Interview with Mariana Abrahão, educator and partner of the Experiment Project

What is STEAM education?
There are many definitions and especially interpretations of STEAM education, but in general, it is a project-based education policy, which integrates the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math – origin of the acronym.
This integration between the five areas presupposes that students get their hands dirty to actively solve challenges, using previous knowledge and develop new knowledge in a contextualized way and with practical application. Broadly speaking, STEAM education is an active teaching and learning methodology based on projects and, given its multidisciplinary nature, prepares students for the challenges of the 21st century as it helps them to develop social and emotional values and skills.

What is the history behind it? How it came about, where, motivation, objectives.
The movement emerged in the USA when, in the early 2000s, some reports pointed out a drop in young people´s interest in pursuing professional careers in science, technology, engineering and math, which was largely due to the teaching model and traditional and outdated form of transmitting knowledge in a strict manner, without any practical or hands-on practice. Consequently, the country soon realized the negative impact that this factor could have on forming qualified labor for the development of research and innovation – the engines of the economy! – affecting not only school performance indicators (such as PISA, for example), but the industry as a whole.
Thus, given this demand, the STEM curriculum was created to address this demand and foster student interest in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM, initially without the “a”, for arts), and actions were implemented for curriculum reform to take place quickly to address this need.

In addition to the subjects, this approach includes methodologies,
right? Could you explain how they work in more detail, providing
examples?

STEAM learning mainly occurs from a challenge proposed by the teacher to the students. The project-based learning methodology involves investigating the study topic and developing steps to resolve the challenge presented, which can last for one class or for several months.
Very differently from traditional lectures, in which students sit and the teacher “lectures” on the content, in STEAM learning, students are invited to investigate, propose actions, create solutions and develop prototypes, products or proposals in STEAM areas that relate to the problem. By itself, this active approach engages the student in the topic of the class and piques their curiosity – which has been increasingly reduced in young people, who have all the answers in the palm of their hands, on a smartphone, and who watch about 5 hours of classes per day where the answers are given along with the questions by the teachers themselves.

What are the advantages of teaching/learning this way?
Thanks to the project´s methodology and multidisciplinary context, this approach focuses on the practical experience of the scientific method and stimulates the production of new knowledge and not just reproducing or memorizing what is heard in the classroom.
Therefore, among the advantages of learning this way, we can mention the incentive of creativity and curiosity for different topics, problem solving and learning autonomy, since the teacher acts as a mediator and guide in the process – for the teachers, another advantage is also being able to always learn new things along with their students, because each STEAM class is different!

As an educator in this area, what have you observed in the learning results of the students with whom you have contact?
I see greater autonomy and resourcefulness in my students to solve problems
and conflicts, the adoption of fluid communication and many creative
alternatives to overcome the challenges they encounter in the projects we
develop.
This also extends to their daily activities and not just in the classroom,
contributing to them being more critical, more resilient, more reflective and more
collaborative citizens, in addition to being tolerant of different points of view and
opinions. These are essential skills for the 21st century citizen, who must
constantly adapt to the rapid changes in society and the many challenges we
encounter in our routine.

The sooner a student has contact with STEAM education, the better? Is
there a lag when starting STEAM learning later on?

Yes. Contact with the STEAM approach further stimulates curiosity, interest in the area, affinity for the subjects and facilitates the understanding of how things work, in addition to assisting the student in the development of social and emotional skills, problem solving, creativity and teamwork.
Because the approach focuses on students as the leaders of the process, the
development of autonomy and encouragement of participation occurs more quickly, making students more interested in learning and in how things work.

How do you analyze the scope and quality of STEAM education in Brazil
today?

