The educational curriculum needs to evolve and adapt itself to accurately reflect the changing realities of life and the work force. Students need to graduate with skill sets that can directly help them in their chosen profession. This is the reason a growing number of Quebec elementary and high schools have recently incorporated the STEAM initiative into their curriculum.

What is STEAM?
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. It’s an educational approach to learning that taps into each of these subjects. The STEAM initiative guides students to ask questions, engage in discussions and apply critical thinking. This approach has many long-term advantages such as promoting innovation, fostering creative problem solving and shaping a better world.

Michael Brown, the principal at Elizabeth Ballantyne Elementary School, couldn’t agree more. Since officially becoming a STEAM school, he notes a marked increase in student engagement and conversely, a decrease in the amount of behavioural issues.

Moreover, Brown adds that the STEAM approach helps show students the interconnectivity of subject areas. “In the work force, any job requires a wide range of knowledge and skill sets,” he says. “We need to educate our students so that they are familiar in different media. It makes it easier for a teacher to reach the different intelligences as compared to a traditional curriculum.” Since traditional curriculum isn’t effective for all learning types, STEAM allows for a broader range of skills to be acknowledged.

The Value of Art
Before STEAM became popularized, a more conventional STEM approach was often applied to learning. It includes the same four scientific components but excludes the arts. However, many argue the arts are critical.

Kristy Westlake is an educator at St. Charles Elementary School, another STEAM school. She notes that art is a very dynamic part of the curriculum and for some students, it’s the only way they can express themselves and connect to the material. “Integrating art within STEM/STEAM allows those students to flourish and succeed in ways they may not otherwise be able to do,” Westlake argues.

STEAM helps break the boundaries between the arts and sciences. Looking back on our history, many pioneers had a similar multi-disciplinary approach to knowledge. For example, Leonardo da Vinci not only excelled as a painter and sculptor, but was also a renowned inventor, engineer and scientist. Similarly, Albert Einstein spoke of the importance of creativity within the scientific framework. Both acknowledged that art and science are essential to our growth as a society.

How STEAM Benefits Students
So how does STEAM work in the classroom? Principal Brown says it starts by fostering collaboration and creative problem solving. For instance, students may work on a project from initial concept to final product. They brainstorm, generate ideas and then test those ideas. If they run into obstacles, they go back to the drawing board and re-work their designs. “We truly learn when we persevere through mistakes, adapt and move forward,” Brown says. “The process is more important than the final product as that’s where learning occurs.”

Westlake adds that the whole teaching and learning dynamic becomes more interesting with STEAM because there’s a tangible context. It allows students to do real world learning. Every year, her school picks a general theme and each grade level builds a different STEAM project inspired by that theme. For example, her class once did a project in collaboration with Bombardier. The students studied aeronautics and the forces in Earth’s atmosphere and built prototypes, which they then tested.

Through a STEAM initiative, students are encouraged to take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning and persevere in problem solving. For all professions, ranging from the arts to medicine to politics, creative problem solving will always be a necessary skill.