by Matter & Form on July 3, 2019

From climate change to global healthcare issues, our collective society is currently tasked with finding sustainable solutions to a number of growing global challenges.1 The students currently sitting in classrooms will soon grow up and have to rise to the challenge of solving these global problems.

Why We Need a New Approach to Education

To best equip our future problem solvers, we need students to be learning and developing critical skills like inquiry, creativity, and the ability to learn from another person’s perspective.

However, the traditional school system currently in place does not prioritize these necessary skills. Reflecting our past rather than our future, traditional schooling was set up in the age of industrialization to prepare students for the hyper-regulation and rigorous discipline of factory work. Though many of the more antiquated methods have fallen out of style, modern educational practices are alarmingly similar to the ones created in the 18th and 19th centuries: siloed subjects, a heavy reliance on abstract concepts, the teacher as an authority figure, the prioritizing of memorization and repetition over creativity.

Traditionally, teachers have taken the role of “talking heads” at the front of the classroom, teaching students to memorize facts and repeat them back on tests. But in a world where we can all pull out our smartphones and look up facts within seconds, education models need to move from a focus on memorization to a focus on learning how to think critically.

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How STEAM Learning Contributes to the Solution

With a desperate need for a new approach to education, educational trends like STEM and STEAM might just be the needed solution. STEM combines the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through a single subject to focus on hands-on learning and real-world applications of these closely-connected subjects. The term STEAM simply adds arts into the mix.

STEAM education is an excellent way to ingrain fundamental skills of logic, reasoning, critical thinking and complex problem solving that students will need as they move from the classroom into the world.

STEAM learning is largely about designing creative solutions for real-world problems. When students learn within the context of authentic, problem-based STEAM or STEM design, they can more clearly see the genuine impact of their learning. This kind of relevant skill-building encourages engagement, taking students from groans of, “When will I ever use this?” to a genuine connection between skills and application.

How STEAM Projects Solve Real Global Challenges

In a world where issues like globalization, climate change, human healthcare and rapid technological changes are top-of-mind, students will find immediate value and purpose in this curriculum.

These STEAM projects solve real-world problems and are great ways to prepare, inspire and motivate students to face these unique challenges head-on:

  1. Preventing soil erosion: In this project, students from the sixth to twelfth grade can learn to build a seawall to protect a coastline from erosion, and calculate wave energy to determine the best materials for the job.
  2. Growing food during a flood: In this project, students explore a problem faced by farmers in Bangladesh and figure out how to grow food when floods devastate communities.
  3. Solving a city’s design needs: In this project, middle or high school students can get involved in urban planning, by identifying a city’s issues, navigating transportation, environment, and overcrowding to figure out design solutions.

Rather than just relying on rote memorization, the classroom should be a place where students take the opportunity to work together and collaborate for a creative consensus. Ideas can and should be discussed and tweaked until students come up with fleshed-out solutions to the problems that have been presented. This approach instills an innate sense of how to work with others, how to take on suggestions and how to adapt to differing viewpoints.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The modern classroom has to support innovation. As the underpinning of manufacturing, food production, healthcare, environmental protection and so much more, our world literally depends on the development and advancement of STEM and STEAM learning models. Fostering innovation through a STEAM education is our next step in raising a generation of problem solvers and critical thinkers.

Download the free guide to the future of STEM with lesson plans included here >>


  1. GVI, Six Critical Global Issues | What Are The World’s Biggest Problems And How Can I Help?