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Never too young to learn STEAM!

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

- By Fazliah, Explorer Junior Chief Tinkerer

It’s 2020 and this article is written in the middle of a global health pandemic. When schools had to be shut, educators and students went on a steep learning curve and everything was shifted online. As much as we adults had to go through a massive paradigm shift, we ought to reflect on the impact it would have on the children. Would less time in school means they are learning less? How can children continue their learning beyond the school compounds? Every decade, children are always advised that education prepares them for the future. But how do we prepare for a future which is filled with uncertainties? In the Age of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, we see a need to develop young minds to be explorers with the right competencies to face the needs of the future. The uncertainties that come with the challenges of the current pandemic heighten our anxieties. Would such ambiguity be an opportunity to rethink the way our children learn?

Real-world problems are tough and can get extremely complex. Using STEAM as a framework to navigate through those problems and figure out how to think and come up with solutions is a great place to start!

Hang on, what is STEAM?

While relating STEAM to carrying out Science experiments and coding can be a common perception amongst many, it is important to note that STEAM is beyond that! Conducting Science experiments by following instructions and insisting on getting to the right answer is not necessarily STEAM if we do not allow the opportunity for students to witness failed experiments from taking place and to question and explore other possibilities. STEAM focuses on the exploratory journey and cognitive processes that lead them to conclude the experiment. With that in mind, STEAM is the multi-disciplinary approach towards learning that sees the world through the lens of Science, and Technology, interpreted through Engineering and Arts, and based in Mathematics.

While there may be no one size fits all definition to STEAM, it distinguishes itself from the conventional learning of understanding Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics as individual subjects to study. Its inter-disciplinary approach with strong focus on problem-solving will encourage meaningful learning experiences that build certain competencies. The World Economic Forum have listed down 16 skills that students today are required to have:

If we take a closer look, foundational literacies which traditional learning emphasizes on, such as numeracy, scientific literacy and even ICT literacy now takes up less than half of the core skills required today. Foundational literacies are not less important, but to be equipped with certain qualities would facilitate a child’s attitude to be more resilient in the face of adversity. Competencies such as problem solving, creativity and characteristics qualities such as curiosity are now essential skills that would help children face complex challenges and learn to react to the dynamic and ambiguous world.

STEAM for children? Aren’t they too young?

Children are natural curious explorers from the moment they are born. They wonder, observe, interrogate, investigate, explore, make trial and errors, measure, compare naturally. Early childhood are the crucial years where they ask questions and try to find answers, create and invent.

In fact, a lot of the early childhood pedagogies leverage on this innate ability of young children. For us, we believe that it’s not only age appropriate but early childhood years are also the prime time where we can lay the foundation of STEAM disciplines in these young minds.

How about giving STEAM a go!

STEAM education emphasizes on process and journey rather than the product. While having an end goal can help a person be more focused in getting what they would like to achieve, it would be a meaningful and enriching experience to be able to reflect on the ups and downs of the journey towards the goal.

During the many interactions we had with the children, there were moments where children were not able to solve a certain problem. Instead of allowing the child to cave into the frustration of not being able to solve the problem immediately, we would highlight the fact that some challenges would take more time to solve. When problems get tough, there are strategies that we can use to guide us out of the problem. We complement our STEAM approach with Design Thinking. We also encourage the child by pointing out the strategies that the child adopted to solve the problem and acknowledging the child’s efforts in solving it. Communicating the process to the child facilitates the way they perceive challenges and in turn, boost their self-esteem and sharpen their critical thinking abilities.

Indeed, the environment that we create for the child must support their desire to learn. This does not necessarily mean buying the most expensive gadget for your child. It means to let your child know that you are there for them and make the best out of everything you have. It would mean the world to them! There are various creative ways to allow space for your child to learn through exploration. Check out some ideas on Explorer Junior’s YouTube Channel!

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