Why we need the A in STEAM

Alicia Flynn

What is STEM?

STEM learning brings together science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The idea of STEM has been around for a while now. It was spearheaded by industry and government bodies to re-ignite interest in these areas at a school level so students would follow these subjects through to respective career pathways.  This seems like a rudimentary, bottom-line and arguably neo-liberal reform onto education rather than coming from schools and the educational needs of advancing pedagogy and learning.

But, there are exciting openings carved by this kind of connective thinking, especially when we bring the Arts and Humanities into the fray.

What does the A in STEAM mean?

Putting an A in STEM to power it with STEAM has generally meant adding art as a way of doing STEM learning. Some people stretch the A to meaning the Arts generally in which they include the humanities. At Foodweb we agree that we can much more interestingly learn STEM subjects through arts-based practices as well as the tools of social communication and our role as humans that the humanities offer. Arts-based practices includes visual art, design and sculpture, music and drama. The humanities and social sciences includes geography, history and economic management. So, isn’t that pretty much all subjects?

Is STEAM learning all learning?

By weaving in the Arts and humanities as ways of doing interdisciplinary STEM learning, we propose that STEAM learning covers almost all learning. It is an exciting opportunity to connect learning across many disciplines at once. More than multidisciplinary approaches that whack two subjects statically together, STEAM could be an interdisciplinary or even trans-disciplinary way of doing thinking, teaching and learning together at school.

STEAM in Foodweb

In Foodweb we understand STEAM learning as a way to generate eco-literacy. So, it becomes eco-literacy-based STEAM learning, which is trans-disciplinary learning through arts-based approaches to science, maths, engineering (and design), mathematics and our ‘human’ (humanities) role in all of this.

All of these subject areas are interested in learning to see the ‘pattern that connects’ (Bateson). Put our Foodweb Education program of ecoliteracy-based STEAM learning outside in the garden, and we have an immediately meaningful, real-life, hands-on, practical way of learning how the Earth works in our local communities through all subjects and how we humans can better live alongside all our other species kin to create flourishing futures for all.

Isobel Harper