STEM, STEAM, STREAM: Integrating a Multidisciplinary Approach

Recently, we have been hearing the terms, STEM, STEAM, and STREAM with regards to changes in education policies. Some of us might have been wondering what is the big fuss on all these terms. Does our education system need to evolve? If yes, why?

In the 1960's, thanks to the research of psychobiologist and Nobel Prize winner, Roger W.Sperry, the theory that the brain's two hemispheres function differently was conceived. People are either left-brained or right-brained, meaning that one side of their brain is dominant. The left brain is more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It's better at things like reading, writing, and computations. If you tend to be more creative or artistic, you're thought to be right-brained. The right brain is more visual and intuitive. It has a more creative and less organised way of thinking.

We know the two sides of our brain are different, but does it necessarily follow that we have a dominant brain just as we have a dominant hand? A team of neuroscientist have found no proof that this theory is correct after a 2 year analysis of 1000 brain MRIs. The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibres, called corpus callosum, creating an information highway. Whether you're performing a logical or creative function, you're receiving input from both sides of your brain.

So to base our education system on streaming into arts or science is no longer relevant. An interdisciplinary teaching method of the curriculum have become one of the most important and pervasive trends in education.

STEM is an educational curriculum that combines science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is meant to be a comprehensive approach, instead of teaching each subject separately.

STEAM incorporates all the elements of STEM, but adds art to the mix. So the projects will be science-based, but with an addition of artistic activity.

STREAM adds one more layer to STEM and STEAM - reading and wRiting. This sees literacy as an essential part of a well-rounded curriculum, as it requires critical thinking as well as creativity.

Incorporating design, art and reading into STEM is a way for anyone, regardless of their technical ability, to be exposed to STREAM in a highly impactful and engaging way. The various elements of STEM curriculum puts too much weight on one side of the brain. Kids will benefit from a curriculum that integrates more creative lessons. I am sure we have heard students complain that " I'll never need to know this" when they are learning math or periodic table. The problem here is that they don't see yet how these subjects have any relevance to their own life. This is why an interdisciplinary approach is important to provide students with hands-on activities, projects and exercises. It allows them to relate to the abstract concepts and understand why studying these core subjects is pertinent in their lives.

How do we fit in Arts into STEM? Contrary to popular perception, there is a creative, imaginative side to engineering, mathematics, and science. As Albert Einstein said, " Imagination is more important than knowledge". One of the major plus points of integrating art into a STEM curriculum is that it gives students who are more inclined to arts a perfect way to break down perceived barriers to STEM subjects and ignite new interests.

As humans, we are naturally drawn to stories. By placing concepts in the context of a story, these ideas come alive and feel more real. This is why educators have added an 'R' ( reading and wRiting) component. Rather than reading from a textbook, the idea is to have students read complementary materials that illustrate some of the concepts they are learning. There are many non-fiction and fiction picture books that can be used to teach STEAM subjects to young children. Through the illustrated books, young children can grasp STEM subjects in a more fun and interactive manner.

By adding arts and reading to the curriculum, students not only receive a well-rounded education, but acquire skills that make them more dynamic and creative.

Da Vinci's multipotentialite

Leonardo Da Vinci was a painter, architect, inventor, and his interest covers a large array of science and humanity subjects. A posthumous scan of Da Vinci's brain six centuries later reveals that his corpus callosum - that thick bundle of fibres connecting the left and right hemispheres, was bursting with an overabundance of connecting neutrons, which is a result of his unusually deft fusion of art and science. Though Da Vinci might be an example of the overachieving extreme, but what is obvious here is creativity is mouldable and can be improved by having multiple interests, voracious reading habits and learning through multidisciplinary approach.

Start STREAM early to equip students with applied knowledge and creative thinking.