There is a lot of focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum in schools. In some places there is a new tag-on so it is becoming STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & design, Math) instead as a disappointing attempt at bringing in innovation through arts.
First thing, I tend to have a habit of wondering, when so much money is being thrown at a problem, why does it seem like it still is not working? An example of this is all of the money being thrown at STEM/STEAM curriculum, trying to show people how important it is for the future, etc. etc. etc. All this time, effort and money thrown at a problem yet, there does not seem to be much headway; that tells me, it is time to reconsider.
People and organizations that promote STEM programming/curriculum always want to say that “no, but it is fun!” to kids and then make attempts to teach the STEM ideas through “fun projects” or something. So, it seems that the STEM idea comes first and then is somehow worked into something fun. What would happen if the fun part was first but, it built up and into STEM ideas? Meaning, what if we cut the end-goal out and let the student(s) play first? Looking into this idea I stumbled into the idea of “loose parts,” a short description is here. Really, the inherent basis of science is curiosity I am pretty sure that is agreed upon. Then, the basic elementary level teaching of the scientific method is to create a hypothesis and then test it, if I remember correctly: basically, problem solving.
Now, think back, which problems were actually worth solving for you as an individual? Those which someone already had an answer to or the ones that no one really seemed to know and that had all paths open to you for solving? I can say that I personally like the problems with no known answers and many options and it appears that the children I work with prefer their own problems and their own solutions instead of a problem I create and know the solution to. When I attempt to do something like that, I usually get “I don’t know, can you show me?” from the children. So, instead of providing the exact path to get STEM thinking in children, what if we started to let them have those loose parts and go where they wanted?
Continuing on the “loose parts.” The Arts part of STEAM has been brought in to help promote some more creativity within the curriculum. As mentioned in the article, loose parts promotes creativity in a material sense by their nature. Another aspect of education that is becoming a problem is reading comprehension within schools by my understanding. What if we started sharing “loose parts” with children in a reading sense?
These “loose parts” are actually inherently human to all of us: stories. What if we started telling stories again? I call them loose parts because, in telling a story, especially a story of a legend/myth style, children can pick up the parts of the story and imagine themselves as those characters in the story; they are loose, open-ended characters for them to assume and build a world with their friends with just the bits and pieces that were shared, they remember and find important from the stories they have heard.
Stories, in being told, do not have the visual aspect; that lack of visual is the primary opening for visualization. Somebody can describe something as much as they want to but, due to the nature of communication, the mental image that a listener gets will be slightly different from all of the other listeners. Those different images, when a child begins to try to turn them into a reality with their material loose parts, will lead to different things and creative solutions to the problem of different viewpoints.
Stories help do another thing too. Stories help children create heroes, idealizations of an individual and how to act. Having heroes probably leads to the children wanting to know more about them which can be the gateway to helping inspire them to read on their own, then they do not have to wait for the story to be told, they can read all they want about their hero whenever they want. The idealizations of how to act can begin to lead to critical thinking and questioning how to be a good person, I doubt anyone has a problem with that. So, with these sorts of thoughts I came up with a new acronym for curriculum: SHED.
Science, Humanities, Engineering and Design. The whole thing is Play SHED. Play first in order to have scientific thinking (problem solving with loose parts), the importance of humanities (story-telling), engineering (building with loose parts), design (art, creating something from a mental image). Just an idea to consider.