Full STEAM Ahead
STEM and STEAM Prepare Students for the Careers of Tomorrow
By Laura Raines
As the technology industry continues to evolve and expand, STEMeducation—special instruction in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—has grown to help meet the increased demand for workers in those fields. That’s especially true in Georgia, which will see the addition of more than 22,000 new STEM jobs between 2010 and 2020, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.
Our business and industry partners tell us that they can’t find enough people to fill the positions available, and that much of their workforce is older and nearing retirement,” says Gilda Lyon, program specialist and STEM coordinator for the Georgia Department of Education. “STEM jobs are among the highest-paid jobs in Georgia, and at present too many of them go to candidates from China or India. We want to see them filled with Georgia candidates. We are in the business of preparing students for the 21st-century workplace.”
Toward that end, more and more Georgia schools are integrating STEM subjects into their classrooms. And many of them are following a STEAM model, which complements the traditional STEM subjects with courses in the fields of art and design.
STEM on the Rise
“In Georgia,” Lyon says, “STEM education is defined as an integrated curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, exploratory project-based learning and student-centered development of ideas and solutions.”
Eastside Christian School, an independent school in Marietta, offers an elective STEM course for grades six through eight, which allows students to take part in fun activities like building robots out of LEGO blocks and programming them to perform certain tasks. There’s also a STEM-focused after-school enrichment hour for students in third grade and above.
Principal Rusty Hill says the STEM program, now in its second full year, gives students a much-needed grounding in critical thinking skills. “It’s not just learning facts,” he says. “It’s being able to figure out what you can do with the knowledge you have. That’s what we see in the STEM program. They really have to think things through.”
James Toner, STEAM coordinator for Holy Spirit Preparatory School, says that in addition to introducing scientific concepts, these programs help students build problem-solving teamwork skills. “Part of our program focuses on taking apart a problem, thinking through solutions, evaluating them, making something and testing it,” he says. “Things that develop this ability to work in teams and work on complex tasks.”
STEM programs are already producing results. The Kennesaw Mountain High School Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, a magnet school in nearby Kennesaw, recently accepted its largest freshman class of 152 students from among 770 applicants. The school has had 685 graduates, of which 100 percent went to college, and 81 percent are still working in STEM-related fields.
Students hone their experience by participating in internships with the school’s 160 business partners, and completing original research projects that are presented and judged. Academy students graduate with twice as many math and science courses as other students, Dyer says, and may also earn a minor in the fine arts.
“Many get hired back to the businesses where they interned after graduation,” she says. “It’s thrilling to see people in the community come to understand what high school students can do. We know we’re providing a needed pipeline of graduates with the skills, passion and heart to work in STEM fields.”
In recent years, more and more schools are adding an arts component to STEM instruction, combining the creativity of right-brain thinking with the left brain’s facility for numbers and logic.
For the last six years, Drew Charter School in the East Lake community has been developing a STEAM-infused curriculum to teach design process principles from engineering and architecture. The idea is to prepare students with the individual and collaborative problem-solving skills they will need to succeed in the 21st-century workplace, says Boon Boonyapat, director of teaching and learning.
“One of our classes took on helping a man confined to a wheelchair who wanted a remote-controlled lawnmower,” he says. “They took lawnmowers apart, learned about circuit boards and built two prototypes. The project wasn’t just something to learn, it was something that was meaningful and needed in their community.”
Boonyapat says that the school’s students are doing better in all subjects, and are poised to exceed rather than simply meet state levels. “I feel good that we have done a lot with STEAM, but we have only scratched the surface. We want to be a leading school in this important movement,” he says.
STEAM skills are woven into the curriculum at the Atlanta Girls School (AGS) beginning with its SMART Girls summer camps for rising third- to sixth-graders. “They do a lot of building things and computer programming in camp,” says Joan King, the school’s associate head and academic dean.
“Too many times, students learn a piece of a problem,” she says. “STEAM encourages and allows students to design, build, test and refine projects from start to finish, so that they learn to think like a designer.”
Making Education Exciting
STEM and STEAM programs are skyrocketing throughout the state, increasing academic test scores and raising student awareness of these new career fields, says Lyon with the Georgia Department of Education.
Debbie Collins, principal of Hampton Elementary Charter School in Hampton, Ga., backs up that claim. In its first year of offering STEAM instruction, she says, “We saw CCRT test scores go up, and substantial growth among our special education students.” The next year, Hampton Elementary’s reading scores increased, from the third-lowest to the fifth-highest in Henry County.
What’s more, these programs are getting students excited about learning.
“Some of the students haven’t seen this kind of stuff or been able to play with it before, so there’s sort of a ‘wow’ factor,” says Toner. “But there’s also a level of interest, a focus I don’t see as often in other spaces. They’ll be really, really focused on trying to figure something out. And when something doesn’t work, their reaction isn’t to quit, but to dive back in.”
These project-based models show students how the subjects they’re learning apply to real life, says Collins. “Kids need to know that school has a larger purpose than just teaching them to read and write,” she says. “It’s about preparing them for their future lives and careers
For More Information
Information on STEM schools, organizations and resources in the state of Georgia.
TAG Education Collaborative
Nonprofit formed by the Technology Association of Georgia to raise awareness of the importance of STEM education.