Some months ago I was asked what I prefer to practice: STEM or STEAM? To be honest, in the first moment I was a little confused with this question. Why should art be a part of STEM? But when I thought about it, I have practiced STEAM for years. In this text I will explain to you why STEAM is a part of my work and I will give you some examples for it.
Unlike in Europe, in the US the discussion focuses on STEAM rather than STEM. STEAM is STEM plus art and design. In the art and design curriculum in Switzerland there are a lot of topics in which the students practice math additionally. For students between 7th and 9th grade math is often abstract and difficult. This is especially challenging for students who find mathematics concepts to be hard to grasp. One of the topics in math in 7th grade is “Cube and cuboid”. Some weeks before we solve mathematics exercises related to this, after which I build with them, in art and design class, SOMA-cubes.
The Problem of a SOMA-cube is that you have to build a 3x3x3 Cube with 7 different SOMA pieces. The difficulty of the puzzle is not high, as there are 240 different ways to do it. The question “Who be the first one to solve the cube?” is a part of the lessons. If this is too easy for the students, other shapes instead of a cube can be built. One can find a lot of resources and exercises in different languages for free online.
But what have been the results since I started working multidisciplinarily? In the example of SOMA-cubes I could work with the method of “head, heart and hand”. When my students struggle with the formulas of volume and surface or with the spatial concept, they take their cube. So my students with math issues are learning that it is okay to use a helpful tool to understand an abstract topic. After some time they begin to use their hands to solve a problem for their spatial sense. After 8th grade, students in the German part of Switzerland have to pass the same computer-based exam. Teachers don’t have an influence on the results. So since I’ve started working with SOMA cubes, the results of the spatial sense exam are above average with every student.
If we combine art and design with STEM, we could give our students more opportunities and ways to learn and understand STEM topics. They are not just using their rational minds to learn about abstract concepts. It is not just about learning, it is also about playing and having fun with learning. I love math, numbers and rules like most math teachers. When I work multidisciplinarily, like in this example, my students realize that math and fun are not mutually exclusive.
As for the question in the title, I prefer to practice STEAM as a math/art and design teacher. For the next school year I have already planned to work together with the physics teacher with the topics of “Force and movement” and “Electricity”.
Article written by: Nicole Speck, Scientix Deputy Ambassador