Dr. Sharon Jones, Ed. D. is the founder and CEO of the dot Consulting and the Dottie Rose Foundation, where she creates, innovates, and implements cutting-edge technology focused on new-age education. She has found her passion in education and has served as a computer science expert for the past 20 years, bridging the gap between our everyday actions and the application of technology. Dr. Jones is a highly sought-after and national award-winning Computer Science expert. She also serves as a member of the National Small Business Leadership Council, where she represents North Carolina and is a co-founder of Carolina Women in Tech. She was also named one of the 100 Women to KNOW in 2023 by JP Morgan for her work and impact on creating a pipeline for women in tech. When not running the technology world, Dr. Jones spends her time with her husband Ricky, and two sons, Ethan and Dylan.
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are still the three major pillars of education.
However, over the past two decades, our world has changed rapidly and these three pillars, while still important, now share the spotlight with other important disciplines, STEAM. In recent years, technology has become essential to our daily lives and our contribution to the global economy and STEAM has quickly become a fourth pillar of education. STEAM integrates the core three pillars to apply, innovate, and create new ideas and technology that drive the next generation.
While STEAM and literacy skills are often viewed as two separate educational priorities, the disciplines actually go hand in hand. Literacy skills are vital to understanding STEM concepts and will lead to success across all disciplines.
When a discussion of integrating literacy with STEAM begins, the first question raised by educators centers around limited educational resources and whether it is right to invest our limited education resources in teaching critical reading skills or in STEAM. But it is not either or because the components of literacy skills—reading, writing, speaking, vocabulary, are at the core of all STEAM activities. Literacy is one subject that binds all the others together. STEAM is guided by inquiry and is focused on application, creation, and evaluation and uses literacy as the foundation for application.
Literacy is a part of every subject: math, arts, music, history, geography, or science. Literacy is an action with common components that are embedded into how we consume and share information and encompass a range of abilities related to reading, writing, speaking, listening, visual, and digital literacy which are essential for effective communication and understanding information. If we can write a sentence in a written literacy language, then we can write a line of code for a computer to understand.
Thinking of literacy and STEM as an integrated approach instead of a separate entity offers a multifaceted framework that not only enhances academic proficiency but also cultivates holistic skills essential for students in the 21st century. A learning experience that integrates multiple subjects when studying a theme helps learners to make strong connections, which in turn strengthens the learning experience for the child. STEAM activities provide a fabulous vehicle for integrated and elevated learning.
Here are elements of support for the integration of literacy and STEAM for elevating student mastery:
- Contextual Relevance: By intertwining and not separating literacy with STEAM, students gain a deeper understanding of how language skills are applied in real-world scenarios. Reading and writing become tools for expressing scientific hypotheses, crafting engineering designs, and articulating mathematical concepts, providing a context that enhances comprehension. Being able to see the relevance of what they are learning
- Problem Solving: One aspect of 21st-century learning is the ability to work through a problem or obstacle. The integration of literacy and STEAM cultivates problem-solving skills as students engage in analytical reading and writing, apply mathematical reasoning, and employ creative problem-solving strategies. This multifaceted approach equips them to tackle complex challenges with a well-rounded skill set.
- Project-Based Learning: An integrated literacy and STEAM approach lends itself seamlessly to project-based learning. Students embark on interdisciplinary projects that require research, collaboration, and effective communication. Whether constructing a model, coding a program, or presenting findings, literacy skills play a pivotal role in the success of projects or assignments.
- Multimodal Expression: Literacy extends beyond traditional text to include various modes of expression. As our modes of communication continue to evolve with technology, it is imperative our students understand how to communicate across platforms. In STEAM fields, students communicate through diagrams, code, visualizations, and presentations. This integration allows for a diverse range of literacy skills development, fostering effective communication in multiple formats. This can be done by video, audio recording, a coded presentation, a visual graph, etc.
- Real-World Applications: Integrating literacy with STEAM emphasizes the practical application of academic knowledge. Students not only comprehend complex concepts but also learn to articulate their understanding effectively and are able to apply with relevance. This prepares them for future careers where the ability to communicate across disciplines is a valuable asset.
Learning happens through the accumulation of knowledge, collaboration of knowledge between people and organizations, changes in self-perception as new knowledge and skills are acquired through application, and other people’s changing perceptions of the learner. Applying to the why creates the acquisition of knowledge. Understanding that literacy is an integral part of preparing students to thrive in the future workforce and society.
So as an educator, how do you integrate?
Start small with quick wins!
STEAM Literacy Bits:
Ask students to find the music lyrics of their favorite artist
Provide 5 minutes.
Then ask students to highlight patterns in vocabulary
Ask students to read through local recipes or advertisements
Provide 5 minutes.
Then ask students to highlight patterns in vocabulary
While reading fiction or nonfiction, point out STEAM vocabulary words like: ‘pattern’, ‘imagine’, ‘gear’, ‘motor’, ‘circuit’, ‘invented’, ‘experiment’, ‘persistence’, ‘count’, ‘compare’, ‘tally’, ‘pixel’, ‘discovery’, ‘’,
Another important nonfiction reading strategy is the ability to learn from the text features on the page while also integrating STEM is to point out:
- timelines and explain how to read them.
Have students write a message to their favorite actor, musician, athlete, friend, etc. Must only be 140 words. (Restricting word count prompts students to
Have students listen to their favorite song or jingle and as they are listening have them note whether they know all of the words.
Record that data, yes or no.
Then, have students write down the chorus of the song or jingle
Then ask students to find the lyrics on Google and see if they were correct!
Read aloud a short story, poem, piece of nonfiction, historical fiction, etc, and as students to draw their thoughts.
Integrate a Speak, Listen, Draw Activity.
Ask students to:
- Pair students up.
- Student A gets an image card to describe to Student B. (An image card could have shapes, a drawing, or photo image)
- Student B draws what Student A describes.
- Students compare the images to see how well they communicated.
Ignite Imagination by giving students a bag of materials from the classroom and asking them to create. Provide 10 minutes for students to create. The creation could be related to a book, content-based, or on a cultural event. Through hands-on learning, students will communicate, read, write, and present all core elements of literacy. (ex. Build a bridge, Build something that floats, Build a new lunchbox)
STEAM and Literacy are two sides of the same coin. They supplement and complement each other when educators plan learning experiences using creative and innovative teaching-learning methods. Definitely, literacy and Steam do not have to be on opposite sides of the education fence but can be well integrated to provide meaningful and engaging learning experiences.
Harmonizing literacy and STEAM creates a holistic educational experience that transcends traditional boundaries. An integrated approach not only prepares students with a diverse skill set but also instills a love for learning by showcasing the interconnectedness of knowledge across disciplines. As we strive to cultivate well-rounded, forward-thinking individuals, the marriage of literacy and STEAM stands as a beacon for educational excellence.