How to Build a STE(A)M Curriculum
News on July 23 2019
As schools begin to build programs and add initiatives for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM), many teachers are flummoxed by the prospect of building this STEAM curriculum from the ground up. As great as it can be to have a blank slate, it can also be intimidating, because you have a blank slate. Here are your go-to steps for figuring it all out.
Examine your standards
While there are no national standards (and for many states no state-level standards) specifically created for STEAM, there are a few places that teachers can go to begin. Some good resources to start developing ideas for what you should base your STEAM curriculum around, standards-wise, include:
- ISTE Standards
- State Technology Standards
- State Engineering Standards
- State Science Standards
- State Art Standards
- State Math Standards
As always, if you are a teacher, be sure to have a conversation with your administrator, curriculum coach, or technology integration specialist to discuss which standards they would like you to follow. Many administrators have specific ways they would like STEAM to support what is happening in the general classrooms, and the STEAM class can be a great place for cross-curricular or interdisciplinary instruction.
Assess your technology and resources
Do the thing a teacher does on the first day of school: look at your classroom and see what you have! (Or, talk to your administrator to see what resources or technology are coming down the pipeline due to funding.) What do you already have in your possession that can be applied to a STEAM curriculum? Common things you can find in a STEAM classroom include:
- Pens and Pencils
- Building materials
- Balloons, pipe cleaners, tin foil, egg cartons, buckets, and other materials
In terms of technology, you might find:
- 3D printers
- Electronic building blocks
- Electronic kits
- Construction kits
- Open source computers and electronics
What you have on hand (or can get) will really determine what you do with your students on a general level. Don’t be discouraged if you do not have a great wealth of technology — a lot of great projects, designs, and inventive builds can be created without technology. If you are looking to find new equipment or technology to use with your students, be sure to look at a variety of different products first. Also, consider the rest of the questions addressed here before you purchase anything.
Create an emergent curriculum
What are your interests and the interests of your students?
STEAM is such a new area for so many administrators and teachers that it can really go in any direction. For example, I know a teacher who bases all of his STEAM curriculum around his wood shop. Essentially, he has students tinker and build the items with which they are working every day. He does this because he has a background in building, so he feels more comfortable approaching STEAM from this standpoint.
Another teacher I work with has created a makerspace for her students. This space allows her to explore her many interests of computing, coding, and designing. It also provides her an avenue to incorporate monthly themes like Women’s History Month, Black History Month, or environmental awareness.
What is a makerspace, exactly? Here’s our favorite definition: a place where students come together in groups around shared interests and explore those interests through project-based learning.
The important thing to do is structure your STEAM curriculum around what you and your students like to do.
Do you want to create a makerspace? Do you want to focus on coding with robots? Maybe you don’t mind where each lesson goes, but you feel most comfortable teaching students the Engineering Design Process as an instructional approach? or perhaps you want to structure your lessons around science and incorporate an urban, sustainable garden that can grow to feed members of the community. These are just some of what’s possible.
Three questions to keep at the back of your mind when building your STEAM curriculum.
With all your ideas in mind, it’s also worthwhile to keep the following questions in your thoughts (Note: please know that the examples below are not the only examples or answers to these questions):
2. What do I want my classroom to look like?
i.e. a workshop, a makerspace, or a laboratory
3. What are my interests, and what am I most passionate about that I can teach to students?
i.e. robotics, coding, arts, music, design
Build around each grade level.
What you can do, quite honestly, will vary based on the grade levels you teach. As a teacher, you need to take time to consider:
- What you want to do
- What you want the ultimate student outcomes to be
- How to build the STEAM curriculum step-by-step so that you can get students to achieve the desired outcome(s)
Trust your teacher instincts.
Building a STEAM curriculum is actually much like building a curriculum in any other subject. Remember: trust your gut instincts about what is right for you and right for your students.
A teacher whom I work with on a weekly basis has been using robots to teach his fourth grade students to code Python. But he did not start doing this overnight! He worked with his kindergarten and first grade students to teach them sequencing (one of the foundational building blocks for young students to understand coding). Then, he taught his second and third grade students block-based coding. Finally, he spent the first half of fourth grade teaching students to translate their block coding into Python. It was like teaching language translation. Not every teacher could do this with their students — but eventually, you will know your subject area so well that you will be able to scaffold it up for amazing feats of education.
We’re here with a helping hand!
Remember that STEAM will not happen overnight. It will take time, planning, foresight, and an intuitive knowledge of your students’ strengths and weaknesses.
If you ever find that you need help building your STEAM curriculum, that is what Teq is made for! We have a team of Professional Development Specialists who can consult at schools, and have worked very successfully to help teachers just like you build their STEAM curriculum.
Additionally, we have a team of Instructional Designers that are working for schools and school districts to build iBlocks to meet needs in a variety of subject areas, including STEAM. We are here if you need additional guidance — and quite frankly, here at Teq we love STEAM.