STEAM EDUCATION – SHIFTING PARADIGMS
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
By James Bonilla – Academic Director – SuperSci
Many times, I find that although educators, pedagogues, researchers and even scholars think they have a clear understanding of what educational paradigms are, when asked to elaborate on the concept, they seem to be somewhat unable to fully show understanding of the concept.
Hence, for the purpose of clarification, let us officially define what a paradigm is: According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary a paradigm is a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated. In simple words, it is the general and “proven” belief of that which is an absolute truth.
Let’s put that in simple terms. Around 460 BCE, the accepted paradigm was that the Earth floated in water like a log and that it was flat. Then, around 330 BCE, the paradigm shifted to the belief that the Earth was spherical. Then, during the dark ages, the paradigm shifted to believing that the Earth resembled a wheel and so on.
Now then, when we talk about paradigms in education, the concept is pretty much the same. An absolute truth is accepted until a new theory is proven against all doubts. Let’s use a more relatable analogy to illustrate this: As a young student who has non-diagnosed Dyslexia, not only did I have to cope with my misunderstood condition, but having a high level of divergent thinking skills, I had to deal with the brick wall that teachers held regarding what the absolute and only correct response would be the one provided by them and/or textbooks. Such environment almost killed my love for the sciences along with “education” in general and made me think about dropping out many times.
To add insult to injury, my only choice to look for answers to solve assignments was found in books and encyclopedias where the answers were not only absolute and irrefutable but, more often than not, unreliable and lacking any chance for inquiry, collaborative work, or the proposal of alternate solutions. But such was the paradigm of absolute answers and total discouragement to challenge the set answers without the slightest chance to bring alternate ideas to the table.
Nowadays, I see the same trend even though technology has allowed me to look for all sorts of alternate options. Learners faced with assignments just go to a search engine to find a whole world of resources and simply choose the provided answers. The issue with this is that they do not develop the problem-solving skills needed to succeed in the real world, especially in the XXI Century reality.
When the concept of SuperSci was conceived, all of these factors, along with many others were taken into consideration. The first and foremost thing we knew was that we wanted to create an NGSS standards-based interactive, innovative, engaging, and fun learning platform designed with a focus on the needs of the XXI Century Curriculum, and we did. Following this train of thought, we also decided to break away from the traditional model and create our learning platform focused on offering both learners and teachers a fun, engaging, authentic, and innovative option to really experience Science from a relatable, authentic hands-on perspective.
Hence, we decided to pursue the STEAM education model to conceive, create and implement a platform that would effectively shift the set paradigm, and this is what we learned:
The STEAM model integrates concepts, topics, standards, and assessments is such a way that learners become fully engaged through the analysis of problems, past failed attempts to solve them, collaborative work, use of cross cutting subjects to find solutions and the chance to offer options that shift away from the set paradigm. In other words, learning becomes a relatable exercise that breaks down the limits of the classroom and brings learning into the reality of each learner’s context.
Also, the STEAM model is based on the premise that learning cannot occur without purpose and meaning. As students, how many times did we question what the practical purpose of learning the names of every bone in the body was? Which is why most of us don’t know the answer. The problem has always been that there has been a massive gap between learning skills and applying skills. In other words, learners don’t understand how what they are taught can relate to the reality of their context. Therefore, at SuperSci, we place a strong emphasis on learning tools that are both relatable to the learner’s context and practical across different disciplines.
Along with another core STEAM concept, SuperSci also provides tools for teachers to become guides to discovery and learning. Think about this: why has the traditional idea of being a teacher become obsolete in today’s world? Simple, it was devised, modeled, created, and implemented based on the needs of the second industrial revolution. This was valid at that time when the world needed submissive and obedient workers that would not question anything. In today’s world, this model has become obsolete. This is why SuperSci provides a way for teachers to transition from the traditional view of themselves being the sole source for finding knowledge and answers, to becoming leaders that provide self-guided learning and discovery experiences that not only make learning enjoyable and meaningful but also contribute to the development of higher-level thinking skills!
The learning solutions offered by SuperSci not only provide the opportunity for students to explore, struggle, persevere, and collaborate to find solutions to real problems using scientific knowledge and principles but also, for teachers to create effective learning environments through the development activities that stimulate problem solving skills.
Additionally, at SuperSci, we pride ourselves in creating multiple opportunities for learner-centered environments. One of the main problems with traditional education models is that teachers teach a lot, but students don’t learn much. Real learning takes place in a safe atmosphere where students can explore, try, succeed and, most importantly, fail and learn from their mistakes. That encourages them to rethink, retest, and find ways to overcome hurdles and find the solutions to real problems using scientific principles. Therefore, we have designed our whole pedagogical model to encourage student-centered learning allowing for collaborative work, investigation, reflection, and discovery among others.
Furthermore, we understand that development of cross-cutting skills is key to success in the XXI Century. What this means is that the success of our learners depends on us providing them with the tools to become creative thinkers to overcome seemingly unsurmountable problems by addressing issues from different perspectives and using skills acquired from other disciplines. This is where STEAM education comes into play (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). This, in turn, leads to the empowerment of what is known as divergent thinking.
Hence, it is clear how we have integrated the STEAM model into our learning solutions. We strive to provide the tools for teachers to encourage learners to apply all skills from other disciplines to explore, test, fail and push through challenges in a safe environment.
Ultimately, SuperSci’s primary goal is to provide teachers and learners with the tools and knowhow to be able to succeed in the real world, with activities and tools that allow them to collaborate on diverse projects with all kinds of people, bringing initiative, diverse knowledge, practical skills, and most importantly… innovation from their own creative vision.