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Friday, April 1, 2016

7 Key Components in STEM/STEAM Project Based Learning

STEM has been a popular acronym conveying an emphasis on the key components for successful 21st-century careers featuring project based learning that integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

A movement in educational curriculum development has resulted in a modified approach to project based learning. This approach is referred to as STEAM which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Engineering, and Math. You might ask how does adding Art to the formula transform education?

The “A” for the arts is a recognition that success in technical careers involves much more that the pure technical skills, it also involves the ability to find a creative solution, to “think outside the box”, to consider design, layout, presentation.  

STEAM advocates believe that the best way to encourage “outside the box” creative thinking and problem solving is to look at the problem from different perspectives, from different angles,  – recognizing that many projects warrant an effort in design, aesthetics, presentation and communications.  These additional skills are best developed by including and educational exposure to the arts.   

STEAM advocates place an emphasis on team collaboration including the development of social skills among all team members.  Social skills in a team are essential in the real world and have been undervalued in many traditional scientific curriculums.  

This definition has separated proponents of the two approaches, something along the lines of a respective discussion to a heated debate.

The core issue comes down to how you define Art and its role in the learning process.  STEM advocates believe team collaboration, communications and respect for different approaches are already included  STEM programs.  STEAM advocates believe there is room to include the Arts in a broader educational context, including a focus on the user experience, considering the aesthetics of the design verses pure functionality and the verbal and written presentation both written and verbal, about the benefits of the project. 

Both approaches include what we believe is important, that project based leaning provide an inquiry-based approach which encourages and rewards children and youth through hands-on exploration, originality of the approach, the use of innovation in the project, team work, evaluation and reflection. 

The afternoon sessions of our First Focus camps are a project based STEM / STEAM experience, where students work in small teams on specific projects, collaborate with their team members in a project based learning experience and present the results to the group.  

Our experience in conducting project based summer camps has allowed us to define the following seven key elements in a STEM/STEAM learning experience:

  • The project complexity is appropriate to the age and attention level of the students and it can be completed within the defined time limits.
  • The project has several acceptable approaches and a range of different outcomes. 
  • Students are provided with background material on the project, why it matters, who will benefit, how those benefits can be observed or measured.
  • Students can work in teams to share knowledge, solve problems they encounter individually or they can work independently.
  • Students write a short description of the project, track their progress, outline what worked, what did not work and any insights they gained in the project.
  • Students use the written description to make a presentation to the class.
  • Students take home their project, explain it to their family and friends
For more information on the summer camp series conduction as one week camps over 7 weeks with STEM/STEAM programs in the afternoon, please visit  

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