STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) has become an established part of public-school curriculums. The goal of the STEAM movement is to foster student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking in order to meet the needs of the 21st-century workplace. STEAM-based activities make challenging subjects, such as science and math, more approachable, creating a foundation in these fields that is critical in today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving global environment.
No doubt your child’s school has implemented some of the STEAM disciplines, but how well do these fields of study spill over into your son’s or daughter’s activities outside of the classroom? And even if your child is a learning enthusiast and is naturally curious, he/she may be daunted by a new school year or challenging courses. That’s why it is imperative to incorporate real-world inspiration and project-based learning into day-to-day activities.
Parents and educators often overlook two critical components of STEAM learning. The first is the opportunity to engage children outside the classroom. When we provide opportunities for children to make the connection between homework and STEAM-related work at home, we offer them a “home field advantage.” The second component we must address is empowering girls to remain interested in subjects such as engineering and science as they grow.
Addressing both these components will give your child a competitive edge in school and socially. And you don’t need a master’s degree in education to help your child succeed in school, engage in STEAM activities, have fun and develop into a curious and innovative lifelong learner.
Here are five easy ways to encourage and inspire your child based on process-based learning, the core of the STEAM approach:
Books: Remember those old-fashioned stacks of pages bound with a spine? They still have value. And there are a number of good ones out there to help promote STEAM learning and creativity.
Aspiring Padawans may want to grow a kyber crystal, move things without touching them like a Jedi, or explode a balloon (think: Death Star) with a beam of energy. “Star Wars Maker Lab: 20 Craft and Science Projects,” by Liz Lee Heinecke and Cole Horton, helps children learn the basics of science by traveling through the Star Wars galaxy. Watch your kids unleash their inner engineer, scientist and designer as they build, create, discover and explore.
Perhaps your child would prefer to be outdoors rather than in outer space. “Maker Lab Outdoors: 25 Super Cool Projects,” by Jack Challoner, introduces many different outdoor science projects which focus on Earth and the environment, plants and animals, weather, water and physics.
Or simply encourage your child to read a biography about a pioneer in STEAM fields, such as Mae Jemison, an Afro-American engineer, physician and NASA astronaut.
Apps and games: Do your kids spend too much time playing video games? That might not be a bad thing. Young computer geeks might be interested in amusing themselves with an app that allows them to program their own game, create alternate realities or design their own room. These kinds of activities are ideal for connecting media arts and design to math and engineering.
“Blenduko” is an addictive app that has been described as “Tetris for colors.” Kids love it because they organize tiles based on their hues, and adults will appreciate that it’s a way to discover the science behind color theory.
“Made with Code” is Google’s answer to helping young women in middle and high schools with computer programming skills and coding. Projects include building a geofilter that can be used live on Snapchat, designing and coding thank you notes, creating avatars and animating GIFs.
“Sound Prism” is an app that allows users to create music even if they have no previous music education. Children won’t realize that the app integrates math, music and visual arts in one easy-to-use tool. The best part is that your maestro can record and email his/her compositions right from an iPhone, iPod or iPad.
Museums: Whether it’s a science museum or a fine arts museum, STEAM learning is more fun when you turn the visit into a scavenger hunt. Give your child a list of things to find, and let them loose. Searching for certain objects d’art, themes, colors and patterns will challenge your child to think strategically, move quickly and strive for accuracy.
Baking and cooking: Math and recipes go together like peanut butter and jelly. Give your child a recipe and ask him/her to double it. Your child will learn first-hand how fractions function, plus they will enjoy eating an extra batch of cookies! Or give your child three unrelated foods, ask him/her to create a menu using all the items, and see how creative he/she gets.
Also try building something out of specific foods. How tall can your child stack marshmallows without them toppling over? Can your child fashion a bridge out of baby carrots and test how much weight it will support?
After-school programs: Many after-school programs, such as The Eides Family J-Space at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence, incorporate STEAM activities in their programming. Children in J-Space have access to a variety of enrichment classes and offerings that use science, technology, engineering, art and math.
“The kids are so engaged in the activities that they don’t realize it’s all part of a bigger curriculum,” says Shannon Kochanek, director of After School and Vacation Camps. “They are having fun and learning skills that will serve them well in the future.”
KARA MARZIALI is a Jewish Voice contributor.