STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, is learning that occurs naturally as children explore, interact and connect with the world around them. When children are provided with opportunities and freedom to explore the world around them, they experiment and make new discoveries by working on their STEAM skills and its theories.
Nature, then plays a very significant role in this process and learning. STEAM and nature find their relevance and application all around us, making the relationship between the two extremely significant. The relationship between the two becomes even more important as it moves away from the traditional notions and practices of teaching towards a learning which is driven by curiosity. Classroom learning then also becomes student-driven, making it more engaging as students become active agents of their own learning.
When students step outside in outdoor settings such as parks and gardens, they bring their observations to the classroom which further drives their learning. For example, spotting a cocoon on a branch may lead to a discussion on metamorphosis or observing dried leaves on the ground may lead to the learning of the changing seasons. Observing and interacting with nature then not only becomes a way to learn more but also an experience which stimulates the senses – observing the different texture of the soil, hearing the chirping of the birds or even feeling the movement of the wind.
From investigating wind, shadows and weather to observing, describing and drawing the different shapes of clouds, all constitutes STEAM learning and highlights its relevance and relationship with nature.
To further explore the different aspects of STEAM learning, I decided to take learning beyond the classroom by organizing a visit to the farm for the children at Prometheus School. Initial reactions ranged from that of awe and curiosity to that of wonder and excitement.
Together, we explored the various aspects through a range of activities –
- Observing the different kinds of plants such as creepers and grass as well as the different parts of the plant and making notes on the same (Science)
- Playing on swings such as see-saw or slide and trying to understand how they work (Technology)
- Using stones of different sizes to create structures as well as sandcastles in the sand pit (Engineering)
- Using old, dried leaves and flowers to create their artwork (Art)
- Counting and categorizing animals into different categories such as ‘two-legged’ animals such as hens or ‘four-legged’ animals such as cows (Math)
By the end of our day, the journey back to school was brewing with interesting observations such as –
- A farm is very different from a park or a garden
- Almost all animals at the farm eat grass and grains
- A separate area for animals was created so that they do not spoil the flowers and plants in the other part of the farm
Additionally, I also probed my students by asking questions about the area that they had just visited such as “Who lives in such a neighborhood?”, “How is this area different from where you live?” etc. This discussion further gave way to a creative exercise where students decided to draw maps of the farm and their houses and then compare them. It was interesting to hear discussions about the different kinds of houses and habitats.
With such simple activities, our understanding of STEAM learning and its relationship with nature strengthens. We also understand how it not only facilitates student-centric learning but also instils skills like problem solving, logical thinking and executive function. For instance, when a child changes the position of a plant so that the plant can have access to more sunlight for better growth, he/she uses his problem solving skills to solve the problem of the slow growth of the plant or when learners understand that when they push a swing, it moves forward; they understand the cause and effect relationship as well as the logic behind the working of the swing. By directing their own exploration, participating actively in them and coming up with possible conclusions and solutions for the same students are employing their executive function.
It may also be seen how while the term, STEAM, may sometimes be seen as a distant concept, it is in fact very doable even in early childhood. It can then be said how it becomes important to study and explore STEAM learning in tandem with nature for the correlation between the two is what makes it so worthwhile.