STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education is certainly getting a lot of attention right now. Many programs seek to transform STEM into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) with the belief that this will drive innovation. What these acronyms are still neglecting is the connection between social intelligence and STEM or STEAM education. More than ever, successful companies rely on effective social networking and creative marketing to reach the public and sell their products. How can we incorporate these essential social and creative skills into our STEAM educational programs?

Primarily, our educational systems need to focus on growing a student's social intelligence and critical thinking skills within the context of STEAM education. There are six key areas of social growth that can strengthen STEAM educational effectiveness: social communication, nonverbal communication, group dynamics, expression, problem solving, and managing conflict. A great way to incorporate these skills into a STEAM classroom is through group projects.

Social Communication

Social communication really is its own language. Communicating socially begins with simply introducing yourself to others. Students need to be able to concisely discuss their own unique experiences, values and interests to others. When getting to know others, they need practice valuing others as individuals. This includes remembering names and the experiences, values, and interests that others share with them. Students also need practice finding common ground between these experiences, values, and interests. Focusing on developing active listening skills and enthusiasm will help. Within a STEAM classroom, students in a specific group can assign themselves roles within the group based on personal interests.

Nonverbal Communication

Students may not realize that their expressions and mannerisms tell a lot about them. When working within a group, students need to realize that their voice, including tone and volume, needs to be clear and loud enough to catch the attention of all group members. Eye contact and facial expressions are also important so that a student can tell if those around her understand and agree with what she is saying. Finally, body expressions and posture can either convey confidence and enthusiasm for an idea or disagreement and doubt. It's important to address any differences in opinion right away so that they do not undermine the project later.

Group Dynamics

Within a STEAM project-based classroom, group dynamics play a key role. Both the whole classroom and each individual project team affect group dynamics. The group will better understand what is expected of them if a clear and concise rubric is used. The rubric allows for a great starting point for group conversation and produces better posters or products overall. Students can practice skills like asking questions, sharing, and cooperating within the group to establish a group identity around common ground and accepted differences. It's important to note the importance of rules within the group dynamic as well. Some rules are strictly adhered to, like those that involve the safety and wellbeing of group members. Other rules are a bit more flexible, like those where no one gets hurt or suffers. Working through ambiguity within a group is a very advanced social skill and one that will serve well in the workplace as well.

Expressing Feelings

Expressing feelings within a classroom team is important for continued success down the road. Students should practice identifying and regulating their feelings while also empathizing with the feelings of others. Practicing constructive ways to deal with difficult emotions is key. For example, a student may feel frustrated that her part of a project is taking more time than someone else's. She might try using "I statements" like: "I'm frustrated that I found three pages worth of research while Jake found only one. I'm going to take a walk to the water fountain to cool off." Jake might empathize with her and offer to summarize her longer research while she summarizes his. This way, students resolve feelings in a way that helps build stronger relationships in the long run. The goal is that everyone within the team learns and grows from the experience of being in a group. The way this growth manifests may be different for each student. Students should feel confident and successful about the results of their project and want to do a similar one in the future.

Problem Solving

Problem solving in a group setting involves a lot of collaboration and having interdisciplinary or broad backgrounds often encourages unique and creative solutions. Within a STEAM classroom, this process should include some creative brainstorming, alternative solutions, and finally a best solution agreed upon by the team. Being able to identify problem causing behaviors and obstacles will allow members to refocus their attitudes when needed. The growth mindset is a great tool here. The growth mindset, recently popularized by Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler, postulates that intelligence is not fixed. Every time that we make a mistake, we find an opportunity for growth. This is true within a group project as well. The group may refocus their efforts if they realize that their original solution it not ideal. Improvement is a key aspect of innovation.

Managing Conflict

Managing conflict within a group involves several key social skills. Standing up for oneself is an essential life skill that can be practiced within a school group setting. This involves maintaining a positive self-image, dealing with bullying/teasing, and being assertive. Another life skill practiced in groups is the ability to compromise. This skill includes creating a win-win scenario for all those involved. It also involves identifying and negotiating for needs over wants. Everyone should feel like they gave something and got something in return. A final important life skill is the ability to revisit a conflict if the outcome is not satisfactory to all. This involves problem solving skills (mentioned above) like analyzing the outcomes and posing alternative solutions. Students in groups often need to manage conflicts that arise from uneven workload distribution. If a group realizes that one student is carrying most of the workload, the members should revisit their roles and reassign work as needed. Managing issues like this one helps everyone feel respected and allows for additional opportunities to work together in the future.

In summary, whatever acronym it uses, STEM and STEAM education needs to focus on growing a student's social intelligence and critical thinking skills within the context of a science, technology, engineering, art, or math group project. The six key areas of social growth that can strengthen STEAM educational effectiveness are social communication, nonverbal communication, group dynamics, expression, problem solving, and managing conflict. A great way to incorporate these skills into a STEAM classroom is through well thought out and structured group projects like the sample lesson and project below. Individual student roles within the group and clear, concise rubrics for assessment help build these social skills into the educational framework (see example below).

math-group-research-project math-group-research-project-2


Photo Credit: Adaptation of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Jennifer Aldridge. Copyright 2014. Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Tagged in : Math, Education

New Math Teacher boasts an enthusiastic team of passionate lifelong learners who love to grow that passion in others as well. Our curriculum specialists love to post creative and engaging ideas about math education and learning. We welcome helpful feedback and constructive criticism.