The STEM approach of working across the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is an important educational approach in many schools across Quebec, with fascinating projects and potential for teaching and learning. Including the arts in these projects, also known as STEAM, has the potential to reach even more learners.

Teaching Artist Deirdre Potash articulates the rationale for STEAM simply: 

[t]he school system pretty much all over the world is set up so that we teach and learn about everything in little silos, which really doesn’t have to do very much with how life works. STEAM asks us to bring all of those different sectors, or many of those sectors back together… we’re actually going back to where it’s supposed to be.”

Teaching Artist Bettina Forget also notes the focus on silos in education, and remarks that, 

[a]rt and science have more in common than people think… Actually, there are many convergence points, especially around creating your own research question, which happens both in art and science, curiosity about the natural world, a strong sense of aesthetic appreciation, and the practice of drawing as a way of documenting thinking through problems and ideas.”

Awakening student curiosity and observation skills through STEAM

Nature educator and teaching artist Rebecca Soulis is passionate about the ways in which STEAM engages students. As she says, 

“using art as a bridge for learning really helps awaken curiosity and observation skills with children and brings about a lot of self confidence. And for those students who don’t feel confident, they realize that they do retain certain knowledge and that they build on knowledge that they’ve had their whole life but didn’t realize that it might count for something.”

STEAM as a way to disrupt gender stereotypes

A STEAM approach has the potential to foster learning in a way that changes how students understand themselves and each other. As Bettina says, 

[s]tudents… tend to pigeonhole themselves according to their own ideas of self efficacy. This is especially an issue with girls who experienced stereotype connected to science. Tthey often feel that science is more for boys, even though studies show that girls do as well as boys in the STEM field. And so they tend to gravitate more to the arts. If you create a learning environment where you can’t quite tell whether you’re doing art or science, it disrupts those ideas around what they’re good at… where all the disciplines are mingled together, you’re disrupting the knowledge silos and the associated stereotypes.”

What do STEAM projects look like? 

STEAM projects are as varied as the artists and teachers that lead them! Bettina’s Imagine Aliens, Rebecca’s adopt-a-tree nature education and Deirdre’s Adirondack chair projects are the tip of the iceberg (see youtube videos for more information)! As Rebecca says, “STEAM reaches different types of learners. It’s project based learning and help students get involved with the world surrounding them.”

Students experiment with building river rafts with Rebecca Soulis, using a trial and error method with the material that include string, cork and natural materials found at the river’s edge.
Students painted parts for Adirondack chairs before assembling the chairs, guided by Deirdre Potash.
Nature educator and Teaching Artist Rebecca Soulis speaks on STEAM as an approach for connecting with nature.
Bettina Forget speaks on what STEAM brings to students and girls in particular.
Bettina Forget speaks on what art and science have in common.
Bettina Forget speaks on STEAM project ‘Imagine Aliens’.
Deirdre Potash speaks on how STEAM mirrors life.
Deirdre Potash speaks on how STEAM is an inherent part of the art process.