George Lucas Educational Foundation

STEAM by Design

STEAM by Design

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STEAM is the trans disciplinary project based approach to scaffolding interest in and aptitude for STEM.

Design is everyday. It mediates our relationships with the environment, with systems, objects and each other. Design integrates science, technology, engineering, art and math in proposing and testing solutions. It offers processes that open complex interactions and morally charged decision making in resolving relationships between the physical and social environment. Sustainable design practices propose solutions to world problems, provide conscientious living strategies and create local and global ecological perspectives. STEAM by design can ignite K12 imagination of both teachers and students!

In a recent article in AfterSchool Matters, Fall 2013, "What Afterschool STEM Does Best: How Stake Holders Describe Youth and Learning Outcomes", a study revealed a three step scaffold process for engaging students that can be meaningful for school STEM programs as well.

STEP A develops an interest in STEM and STEM learning activities resulting in " I Like to do this" or "wow! This is fun!". This approach stimulates curiosity, raises awareness and interest, and encourages active class participation in STEM learning opportunities. STEP A suggests a teaching methodology that allows for exploration in seeing and enquiring that blurs learning with play and fun. STEP B develops capacity to productively engage in STEM learning activities developing an "I can do this" attitude. This stage suggests that children are motivated to work at a more informed level and to adopt STEM practices in the process of investigation that might become lifelong. STEP C cultivates value in STEM learning experiences and develops a personal identity as the child develops the idea that "This is important to me".

This scaffolded approach parallels design teaching in many ways. First of all, it suggests initial challenging and engaging students so that they become involved participants and find pleasure and enjoyment in what they are doing. It offers instruction to expand their knowledge and allows time to develop skills. Finally, it supports their self directed enquiry as they determine direction. STEP B moves having fun to learning vocabulary and relationships and then learning from and testing them. STEP C combines pleasure with acquired expertise and aptitude empowering students to appreciate new possibilities that they were not aware of before. STEM teaching and learning is supported by math and science CCSS. Technology is yet to be specifically addressed in terms of CCSS, but is incorporated by individual advocates and even total school districts. Engineering, though, most closely aligned with design as it takes into account materiality, construction and iterative testing of ideas, is the least practiced in K12. As assessment testing in the 21st century moves from 'subject standards' to include an expanded array of experience based needs such as character(behavior), resilience(agility), relationships(connectivity), and perseverance (life long learning drive), STEM teaching and learning will expand its life relevance and connections to creativity and innovation in our global economy.

Watch the recently posted TEDx STEAM by Design ( and join in via streaming the conversation, Reimagining School: Why Creativity and Innovation Matter (

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