STEAM and STEM: what’s all the fuss about?

I was recently at a board meeting with parent representatives and a couple of educators. A few members were asking about all the acronyms and abbreviations that we take for granted, especially as educators, and the language in our field. We decided to unpack all the abbreviations and clarify them in an addendum, resulting in four pages of explanations!

A big one we talk about all the time in education is STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (the A in STEAM is for Art). Over a number of years it has become clear – and supported by research, both empirical and anecdotal – that introducing children in their early childhood years to all these areas in a hands-on way is critical to future academic interest, choice and success in developing and maintaining these professions and jobs within Australia.

A number of years ago, in collaboration with Senior School science staff, we developed the beginnings of a ELC science program using the science labs and resources in Senior School. With an innovation grant from the School and lots of discussion and refinement over the course of a few years, the program is now embedded into the four-year-old ELC curriculum. Created by Baljit Marwa and further developed and now taught by Laura Swann, we have a wonderful, well planned and educationally sound program. Over the course of three terms, the children learn about and conduct experiments within the fields of biology, chemistry and physics. They use scientific language and begin to see themselves as scientists.

At the same, time we were fortunate to be chosen to take part in a national pilot project called Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA), a play-based learning project exploring all the areas of STEM. We have continued to participate and embrace this program, giving the children the opportunities to explore in a developmentally appropriate way what it means to be a mathematician, an engineer and a technologist, while developing skills and the language associated with each.

Through ELSA and our internal science program, we have seen the children take on the challenges, use the appropriate language, and begin to think and problem solve within these disciplines. They are beginning to understand how to estimate, hypothesise and measure.

The inquiry model with hands-on experiences not only builds understanding and vocabulary, but it is also the vehicle for developing critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, teamwork and reflection. It presents opportunities to offer high quality, open-ended questions and to develop their thinking skills. All of these skills are important for all areas of learning and can be applied in lots of different settings.

It is always wonderful to see the engagement of the children with the STEM opportunities and the high regard they (and we) hold Science Laura in. It has also been interesting to engage the children with the early childhood fiction about a series of different STEM characters written by Andrea Beaty for ‘The Questioneers Collection’: Ada Twist – Scientist, Iggy Peck – Architect, Rosie Revere – Engineer, and Sofia Valdez – Future Prez. They are definitely worth exploring if you haven’t come across them already. Maybe some holiday reading to inspire.

Each of the four photos in this article represents a STEM element – see if you can match them!

Wendy Seidler
Director of ELC Kew