STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths - has become an increasingly important approach that focuses on inter-disciplinary learning rather than teaching independent subject silos. Schools are taking this cross-curricular approach to learning, and effectively combining subjects that, in the real world, cross over all the time.
Acronyms including STEM, STEAM and even iSTEAM are now common currency in Singapore’s schools. It’s not just about learning to be a scientist, engineer or games developer, it’s about getting students to solve authentic problems and build real-world solutions.
There are many examples of STEAM education in the curriculum from an early age – and school timetables are increasingly focused on critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.
Lindsay Laronde, Leader of Learning - Education Technology and Grade 2 Homeroom Teacher, at XCL World Academy says:
“Introducing STEM concepts at a young age helps students cultivate a love and passion for the various STEM disciplines, preparing them for future careers. In Primary Years education, we equip students with the fundamental skills that will be transferable to any job they choose, even ones that do not yet exist.
“STEM education fosters creativity, innovation, and experimentation, leading to ground-breaking discoveries in science, technology, engineering, and maths. Early exposure to STEM can foster a growth mindset, instilling the belief that abilities can be acquired through hard work and dedication. This mindset can lead to increased motivation and academic success, which can positively impact students' future prospects.”
For students following the IB Primary Years Programme, the PYP Exhibition is an excellent way to introduce STEM concepts as it promotes critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. Recent PYP projects at one IB school, XCL World Academy, have included coding robots and developing video games to using educational technology websites such as Blooket to create online quiz games.
Coding is introduced to the primary curriculum for many UK, US and IB schools, with students from Year 1 upwards using platforms such as Scratch and Wonder. By teaching coding, students are learning to think logically, solve problems using technology, and develop digital skills that can prepare them for jobs of the future.
Dover Court runs challenges with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to find innovative and creative solutions to real-world problems, while Dulwich College (Singapore) has an SE21 hub where students explore pitching ideas, phase one robotics, coding, CAD/CAM, graphic design, film, digital, and virtual reality. Stamford American International School (SAIS) has a well-equipped makerspace alongside an Innovation Centre with Bloomberg and Microsoft labs for high school students.
In a school the size of UWC South East Asia’s Dover campus, it is hardly surprising to find a makerspace that’s as big as a small department. The IDEAS Hub is equipped with traditional and modern facilities and, as well as being used during timetabled lessons, the hub is used for after-school activities such as eco-design masterclasses, competitions in coding, computer science and film-making.
“All students have timetabled lessons in the Ideas Hub, and this space gives teachers an opportunity to teach in different ways and engage the individual on different levels.”
At XCL World Academy, a Design Centre fully immerses students in a ‘zone’ where they can sit or stand, design or build, and look at the past to help create the future.
The school says:
“This inspirational space is equipped with the latest technologies in the field of design and gives students the inventive flair needed to become tomorrow’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Everything in a good IB school should be able to contextualise the learning and bring it back to the real-world.”
Tanglin Trust School is designing its curriculum and campus around STEAM education, giving students a rich learning environment that encourages exploration and discovery. It is also preparing its students for the challenges of the modern world.
The Design and Technology curriculum has been designed around STEAM to emphasise how subjects including science, technology, engineering, maths and the arts can be applied to real-world problems. Teachers are taking an interdisciplinary approach to help students develop critical thinking, collaboration and communications skills – all needed for jobs of the future.
For example, Year 7 and 8 classes have created a recycled plastic product where they learnt about the chemical make-up of polymers, used this knowledge to shred and melt thermoforming plastic into new plastic sheets, and then worked with industry partners such as Magorium and Plastic Bean to create collaborative design briefs.
The school gives students plenty of space to explore and discover new ideas at age-appropriate makerspaces in its infant and senior libraries, offering “opportunities for children to develop crucial STEAM skills through exploring, building, creating, and tinkering.” Tanglin also has an Enterprise thread in its Lifeskills programme, which helps younger students to start thinking about costs involved in simple business ideas. By Year 8, students are designing and pitching a concept for a hotel to a panel of industry experts.
There are STEAM and Sustainability Weeks focusing on problem solving for students of all ages, encouraging them to be part of the global effort to protect our planet and make it a greener, more sustainable place.
Tanglin's STEAM & Sustainability Week Team says:
“Educating our students on the environmental issues we face and empowering them to rise to future challenges are key actions we can take as a school.
“From treehouse building in Reception, to learning about energy use in the Juniors, to a Science Symposium in Senior School, students have engaged with a range of proactive, inspiring solutions which will hopefully instil in them the ambition to become the environmental leaders of tomorrow."
Many schools place a strong emphasis on encouraging girls to pursue STEAM subjects to help to address the gender imbalance in these fields and ensure that girls have equal access to the jobs of the future. While girls have historically been underrepresented in these fields, more girls globally are now pursuing STEAM subjects.
At Tanglin, where the Heads of Science, Maths and Computational Sciences are all female, teachers are actively encouraging girls to pursue careers in technology and engineering. Females are well-represented in talks and discussions on STEAM subjects, and opportunities to work with industry partners on practical STEAM projects are popular with female students.
For example, a group of all-female Year 12 students have recently collaborated with industry experts in green technology through NXplorers, Shell's global education programme. The team designed a micro-turbine generator for storm drains, then received funding to create and test their prototype.
Elsewhere, Ms Laronde explains how XCL World Academy is also working to close the gender gap.
“Our school provides exposure to female role models in STEM fields and engages students in open discussions about how STEM skills can be applied in everyday life and in a wide range of career fields.
"By exposing our students to STEM at a young age, we aim to combat any gender stereotypes they may encounter in the future. Our girls are taught the skills they need to succeed in STEM from their first day of school, instilling the knowledge that STEM is for everyone.”
STEAM subjects are essential for preparing students for jobs of the future and giving them a competitive advantage in the job market. STEAM education is also essential for addressing some of the biggest challenges of the modern day, such as climate change and cybersecurity.
Given the importance of STEAM in education, it is essential that it is included and not sidelined in the curriculum in today's schools. While we can see international schools taking different approaches to incorporating STEAM subjects into the curriculum, the widespread recognition that it is critical for preparing students for the challenges and opportunities of the future is a very positive step forward for your child.