REAL STEAM for Developing the Next Generation Problem Solvers

The next position paper presents a proposal for a teachers' professional development program for teaching STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) in junior high school. The developing team of this program come each from a different scientific discipline  and with wide experience in developing teaching and learning programs for pre-service and in-service teachers.

: Our era is characterized by rapid development of information, science and technology, with a growing understanding that future citizens will be required to deal with complex challenges that require a holistic trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective. A central feature of this development is the emergence of new areas that combine traditional disciplines, for example: Bioinformatics, Biomimicry (also termed Biomimetics), Environment and sustainability, Nano-technology, Robotics. For learners, significant integration of the fundamental disciplines can be facilitated within frameworks such as these that enable them to experience engineering problem solving thinking, applied toward developing a product, based on understanding of the relevant scientific and mathematical principles and laws (Johnson, Peters-Burton, and Moore, 2015). Problem solving is a cognitive process, behavior, activity or set of activities that reduce the gap between a current situation and a desired one when there is no prepared procedure to find a solution (Baker & Mayer, 1999; Schon, 1983). The student-oriented process of developing a solution for a problem should be made similar to the process conducted in academia and industry, i.e., working in multi-disciplinary teams, where each member brings in expertise from his/her field, but also understands the potential and existing tools of other fields. Such a framework has better chances of enabling the construction of ground-breaking reach, creative, and innovative solutions. STEAM, as a learning domain, is inherently interdisciplinary and maintain links between these disciplines. Hence, it enables building close ties between issues learned at school and the real world. Teamwork based on the different skills and perspectives contributed by team-members benefit for enabling interdisciplinary innovation. While addressing complex societal challenges was traditionally seen as mainly the role of professionals in research, technology, industry and the market place, it is currently recognized that addressing such challenges is a built-in component of daily decision-making of all citizens. Active and responsible science-informed decision-making on the part of citizens requires a better understanding of science and technology. This requires greater interaction among all key stake-holders – professionals, industry, enterprise, specialist and citizens. Education plays a crucial role since a central means in this transformation of society is bringing the research, innovation and technologies into the classroom (European Commission, 2015).
Furthermore, it is agreed that Art should be integrated within the STEM education since similar approaches are used in both science and art, for example: noticing, wondering, visualizing, exploring, communicating and being creative (Fulton and Simpson-Steele, 2016). Linking the arts (and humanities) with STEM, by bringing into the dialogue the artist and designer, expands the opportunities for experimentation and innovation. Meaningful education in today’s world requires connecting between disciplines (areas of knowledge) and connecting with the community, since science and technology do not exist in isolation (European Union, 2015).    
The rational for establishing a teachers' professional development program: One of the current challenges reported by the OECD is recruiting teachers in the areas of sciences, mathematics, Technology and ICT (OECD, 2005). Society’s future depends on the quality of education, and the quality of education depends, largely, on the quality of the teachers – competent teachers with up-to-date skills and innovative ideas, capable of high quality teaching are central to education improvement (OECD, 2005). Hence, teacher education and professional development are important and necessary steps. Most teachers hold a degree in a particular discipline, while many of them did not complete their studies recently. Further, Math or Science teachers in middle and high schools frequently lack a knowledge foundation in Technology and Engineering, and with shortage experience in collaborative teamwork for developing a product. This program aspires that teachers experience the way nowadays research and development is conducted. This will contribute to relevant and meaningful teaching, by exposing their students to authentic challenges of society, different experiences, empowering the students' with skills and vision, and inspiring their innovative thinking and entrepreneurial approach. The teachers that graduate this  program, will be equipped and motivated to function as leaders of change and will contribute to the advancement of interdisciplinary STEAM approach, utilizing the methodology taught in the program. The effect can be, for example: to encourage youth-led projects that integrate areas of science and technology in industry and academia; to develop activities for informal settings implementing innovative constructivist learning approaches; to conduct research in the areas of integrated STEAM using the skills vested in the program. (Literature around the world concerns the teacher role and their preparation. E.G. from the last year Bush, and Cook, 2016; Jho, Hong, and Song, 2016).   

Guidelines for the program: Training will be based on the participants’ knowledge of the major disciplinary in science, engineering and art.  The learning process will implement the Project Base Learning (PBL) approach (Sanders, 2012), with an emphasis on the understanding of the disciplinary knowledge as a basis for understanding the integration between them. The projects will be carried out in heterogeneous teams of teachers with different disciplinary backgrounds where at least one member has an Engineering degree. Team work will promote critical and creative thinking, develop problem-solving skills and enhance collaborative working (all are highlighted by the OECD as Collaborative Problem Solving Skills (PISA 2015  - draft collaborative problem solving framework, 2013). Interdisciplinary knowledge and the possibility to apply it and develop cognitive skills and soft skills will be cultivated in three phases, all based on the PBL method:

(1) Analysis of existing multidisciplinary projects and innovation in industry and academia;
(2) Development of an integrated interdisciplinary project that applies engineering design processes in order to solve problem and/or design a product for a specific purpose;
(3) Development of an educational intervention to be implemented in formal or informal education settings. This stage aims to promote the implementation of teaching and learning REAL STEAM.

The professional development program will combine scientific and pedagogical content knowledge. The program will incorporate ethical aspects of science and technology to emphasize the relevance of this education for the citizens and the society in which we live.

Teachers have the ability to lead changes in society, education, industry, and labor market. The ultimate goal is to advance teachers that have this ability to make the necessary synthesis between the relevant areas in order to design solutions. 

Program Highlights:

Integrated and relevant - The courses in the program will be related to the traditional disciplines, but from an interdisciplinary perspective of the disciplines as complementary in their contribution to achieving a meaningful solution to a given problem. This emphasizes the integration of art, technology and engineering design processes needed in STEAM and missing in most of the current programs (Sahin, and Top, 2015).

Project-Based Learning – A central organizing element is the application of Project Base Learning (PBL) in heterogenous teachers' groups. This framework of study enables authentic experiencing in context (Capraro, and Slough, 2013).

Updated methods of teaching and learning - The training methods implemented in the program will provide a modeling for future application at schools. For example: (*) The role of the teacher as a guide and facilitator of the learning process where dialogue with the learner is at the center; (*) Involvement and responsibility of learners regarding their own learning (engagement); (*) Long-term learning activities; (*) Focus on investigative processes, problem solving and critical and creative thinking; (*) Learning in teams while developing members' soft skills (for example, team work, giving and receiving feedback and time management).

Partnerships – The rationale of the program is to create partnerships with the academic world, the industry, schools, informal educational institutions and local authorities. Emphasis will be placed on developing meaningful projects to serve the large community.

In Israel, different STEAM curricula for middle and high schools exist but there is a lack of teachers qualified to teach in these programs. The proposed STEAM program aims to fill this gap by developing teachers that have previous teaching experience, and are open-minded and ready to address the current challenge of educating and empowering students who are motivated and equipped for active engagement in social-scientific challenges of their lives. We believe that the responsibility for educating the next generation lies not just on the shoulders of the education system. Industry and the academy are responsible as well. We trust that there will be no obstacles in recruiting those communities into the process of educating the teachers of the Next Generation STEAM Problem Solvers.    

Noa Ragonis, Osnat Dagan, Tili Wagner, Daphne Goldman - Beit Berl College, Israel  

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