How to implement STEAM curriculum that makes an impact

Tactics
By: 
Jamie Turner

More than 75 percent of all jobs will require some expertise in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Arts Math) within the next decade. But there’s a problem. Only 10 percent of US teachers feel confident in teaching high-level technology skills.

We design and distribute STEAM curriculum that is used at tech camps from coast to coast. If you want your technical curriculum to provide value, here are some lessons we’ve learned.

 

1. Tech Education isn’t actually about using more tech in the classroom. If your plan is for your students to stare at computer screens for the entire lesson -- think again. 

In fact, using computers, tablets or phones can be very distracting for the students, actually reducing their creativity. That’s the opposite of what you want. Generally, screen time is a bad thing. Instead what you want to do is...

 

2. Introduce computational-thinking. It’s a problem-solving method that breaks things down into smaller steps. Introducing Computational thinking at a young age through play-based learning (ie. games and group activities) allows young learners to explore how computers think and the processes that go into telling a computer how to do a certain task.

Early adoption of computational-thinking sets students up for future success in all types of Computer Science activities. Further, it helps students to develop a step-by-step or process-oriented mindset, which supports learning across all areas of the curriculum, such as mathematical processes, cause and effect logic, etc.

Let’s say you’re teaching very young students in kindergarten. With no computers involved, you can get them to do direction mazes (for kindergarten kids) getting a bunny to get to a carrot through a maze with arrows and numbers. The bunny needs to go 3 steps to the left, one forward, 2 to the right -- and that introduces a concept from coding of breaking things down into multiple steps.

 

3. Develop curriculum from a design thinking standpoint -- as illustrated below by the Interaction Design Foundation:

  • Empathise – with your users
  • Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights
  • Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions
  • Prototype – to start creating solutions
  • Test – solutions

Pretty much all youth love cartoons -- so imagine doing an animation lesson that allows them to stretch their creativity. Again, this isn’t about putting students in front of computers. It’s about breaking tasks down into micro-steps designed around what they want to learn about.

For animation, teams of students could split up the work -- one creating a claymation character, another creating a sidekick and two more working on the backdrop. They all work together to develop 20-second clips, made up of step-by-step movements. This kind of instruction emphasizes a key skill employers of STEAM roles are actually calling for -- being able to follow step-by-step processes to get to a result.

 

4. If the students make it, they keep it. A lot of technical curriculum these days involves actually making things -- digital images, code or even physical objects developed in a custom Maker Lab.

For any lessons involving students actually crafting something, the student should take it with them after the course is done. First, it’s a great touchstone for remembering the lessons they learned. Second, you don’t have to worry about storing physical equipment or data that needs regular upgrading or replacement.

 

5. Curriculum resources do NOT replace expert, teacher-innovators. We create ready-to-use curriculum -- but it’s not ready to use without some preparation. Teachers can’t just watch their cohort of students plugged into their headphones and a laptop and become a glorified babysitter.

Teachers need to be innovative -- and you can encourage that with the curriculum you create. How can you use the lesson to let the students try new things, make mistakes, occasionally even fail -- building and testing their resilience? You’re not just there to pass on knowledge, but to help the students work through their problems. 

Ask yourself these questions: “What does it look like to create a ‘memorable moment’ for my students?” and “Is this learning relevant and interesting to my students?” and “how will the learning in my course be applicable to my students immediate lives and context?” When designing curriculum, think about how students might use the lessons in different contexts or how you might help the teacher adapt the lesson for their specific students.

 

About the Author

Jamie Turner is the Director of Education at Digital Media Academy (DMA). He is an educator and social entrepreneur in the not-for-profit and education sectors. Digital Media Academy (DMA) offers full-day immersive seasonal Tech Camps and a Certified Schools global platform running in 70+ countries. 

 

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