Silver Linings for STEAM Learning

As we adapt to this all-encompassing health crisis that brings so much uncertainty to our lives, I believe it is important in times like these to search for the bright spots that can be appreciated. 

As the Senior Director of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) at Boston Children’s Museum, I often find myself looking for the STEAM connections in any given situation, and these connections abound within our current global health crisis. Amid the sobering statistics and updates, there are some brilliant glimmers of hope. Here are my thoughts on some of the silver linings that this time may have on the future of STEAM education.

Viewing STEAM professionals as heroes. 

It’s no secret that some STEM professions suffer from a bit of an image problem. Both kids and adults sometimes express beliefs that scientists and engineers work alone in labs, doing math problems or working on scientific theories that never quite connect directly back to the real world. COVID-19 has blown this idea up. A short (face masked and appropriately socially distanced) walk through my own neighborhood in Boston shows signs hung in windows thanking the heroes working in our local hospitals. News clips highlight sewing and 3D printing enthusiasts who are helping to make personal protective equipment. Public health staff at the state and national level are household names—and trending (#FauciFan). People of all ages, but especially children, now have an opportunity to see firsthand how STEAM professionals have direct, positive impacts on our communities.

Creating STEAM memories at home. 

What is your best STEAM memory from childhood? Fairly regularly when I’m working with a group of adults at a conference, I’ll ask participants to share their own best memories of doing STEAM activities. More often than not, especially when I’m talking with someone who works as a STEAM professional or educator, their best memories of STEAM education are activities done with family and friends, at home or outside. I hear stories of creating giant block cities that take over a living room, of going fishing and learning about critters in the woods with grandparents, or of baking cakes with Moms and experimenting with designing flavors. 

As many families are doing more and more STEAM activities together (you gotta pass the time somehow!), these pivotal STEAM memories are naturally, and increasingly, being created. Our STEAM team at the Museum is posting videos and activities several times a week to hopefully provide some inspiration to families at home. My greatest hope would be that some of these activities become a part of those positive STEAM memories. 

Heeding a STEAM call to action. 

Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of STEAM calls to action in the past decade. Climate change, anyone? Youth like Greta Thunberg have heeded that call in some of the most compelling and commendable ways, serving as models for children and adults. Unfortunately, for many the urgency to act on climate change is lacking because the impacts aren’t necessarily immediately apparent. The toll that rising temperatures have on the planet are staggering, but not often acute. The impacts of COVID-19 are just the opposite. This virus has closed schools and offices, separated family and friends. The consequences are profound and urgent. 

I am hopeful that as the effects of COVID-19 fade, adults and children will hear its echoes as a call to further engage with STEAM—in a more pressing way than we have with climate change. For me, the greatest silver lining of our current situation is knowing that of the many children experiencing the difficulty of quarantining at home, there are at least a few who are deciding this very moment that they will work to prevent something like this from happening again in the future. They are realizing that engaging in STEAM can help them forge a powerful path, to help them shape our world and making it a better place to live and grow.

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