The ‘M’ In STEAM Education: Better Mathematics Teaching For Improved Outcomes
Considered by some as the true universal language, Mathematics has been a major factor in building our history and shaping our future and is a key component of any STEAM program.
Math is literally everywhere as an integral part of all fields of study. It’s responsible for the discoveries that we hear about in our day-to-day lives and is largely considered asthe one language that is unequivocally used by all, regardless of culture, religion and gender.
With the rapid growth of 4IR industries, opportunities abound for STEAM Education graduates in the fields of engineering, science and technology. And guess what? Mathematics is a common thread shared by all these disciplines, and the Arts too, wherever patterns, volume, shapes and representation are used to delight the senses. Mathematics is everywhere.
Teaching the science of quantity
In the traditional school setting mathematics and related subjects like physics have often been the bane of many a student’s existence, invoking significant anxiety when the formula on the page don’t make sense or the calculations fail no matter how right they feel. Yet for others, math is a joy, its magical and exciting and powerful and acing the exams is a breeze. We have generally compartmentalized students at school into those that are good at math, and those that are not.
But bad math is a serious problem, as it generally means poor physics results, bad chemistry scores, and even trouble with subjects like geography and biology. But any student can master math given an ideal learning environment, and it’s an important skill more children should be adept at, and confident with. And in contrast to popular belief, many young students actually like Math once they master the basics and start to think like a mathematician.
The lion’s share of issues tends to arise when learners fail to understand and master concepts properly before moving to more advanced concepts, and thus carrying over their skills gap. Compounding mistakes and growing skills gaps create frustration, anxiety and a loss of confidence, which leads to more serious problems such as complete lack of focus, cheating and experiencing “Math blocks”.
Some of the most effective strategies being used to improve Math teaching outcomes are aligned with the STEAM Education methodologies. These include framing a math problem in a multidisciplinary context, something real world that children can relate to. Another is to encourage learners to work in groups to solve the problem, allowing students to propose one or two solutions themselves to solve the challenge, rather than being too directive by giving them the exact process or formula to follow as generally is the case in traditional math teaching. This helps increase engagement and promote deeper thinking and problem solving, and encourages other important soft skills key to math mastery, like persistence.
New approaches like these facilitate a more effective learning experience as students are given the opportunity to connect ideas together for themselves, and determine their own strategies for solving problems. STEAM Education does exactly this, and new Math teaching approaches can be complimented further with blended learning using games and multimedia, and additionally offline activities including maker activities, excursions and playground experiments, also being incorporated into many STEAM programs. Math is also an important element in teaching kids to code, another engaging modality to help introduce math in a multidisciplinary setting like creating a simple computer game or animation sequence. Basically a blended approach is a great approach, with plenty of options for educators.
Math in application
Thanks to Math, astrophysicist’s have already been able to decipher the very fabric of our universe, and see intothe far reaches of the Cosmos.As 4IR technologies help level up simulations and modelling, math used across many disciplines will help us understand the seemingly intangible concepts like interstellar travel, multiple planes of dimensions, and maybe even time travelling.
It’s exciting times for Mathematicians! And for STEAM program graduates, creative opportunities abound to be at the forefront of new science and technologies that are driven in part by the power of math to construct, test and prove theories and applications or as a significant component of these. In our schools, STEAM education and new methodologies to teaching math in a more engaging, multidisciplinary and inquiry based way are key to breaking traditional stigma’s and improving learning outcomes to empower more students with the magic of the one true universal language.