Unfortunately, STEAM education is mostly adopted in private schools, possibly because it is usually associated (mistakenly) with the need to have a very robust infrastructure to develop “hands-on” activities, something that is not a reality at all public schools in Brazil. Therefore, STEAM education has become very exclusive and is seen as being unique, especially in schools that serve sections of the population with a higher economic status and who can pay for extracurricular classes like robotics courses, maker workshops, programming, among others. It must be emphasized that these activities are not, in themselves, STEAM education, considering that there is a failure in the interpretation or understanding of their real meaning.
However, there are very few initiatives on behalf of the state to implement
STEAM teaching in public schools, this challenge being left to entities like the Siemens Foundation, for example, as well as some NGOs to develop teacher training and leverage and disseminate the STEAM curriculum.

Can you tell us about Brazilian cases that are a reference?
As I have mentioned, we know that STEAM education in Brazil is not as
widespread as in other countries like the USA, for example, which has an
educational policy to implement this curriculum in their schools. Thus, from the initiatives we found in the country, we can mention the Siemens Foundation´s program Experimento itself and STEM Brasil, from Worldfund (https://educando.org/pt/stem-brasil/), which is a national teacher training network.
Currently, much has been discussed about reforms in Brazilian education, and the characteristics of STEAM education can be found in High School and BNCC reform, which already adopts teaching by knowledge areas and no longer by subjects, for example.

In the international scenario, where does STEAM education stand out?
And why?

In addition to the United States, where the proposal originated and is more
widely disseminated as a public educational policy, we can mention the work developed in other countries such as Germany, Australia and also some closer to us (geographically and socially), such as Peru, Mexico and Chile, for example, in which there are many public and private initiatives financed and supported by several institutions that deserve to be highlighted.

What is your contact/relationship with the Siemens Foundation?
I started working and supporting Siemens Foundation projects in 2017, when I worked as a pedagogical advisor in the area of Natural Sciences in a private education network in Brazil, with whom the Foundation maintains a partnership with the Program Experimento 4+ and 8+. Since then, I was trained by the Foundation to adopt the methodology of learning through investigation and apply the STEAM concepts using kits with students, in addition to preparing and conducting initial and continuous training with teachers responsible for this application with their students in the same education network. For my training in STEAM and as a teacher of the program Experimento, the Foundation gave me the opportunity to participate in different courses, workshops and national and international events about STEAM and scientific experimentation, which continually foster my interest and performance in the area and strengthen our
partnership in the development of the program Experimento in Brazil.

What can you comment about the work developed by the Siemens
Foundation?

I am a big fan of the work proposed by the program Experimento and the way it spread throughout all regions of our country. The Foundation’s exchange of offering studies and continuing education opportunities to train its partners is closely related to the pillars of the STEAM Program´s proposal, always encouraging “learn how to learn” and providing conditions for educators to see themselves as eternal researchers along with their students. The very close monitoring that the Foundation maintains with its partners in its projects is the fundamental foundation for ensuring good results in its proposal to foster interest in teaching and learning science, to spread good practices in STEAM education and to renew how 21st century citizen skills are learned and developed in a fun, contextualized and innovative way.

Is STEAM education the path to improve Brazil´s position in the PISA
ranking and other indicators that show a worse performance than other countries, mainly in math?

It is certainly one of the necessary paths. In fact, this was one of the reasons why the curriculum was initially created in the USA. We know that when a student likes a subject, they are dedicated and study harder, they want to learn more and encourage themselves to never stop reading and learning about it.
However, due to the educational traditionalism that explores teaching through uninteresting and boring lectures, students lose interest in learning and, therefore, tend to perform worse and worse. Thus, reformulating the way subjects are approached in school is a way to encourage students to learn andenjoy learning, and subsequently improve their learning, which will translate into better results.

In what practical way could this improvement happen?
The experience of practicing scientific methodology is the way in which we can improve students’ understanding of the different subjects, content and skills that are dealt with in different themes during a STEAM project.

STEM or STEAM? What are the practical differences with the inclusion
of art? Which of the two is more widespread?

