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Maths stands to be the real winner from STEAM

Will Maby @wmaby – “Itinerant Maths teacher”

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I approach my curriculum planning in the way I approach much of my life: I work out what I want to achieve and then I work out how to do it.  In order to stop myself straying from my STEAM goals I, therefore, keep a short note on my computer’s desktop reminding me what it is I want to achieve. Here it is:

  • Promote STEAM subjects
  • Increase students’ engagement in STEAM subjects
  • Showcase potential careers in the STEAM
  • Increase students’ engagement in STEAM subjects
  • Provide opportunities for students to work in the higher cognitive domains

Each time I read this list I am struck by how most of these goals are already present, in some form, in the S, the T, the E and the A.

Science has the fizzes and bangs of practical experiments as well as countless exciting career opportunities in exotic parts of the world. Technology classes are focused largely on building either physical or computer based projects, and we are all well aware that technology is at the forefront of innovation with those who command knowledge in these areas being the ones who will build the robots that will replace so many jobs. While traditional forms of art are often seen to be poorly paid (until after you’re dead) digital opportunities such as gaming and animation can offer corporate career paths and steady salaries, and besides, who has ever accused secondary school art courses of not being hands on?

But what about the M?  It’s Maths that doesn’t currently have an engaging hands-on component to it. Instead we (yes, I’m a Maths teacher) contrive bizarre questions that involve standing on a cliff top and trying to work out the distance to the boat using a handy inclinometer to demonstrate the real-world relevance of trigonometry.Or hypothetical questions about flour to sugar ratios in cakes, or “what’s in the bag” questions for algebra.

If we embrace STEAM projects students will need to use fractions in the recipes they cook. They will need to use trigonometry to build the best crane. They will need to use substitution to keep their avatar in the centre of a scrolling game screen.

Our current lack of ability to find engaging, relevant and real-life examples in Maths leads to a broader lack of information available to students on what careers use Maths knowledge and skills. Maths is everywhere and it is up to us Maths teachers to reconnect with this and show this to our students. The solution to the stagnation of Maths teaching over the last few decades is at our fingertips; we just need to embrace the projects of our STEAM peers and start highlighting to our students where they can use the skills that we are working so hard to teach them.


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