18 Feb Demystifying STEAM
We are living in critical times in the world of formal education. It is a key moment, as the foundations of what education should look like in the future are being shaken.
Technology and the digital have emerged in classrooms and schools under the guise of «end devices». If a digital device is introduced, it is all about seeing how it does things, and we don’t learn what it can do for us by appreciating and getting familiar with the whole process involved in using it as a tool.
This view can be understood as a commitment of educational policies to a technological solutionism that focuses on offering tools and knowledge of an instrumental nature in order to keep up with the times. The aim of improving the speed of carrying out old educational practices with new devices does not improve education in a relevant way. Replacing an analogue process with a digital one does not always allow for the development of digital skills in the classroom.
Nothing could be further from the speed of new technologies than a good understanding of their use and application, as many of them are not exactly fast (this is the case of digital manufacturing tools or the misplaced rapid prototyping). Understanding them involves knowing the steps that make up the processes in which they can be introduced. 3D printing is not just about downloading a file from the cloud. It is about starting with the student, teaching them to think in volume, teaching them how to use a digital 3D design tool, understanding how to export that creation so that it can be interpreted by a programme that must be configured so that the 3D printer can print it in the way we want it to.
The entry of these technological devices into schools has brought with it a series of methodologies or practices that, whether or not they are linked to different pedagogical lines, attempt to provide options for their integration in the classroom. We are talking about concepts such as STEAM, Design Thinking or the Maker world. Applying them in the classroom, in the school curriculum, can be a way to initiate institutional changes and begin to generate changes in the current global educational situation.
They become an opportunity to apply new methodologies, introduce knowledge with other perspectives, generate truly inclusive environments and develop creativity by combining skills and competences that emerge from the realities and environments in which we learn.
As it is not true that schools kill creativity, we may go on dismantling myths that have been generated and have created a state of opinion around the introduction of new technologies in schools. For example: «Information and Communication Technologies are a revolution in learning», they are tools that in a short period of time cease to be new and are incorporated or not in their use. Also, «Young people do not read» or «Video games make you violent», each of these sentences hides ignorance based on a reductionism which in turn hides the real lack of defining and facing the different learning styles of students.
Learning styles, which are seemingly obvious and common sense, have been debunked by a wide range of educational researchers. There does not seem to be much evidence that students learn in different, predetermined ways. This is not to say that all our students are the same or that we have to teach them all in the same way, however. Children learn better when they are taught in a way that engages with their interests and differences, so literature on learning styles may help us understand what might be the sources of these differences.
We need to start changing the way we teach so that students can more easily relate theoretical concepts with their everyday experiences. STEAM is one method for doing this, as it allows students to see the practical applications of varied subjects in the context of actions and events they already know. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, we need to start changing the way we teach to make content «culturally relevant.». This concept refers to teaching that includes curriculum change, cultural identity development and social justice learning and action in all its dimensions. In this context, using the Design Thinking methodology can be very optimal. It is a non-linear and iterative process that can be used to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions for prototyping and testing. The reason for this process is to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to relate course content to their cultural contexts. It also helps students develop a sense of belonging.
Stepping out of our comfort zones by immersing ourselves in the realities of our students helps us to make teaching culturally relevant. For example, there are educators who use methodologies that emerge from Hip-Hop. Cyphering involves brainstorming (idea generation), which can be communicated in many ways, including sketching, prototyping or construction, and uses the methodology of hip-hop dance circles.
To conclude, I do not want to leave a post-apocalyptic educational horizon, on the contrary, I believe that we have a very rich and diverse space where content and students alike are cared for. We teach how to think, not what to think.
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Edutopia. (N.D.). Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences. [YouTube Video]. Available at:Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences
Tesconi, S. (2021). Destripando la tecnología para crear. Red PLANEA. Accessed 16/12/2021. Available at: https://redplanea.org/destripando-la-tecnologia-para-crear-recursos-para-la-experimentacion-educativa-en-arte-y-tecnologia/
Willingham, D. (15 April 2012). Student “Learning Styles” Theory is Bunk. Larry Cuban on school reform and classroom practice. Accessed 2/2/2022. Available at: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/student-learning-styles-theory-is-bunk-daniel-willingham/
This article was written by Oscar Martínez of Trànsit Projectes.