You have heard of STEM, but what about STREAM?

Vernell Bowen

There has been a lot of conversation about education initiatives in the past few years that deal with improvement of curriculum: Common Core, STEM and now STREAM. What does all of this mean for our students?

The Common Core initiative has been examined by the Office of Catholic Schools’ curriculum committee for the past three years in the areas of language arts, math and science. Very few changes were made to the already existing Catholic school curriculum for grades K-8 and then, only changes that would enhance what the schools were already doing. 

In 2011, Gov. Mike Beebe and his Workforce Cabinet announced a new pilot program — STEM works — focused on science, technology, engineering and math education in high schools and universities, to help the state’s workforce meet the escalating demand for skilled employees in high-tech fields. There are several universities and public high schools that are implementing the STEM curriculum.

In December 2013, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) began the STREAM initiative (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math). The philosophy of Catholic education is to educate the whole child. Therefore the arts and religion are just as important as science, technology, engineering and math. The Office of Catholic Schools is investigating this initiative to see how this will enhance learning for our students.

Kathy Mears, past elementary president for NCEA, stated in a post on the NCEA website, “While many public schools have STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, STEM alone is not enough for Catholic schools. Catholic school leaders believe in educating the whole child. We believe that exposure to the arts is essential and we are committed to an educational experience that provides multiple encounters with Christ in every aspect of curriculum and instruction. STREAM will help us to achieve these goals.

“This initiative is ambitious. It requires teachers to be intentional in providing students with educational experiences that integrate many curricular areas. It can be project-based learning. It also can be a mathematics class where students integrate the study of religion by learning about statistics related to poverty and the Church’s response. STREAM also can be a science class that integrates art and the beauty of God’s creation as children draw pictures or create sculptures that represent the environment provided by our creator.”

In May 2014, Heather Gossart, a hands-on practitioner who has been a chief school administrator at the elementary and secondary levels, outlined 10 characteristics of a STREAM school on the NCEA website. 

  • STREAM schools seek to integrate Catholic identity into every aspect of the curriculum.
  • STREAM schools provide a challenging learning environment focused on science, technology, math, arts and the integration of education in the faith.
  • STREAM schools promote a culture of innovation as well as a commitment to ethical behavior.
  • STREAM schools seek to increase the participation of groups that are under-represented in the sciences.
  • STREAM schools increase content literacy for all students including those who do not pursue technology-related careers or additional studies in the STREAM disciplines.
  • STREAM schools are inclusive.
  • STREAM schools foster an environment that encourages problem solving, group collaboration and independent research.
  • STREAM schools demonstrate that success is defined in many ways and can occur in many different types of schools and learning environments.
  • STREAM schools use strategic planning as a blueprint to guide the school’s development and implementation of the STREAM curriculum.
  • STREAM schools are “think forward” institutions and place high priority on educator training, learning, leadership and 21st century skill applications.

During this school year the Office of Catholic Schools will be presenting the concepts of STREAM through workshops to principals and teachers. Many of our schools are already integrating some of the 10 characteristics, but as educators we are always searching for the best ways to prepare our students for the future of the Church and society. We can always improve and learn more effective techniques for reaching our students.

As an educator for more than 40 years, I have seen the pendulum swing far to the left and then far to the right in teaching methods and curriculum initiatives. I feel STREAM will be an initiative that will help develop students to become better problem solvers for tomorrow’s society and workforce.

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