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What is STEAM education and why is it important?

Jul
STEM July 17, 2022

If there is one thing most children have in common, it is their passion for learning the unknown. Many a parent or teacher has experienced a child questioning their judgment, instructions or simply their thoughts on matters of life. Children are known for asking adults to divulge on topics that kids don’t understand, a product of the human instinct of curiosity that is heightened due to their limited age and experience. At Hill Aerospace Museum, we use this passion for learning to enlighten the next generation in core subjects important to the field of aviation and aerospace science. Building on the concept of STEAM, we offer a variety of free and exciting programs for kids of all ages. This article discusses the importance of STEAM and how staff at the museum use it in their education programs. These STEAM programs help represent the Education Center’s mission: providing a safe and unique learning environment while strengthening the relationship between Hill Air Force Base and surrounding communities.

What is STEAM? How is it different from STEM?

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. While the acronym adds just one more category to STEM education (Art), it connects the sciences to real-life models and allows children to take what they learn and practice it creatively. For us, this means an additional emphasis on two things: history and culture. By incorporating history with art, Hill Aerospace Museum’s Education Center helps children to connect individual science topics with the significance of a bigger picture by showing real historical examples of what humans have learned and by sharing the stories of their journey.

While many education programs have begun to explain the sciences in more practical, art-driven ways, our use of historical examples of art and aerospace mechanics differentiates us from other educational programs and helps us create thorough, entertaining lessons that captivate a student’s attention. STEAM allows us to move from singular explanations of science topics to an experience that involves more of the human story, art and curiosity. Each of our education lessons integrates some form of historical object, art activity or hands-on experiment to enliven the learning environment and teach critical thinking skills to students, while also keeping them interested and involved throughout the class. This interdisciplinary approach helps students master core concepts set out for educators in state and national guidelines. Whether launching rockets, building electrical circuits or creating their own versions of airplane nose art, every experience is meant to allow children to focus their attention on important subject matter while using their hands to design and build on their knowledge.

The Summer STEAM Program

Each summer, the Aerospace Center for Education creates a public program to help kids grow more interested in aerospace science and history, using STEAM. Our STEAM Summer Passport program is free for all and the curriculum is designed for children ages seven and up. The main classes taught by staff vary each year, but often include lessons on chemistry, weather, the laws of physics, electricity, the four forces of flight, rockets and how energy works. During the summer, students can “graduate” from this program after attending and completing a handful of the courses.

Each class elaborates on how the Air Force uses science in everyday examples. Simple findings such as Newton’s laws of physics, how to gain lift or the differences between chemical and physical changes are important to how the Air Force is able to construct and fly aircraft. This program not only teaches children vital core subjects in STEAM, but it helps them to enjoy the museum tenfold knowing more about mechanics of the aircraft, and the stories behind those who have built them, flown them or worked with them over time. To see the full descriptions of the classes, click here!

History in STEAM

One of the most important ways to help students understand how our science lessons relate to a larger understanding of the world, is by sharing the human stories that our science lessons build upon and connect to. From the history and importance of Hill Air Force Base to personal stories told by veterans, students can recognize the importance of the Air Force in this region. Our courses open a broad range of study, such as the impact of military bases on local populations, women in aviation, airplane nose art, the use of political cartoons in history, technological advancements such as the Minuteman ICBM or live Q&A sessions with veteran volunteers. Students are able to obtain a deeper connection to the history and culture of aviation in Utah with these courses. We want each student to leave our classes having grasped a wider concept about their local community’s importance as well as why the Air Force is crucial to many achievements in U.S. history. If scheduling or health conflicts with students’ ability to attend classes face-to-face, we also often offer a virtual option for watching online.

Education for All

Hanging dog tags from Utah’s Fallen Exhibit

For children too young for the STEAM program, we offer a brief lesson on helicopters and how they can fly! Children will also be able to create and fly their own helicopters. The museum also hosts a C-130 experience for all families to appreciate during the duration of their visit. Patrons can go into the body of a C-130 where they are greeted by volunteers. Families can learn more about the importance of this aircraft, and if scheduled in advance, will be able to sit in the cockpit.

Conclusion

The inclusion of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics in practical, historical and cultural ways is the key to building effective learning experiences in our education center. Adding historical examples, art and more hands-on experiments to our classes helps children become better acquainted with real world examples and enables them to build their own skills and knowledge.

Assisting kids in connecting scientific material with events outside of the classroom can also improve their urge to research further while seeing the world from a different perspective. When STEAM is applied properly in a museum setting, every student should be able to leave having gained greater insight into the world they live in, and an appreciation for the past that has brought them there.

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