The STEAM-Active (Project Number: 2021-1-ES01-KA220-HED-000032107) project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

Connected Learning in STEAM Classrooms: Opportunities for Engaging Youth in Science and Math Classrooms

Partners' Institution
University of the Basque Country
Year of publication
Educational stage
Secondary Level
Journal name
International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
Thematic Area
STEAM intervention (teaching strategies, evaluation...), Definition and characteristics of STEAM
STEAM education evolved to address the critical demand for creative transdisciplinary teaching that was under-realized in STEM programs. However, this novel concept has not been clearly conceptualized; this is likely attributed to the lack of a grounding theory to frame STEAM. We propose using connected learning theory to examine a previously developed STEAM conceptual model. This work explores the potential of connected learning theory to understand specific STEAM instructional practices. Using observations of 43 middle-grade teachers from 14 schools enacting STEAM practices in their classrooms, we examined what connected learning looked like in STEAM classrooms and how the STEAM conceptual model could be enhanced by analyzing implementation practices through the principles of connected learning. The qualitative data analysis of observations, video recorded data, and debriefing sessions with teachers after the observations included two rounds of analysis. This found significant overlap in ideas of connected learning and STEAM, notably a shared emphasis on design, collaboration, and contextualized learning.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
This work explores the potential of connected learning (CL) in theory to understand specific STEAM instructional practices. This integrated approach is reminiscent of other pedagogical approaches such as science, technology, and society (STS) and socioscientific issues (SSI). In this paper, they examined what CL looked like in STEAM classrooms and how STEAM implementation practices are enhanced by analyzing implementation practices through the principles of CL.
The premise of CL is that to understand learning, one must understand the social processes that are situated in and across contexts—emphasizing social learning “situations” and processes in everyday life. Connected learning describes merging together what Ito et al. (2013, p. 62) termed three “spheres of learning.” These include students’ peer cultures, their interests, and the academic realm. They noted the three do not traditionally overlap, but CL can occur at the intersection of all three. The peer-supported context includes students’ interactions with one another to provide feedback, ask questions of one another, and socialize. Interest-powered contexts center around students’ interests—interests are the foundation of the work; there are supports for them to become experts in their areas of interest, and their work around those interests is shared and valued. Finally, the academically oriented context includes linking students’ work with one another around their interests to adult experts, career opportunities, and their communities.
On the other hand, the descriptions and plans are not comprehensive enough to offer teachers a model for implementing STEAM education in their classrooms. Instead, what often happens is teachers utilize the existing STEM curriculum and call it STEAM by adding in a component of art (e.g. drawing, coloring, designing). The results of this type of implementation are mixed: students either saw this as so similar to their science and math classrooms that it did not engage them or they did not see how the arts could be used beyond the visual arts.
The STEAM conceptual model includes seven instructional approaches that shape the classroom environment. These include a problem-based approach, authentic tasks, multiple solutions, student choice, technology integration, teacher facilitation, and discipline integration.
To allow for peer support, interest-driven and academically focused instruction, a way forward is to create locally relevant STEAM problem scenarios for students to solve. Those scenarios directly should relate to students’ local environments to increase their interest before connecting the problem solving to national or global issues.
When the teachers connected the ideas from multiple content areas to the problem-solving, students saw how the skills and knowledge learned from one content related to solving the problem outside of a specific content area. Students were offered numerous ways to see how ideas were interconnected and given a variety of ways to solve the problem. However, this had implications for the structure of schooling. Planning time, resources, and flexibility are needed to assist teachers in bridging this integration and intentionality. This suggests that teachers need to practice designing curricula that support open-ended or guided inquiry to promote opportunities for students to engage in problem-solving using self-regulation techniques.
Point of Strength
This paper explains the benefits that connected learning has when talking about STEAM education. Figure 2 of the article describes how connected learning aligns to STEAM in a very detailed way.
Connected learning . Professional development . STEAM