The power of STEAM

Many people will be familiar with the concept of STEM, which brings together science, technology, engineering and maths-based subjects and initiatives.

If we take 3D printing as an example, there are companies now printing anything from a self-driving shuttle bus to the brackets on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. These projects, and many others, draw inspiration from across the STEM fields with particularly impressive results.

Teaching STEM subjects in schools, through an approach that understands this integral relationship, is crucial if our pupils are to be prepared for the world of work; but does STEM sell them short? Are we preparing them for the creativity that will be required of them?

In these projects, like that within the vast majority of STEM fields, there are elements of art, design, human geography, and so many other areas of expertise that have either inspired, informed or furthered these initiatives.

The move towards teaching STEAM subjects in schools is simply a recognition of the interconnected way in which many new businesses already work, in order to advance quickly and bring the best product to the market.

The addition of the arts into the teaching of STEM subjects enables our future engineers or scientists to approach projects with a mind-set already naturally in tune to the value that a mathematical or artistic approach could bring.

At Cheltenham Ladies’ College, like a number of schools across the country, we offer Extended Project Qualifications. In 2018, the girls’ projects included discussions around replacing gas cars with electric cars, whether architects should be concerned with the environment and sustainability, and the use of music therapy to treat schizophrenia. The combination of STEAM subjects across such projects is testament to the interconnected nature of these issues and points to the rational assumption that any solution would also need to span these fields.

Teaching STEAM is as much about problem-solving as it is about the subjects themselves. As a society, we face issues from unemployment to climate change, which may seem almost insurmountable to a generation that will now need to take on the mantle to address the implications of the past decisions.

A huge amount can be done to tackle these issues, not by looking at each separately, but by pooling our analytical, artistic and scientific ideas to come up with innovative solutions that not only span across different fields of work, but also across different countries, societies and cultural barriers. We must prepare the next generation to take this integrated approach if they are to do better than the generation that has come before them, and contribute potentially revolutionary insights to our ever-growing and interconnected global society.