As I have mentioned, STEM, without the “a” for Arts, was created in the 2000s in the USA, and its conception emphasizes the exact sciences. This “addition” of art in the proposal occurred more recently, when it was noted that STEM could move towards a segmented curricular practice, as well as in the traditional models that have classes by subjects that end in themselves. The proposal to include art in the curriculum brings a different approach to the development of the scientific method, exploring the expression of creativity and giving more space for themes such as design, language, architecture, photography, among others.
However, one should warn that the inclusion of art should not just be seen as a tool, as occurs in many projects due to a lack of deeper understanding of the importance and role that this area may have. For example, carrying out a “STEM” project will not make the experience a “STEAM” one if students paint, draw or even create a sculpture or the prototype.

How does humanities fit in this approach?
STEAM presupposes an interdisciplinary curriculum that relates topics of study of the history and philosophy of Science, very similar to an educational approach known as CTS (Science, Technology and Society), described in several articles and official documents (example: PCN – national curricular parameters). This implies that the study of science is inseparable from social context and problem-solving approaches, and initiatives that exclude humanities from STEAM education fail to promote rich integration, which is in fact what makes this approach unique. However, there are many proposals that exclude arts and humanities from the curriculum, overestimating the exact sciences at the expense of other contextualized knowledge areas, which really help in the practical application of what is learned and develops social and emotional skills.

How is rejection from the students dealt with for those who find exact
sciences easier than humanities and vice versa?

Heterogeneity is very opportune and well regarded for working with STEAM education, since it is based on projects and conceives the adoption of working groups in all proposals. Thus, teamwork requires the need for collaboration and the fact that there are students with different interests and affinities can contribute a lot to the solution to the proposed problems and challenges, since the students’ creativity, in addition to complementary and varied skills” can make all the difference in innovative projects!

What needs to be done, adopted and changed in order to adopt
STEAM at a school?

The school’s pedagogical team needs to keep in mind that adopting STEAM is not just to develop a different and hands-on activity, but to incorporate the five areas in a purposeful way with project-based methodology, which is a challenge for traditional schools, who will need to adapt their planning to adopt a less segmented curriculum in subjects and more flexibility from the point of view of interdisciplinarity, working by theme and skill and not by content and subject. In addition, the crucial point for implementing STEAM is to invest in training teachers who will lead the classes, since they will need to gather knowledge from the five areas and especially the methodologies and strategies specific to project-based learning. Although the infrastructure is not an essential condition in order to implement a STEAM project at the school, having different technology and materials (scrap, wood, plastics, straws, etc.) to create prototypes and carry out hands-on activities and a proper space for these classes is ideal. There are different ways to apply STEAM, either during regular periods or in evening workshops, for example, incorporating programming and robotics in the curriculum for creating prototypes.
Finally, culminating the completion of projects with presentations at a science fair or STEAM event is an excellent opportunity to disseminate learning to the school community.

For educators/schools that want to have contact with this methodology, what are the best ways?
There is a lot of material on the internet to start studies about STEAM, whether on social media, blogs or channels that post materials and disseminate the experiences with STEAM classes and that can serve as inspiration and generate ideas to understand and fall in love with the methodology. There is the Science Buddies website, which has a very interesting blog (http://www.sciencebuddies.org /https://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog ), despite being in English, it is worth checking out.

Finally, could you give your full name and a brief summary of your
academic and professional experiences, including what you currently do?

Mariana Abrahão, 32 years old, biologist and educator.
I have a degree in Biological Sciences (2008) and worked as a researcher until 2015, when I completed my doctorate in Biosystems – an event that made me decide that I wanted to commit myself completely and entirely to science education in Brazil. Since I graduated, I have worked as a teacher in basic education since 2009, teaching science, biology and chemistry classes for elementary and high school students, in addition to teaching in higher education since 2016 in undergraduate and graduate courses. I worked as a national Pedagogical Advisor in the area of Natural Sciences (when I started my work with the Siemens Foundation as Project coordinator and teacher trainer) and as a Pedagogical Consultant for basic private education networks in Brazil. I have experience with training basic education teachers and also training STEAM educators. Currently, I work as a pedagogical coordinator in a network of schools in the Greater São Paulo area and continue my partnership with the Siemens Foundation and the program Experimento, passionate about STEAM Education

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