The Drivers of STEAM Education: Findings from Speak Up

Project Tomorrow has been conducting the Speak Up survey for 15 years now, collecting feedback from more than 5 million individuals during that time. We’ve been asking about STEAM (and STEM) issues over all those years. I was invited to present some of the STEAM findings in a webcast for the STEAM Universe: STEAM Research from the Front Lines: The Impact of STEAM on Teachers, Students, Administrators and Parents. You can find a recording of that session here:

As discussed during the webcast, these are some of the STEAM-related trends we’ve seen in recent years from our surveys of students, parents and educators:

  • Greater emphasis on students’ global skill preparation
  • New expectations from parents for skill development & digital learning
  • Value of personalized learning on the rise with new learning models
  • Students as content creators, not just consumers
  • Increasing criticality for connectivity at school and home
  • Learning as a 24/7 enterprise for students
  • Getting beyond assumptions & myths on career exploration

The webcast covered a number of topics, but I wanted to share some of the findings here behind what we see as four drivers of interest in and implementation of STEAM education:

1) Administrators’ desire to close the achievement gap and level the education playing field

Across all types of school districts (urban, suburban and rural), half of administrators told us that closing the achievement gap is one of the top issues that “wake them up at night.” And, when we asked what has the greatest potential to enhance their students’ achievement, their top four solutions were:

  • Enhancing teacher effectiveness
  • Integrating college and career ready skills within curriculum
  • Increasing STEM career exploration activities for students
  • Leveraging digital tools, products and solutions more effectively

When we look at these solutions, it is also important to look at some additional Speak Up feedback. For instance, no matter how we ask it, the top technology-related challenge that principals say they face is motivating teachers to change their practices to use technology in the classroom. Combine that with the top concern parents have about technology use in school – that technology use varies to much from teacher-to-teacher – and we see a common theme. (I wrote more about this issue earlier this year: Teachers’ Readiness and Willingness to Adopt Digital Tools for Learning.)

2) Parents’ concerns about their child’s future

Also driving STEAM education is parents’ growing concerns about their children being ready to compete in the future. We asked a more broad question of parents about what worries them about their child’s future. The top response was “My child is not learning the right skills in school needed to be successful in the future.” We were surprised to see this across the board: 58% of elementary school parents, 58% of middle school parents and 54% of high school parents. We also saw no difference in this finding when we looked at parents’ income levels or type of school (urban, suburban, rural). We even saw this in a survey we conducted in Mexico. It’s a global concern.

3) Need to integrate the development of college and career-ready skills into everyday curriculum

We asked parents and administrators about what the “right skills” are that students should be learning and we saw a lot of agreement.

workplace skills parents and administrators think students need

We also asked “what are the best ways for students to develop these “right skills?” Parents and administrators value the same experiences:

  • Work experience – job, internship, volunteering
  • Using technology regularly within school
  • Project-based learning experiences
  • Learning coding or computer programming
  • Taking advanced science and math courses
  • Taking career technical education courses
  • Doing real research or scientific experiments
  • Pursuing artistic or performance interests

4) Means to increase the effectiveness of the use of technology within the learning experience

And, that list leads us to the fourth driver we are seeing behind STEAM education. “Using technology regularly within school” was behind only work experience, according to parents and administrators, as the best way to learn the skills students will need in the future. Administrators tell me that STEAM education can be the means to increase the effectiveness of the use of technology within the learning experience. They see that STEAM education is a way to realize greater impact and to be able to measure that impact more effectively.

Speak Up 2017 includes new questions about why math matters, how students can best learn math concepts and interest in STEAM careers. We look forward to learning from all of the education stakeholders who will share their views between now and January 2018, and in sharing those national findings.

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