"Creativity is needed in the 21st century workforce," he added. "People think it adds something extra to engineering, and the other disciplines."

The bottom line to STEAM is that students and teachers love it, Wiebe said. 

"At the end of the day, having a more skilled, educated, and creative workforce is important to our future," he said.

Still confused about STEAM? Email reporter Lydia Sheaks with your questions at lsheaks@elkharttruth.com

Follow Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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