STEAM Education

STEAM is a term I am hearing a lot in education today. STEAM education refers to bringing the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math in a way that allows students to apply knowledge from two or more the disciplines to solve an issue or problem.

STEAM gives students a 21st-century approach at learning and aims to promote interest in the arts and sciences at a young age. It also involves creative processes and methods of inquiry and investigation. STEAM gives students opportunities to collaborate and solve real-world problems.  It also is a means in which to develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems that draw on the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions (ISTE Student Standard 5).

My own experience with STEAM as an educator was filled with teacher pay teacher purchases and some PD on the engineering design process to support a new science kit the district was rolling out. In 2014 the district I was working at converted one science kit at each grade level to incorporate STEAM. Our third-grade unit was investigating magnetism and at the end of the unit, students were assigned to create a device using magnets that could clean a fish tank without getting your hands wet. I give credit to them for jumping right in and starting the process of getting STEAM learning into the hands and minds of our students.  The district recognized STEAM’s potential but hadn’t equipped me with enough understanding of how to make STEAM a powerful learning tool. I was unclear on my understanding of how to incorporate it into my classroom, making it authentic to my students. It felt like it’s own outside course. Rather than incorporating STEAM into my teaching I was teaching it as a stand-alone.

Now, at the time this may have been okay for where I was at with my training and understanding of STEAM teaching. However, the past two years it’s haunted me as to how to really create authentic and powerful experiences with STEAM so that I can prepare my students for our 21st century world. Thus, for our module five in my Digital Education Leadership course, I wanted to answer the question: “How can elementary teachers intentionally create or integrate authentic STEAM education within the classroom?” Regardless of the mandated curriculum or other constraints. I wanted some realistic approaches that would allow me to tap into STEAM learning capabilities in an authentic way.  

What I discovered, is that I have a long way to go in conceptualizing STEAM education.

Through research, I have gleaned that I must start with a conceptual understanding of STEAM. STEAM Education: Theory and Practice written by Myint Swe Khine and Shaljan Areepattamannil acknowledges that one area of criticism for STEAM is the amount of collaboration needed. They state that “due to STEAM education being so new, teaching resources, professional development opportunities, and even trainings are difficult to come by.” (Khine, Areepattamannil, 2019, p. 147). Through their research, they found that “overwhelmingly, without conceptualization, the teachers were not able to plan transdisciplinary units or implement them.” (Khine, Areepattamannil, 2019, p. 151). Many teachers when planning on implementing STEAM instruction would fixate on a specific project. This makes STEAM learning focused on a product versus students coming up with a solution that answers a real problem and values their own ideas or innovation. Ultimately, I found out that if you are teaching STEAM education the way it is designed then you are inherently solving real-world problems, through multidisciplinary subjects in which students already have competence with. Thus, your STEAM education is authentic.

So my first recommendation if you are looking to implement STEAM education in your classroom is to do some conceptual learning of STEAM for yourself.

I found these two books good places to start my research:

  • STEAM Education: Theory and Practice by Myint Swe Khine and Shaljan Areepattamannil
  • STEM Integrations in K12: Education Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research by Margaret Honey, Greg Pearson, and Heidi Schweingruber

Another place you may want to tap into is your STEAM or STEM TOSA at your district office.

Here are some other research-based recommendations I found helpful when implementing STEAM education:

-Get stakeholders or experts involved. This may look like an expert in the field, a specialist at your school, a parent or other community members. Through Khine and Areepattamannil’s research, they found this to be especially helpful when integrating the arts into STEAM. Many teachers include art as an afterthought or as a means of presentation. They recommend working with a art teacher to find meaningful authentic ways to integrate it into your STEAM project. (Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber,  2014).

-Use design thinking as a way to spark authenticity. DT centers on an iterative process that begins with empathy, inquiry and concept generation and ends with a product or a plan that can be presented or tested. (Cook, Bush, 2018).

Important considerations for DT in STEAM elementary settings:

  • Design constraints help students to focus on relevant aspects of the problem and move beyond familiar patterns of design (Cook, Bush, 2018).
  • Teacher support, encouragement, and formative feedback help students make meaning, collaborate and critique of multiple iterations (Cook, Bush, 2018).

“Elementary age students can learn to more deeply engage in the practices of designers when supported by a classroom environment and teachers who support the culture of design.” (Cook, Bush, 2018).

  • Scaffolding and clear outcomes are essential in DT (Cook, Bush, 2018).
  • Planning and alignment to CCSS and school curriculum. Time and collaboration are needed to plan and align with school curriculum and standards. (Cook, Bush, 2018).
  • When students are in the Define/ Ideate Stage they are required to research the topic, thus students would need to apply research skills. (Cook, Bush, 2018).
  • Students should be able to present and seek feedback to improve design (Cook, Bush, 2018)
  • A budget is needed for design (Cook, Bush, 2018).
  • Needed technology such as computers, 3D printers or other designing software may be required. (Cook, Bush, 2018).
  • DT and STEAM challenges can range anywhere from 2-5 weeks (Cook, Bush, 2018).
  • Collaboration between specialists can be helpful (art teacher, music teacher) (Cook, Bush, 2018)

-Use STEAM as a way to extend learning after a unit. Research has shown that to benefit from integrated STEAM students need to be competent with discipline-specific representations and be able to translate between them (Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber,  2014).

-Scaffolding and clear outcomes are essential in STEAM education. Make sure when planning to incorporate STEAM educational opportunities into your classroom that you consult the CCSS and your pacing guide. You may need to move things around and be flexible. (Khine, Areepattamannil, 2019).

-Build in time for reflection while and after implementing STEAM education. Focus on STEAM based practices to refine your teaching. (Khine, Areepattamannil, 2019).

Some next steps for myself are to further research examples of STEAM education in elementary settings to build my conceptual understanding of it. As well as, research systems that support STEAM education. Specifically framing, scaffolds, and instructional supports that could support STEAM instruction.


Design Thinking in Integrated STEAM Learning: Surveying the Landscape and Exploring Exemplars in Elementary Grades. (2018). School Science and Mathematics., 118(3), 93-103.

Honey, M., Pearson, G., & Schweingruber, H. A. (2014). STEM integration in K-12 education: Status, prospects, and an agenda for research. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. doi:

Khine, M. S., & Areepattamannil, S. (2019). STEAM EDUCATION: Theory and practice. SPRINGER. Doi: vs inauthentic STEAM problems&source=bl&ots=mggiLTYQl_&sig=ACfU3U1-RUDMZIEm8uGyionouFkVeFeZFw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwij0LuAtebgAhWMDnwKHaFHA44Q6AEwC3oECAYQAQ#v=onepage&q=authentic vs inauthentic STEAM problems&f=false  

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