5 ways to develop creative STEAM projects.

STEAM and Creativity

Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? has had over 56 million views. It is widely accepted that one rationale for STEAM’s emergence as an educational tidal wave is that it supports the development of 21st century competencies. Among these competencies is creativity.

Will all STEAM projects support the development of creativity? How do we know our STEAM projects are supporting students to be creative? When is a STEAM project not creative?

It is possible to deliver a STEAM project to students which kills creativity. Without significant and purposeful learning design STEAM learning can inhibit the very things we are trying to support students to develop. Here are five tidbits of thought to help you think critically about STEAM and creativity.

[bctt tweet=”Can STEAM kill creativity? #utbpd #STEAMchat #STEM” username=”MrTTHATCH”]


Tidbit One: Lateral Thinking

Creative practitioners often test numerous avenues of inquiry before deciding on a relevant or preferred outcome. Providing students with a predefined outcome and the steps to get to it will actively inhibit students ability to develop creative competencies. If you are not able to provide a completely open ended brief try providing multiple options or solutions for a given problem. Also support students to use brainstorming, listing and concept sketching so that they become familiar with lateral thinking strategies.

Tidbit Two: Resourcefulness

Lateral thinking skills are not only useful for identifying possible outcomes, they are also useful in harnessing the resources to realise one’s solution. Intentionally setting up situations where students have to beg, borrow, source, scavenge, adapt, invent and manage the very resources they need to complete the project will mimic real world problem solving. Making the most of limited human, material and financial resources is part of real world STEAM.

[bctt tweet=” Supporting students to be resourceful is a key element of STEAM learning #utbpd #STEAMchat #STEM ” username=”MrTTHATCH”]


Tidbit Three: Discipline

Successful creatives are disciplined. They have stickability and they are resilient. Being creative is not just the ability to identify innovative solutions it is also the dedication to slowly evolve a specific idea.

Creatives do not do random. Picasso spent nearly 50 years slowly evolving a set of very specific ideas, the band Radiohead have slowly but steadily extended their enquiry over a long career. Creativity is about seeing an idea through to the end and not throwing the baby out with the bath water but instead identifying small tweaks that can extend and improve a given solution. By supporting students to stick with an idea even though it’s hard and providing them with problem solving strategies rather than accepting a complete change of idea, they will develop creative.

Tidbit Four: Curiosity

Creativity is about asking questions that no one else dares to ask. There are only complex problems left in the world and there are no simple answers to be found.

Actively supporting students to begin a STEAM project with a question that is complex and ambitious will ensure they develop a deep curiosity about the world around them. Praising students for the amount of questions they can ask rather than the answers they can give will ensure they are curious learners. Valuing those activities which make a reasonable attempt at an impossible answer rather than those which successfully realise an obvious conclusion will create future ready students.

[bctt tweet=” The heart of creativity is asking complex questions #utbpd #STEAMchat #STEM
” username=”MrTTHATCH”]


Tidbit Five: Process not Product

Masterful, creative practitioners will follow a process of lateral thinking, iteration and focused refinement to realise a successful outcome. They strive to balance confidence (ego) and self-doubt (criticality) in order to put an idea through its paces while also maintaining momentum. Following a process such as Design Thinking will help students develop an internal quality control process where they can identify the strengths of an idea as well foci for improvement. A focus on process can ensure that when problems occur students do not blame themselves, rather they diagnose flaws in the objective process.

Five ways to encourage creativity
  1. Facilitate lateral thinking strategies
  2. Encourage resourcefulness
  3. Develop discipline
  4. Celebrate complex questions
  5. Focus on process not product

The above tidbits are interrelated and are complex problems themselves. One sure fire way to address many of these ‘creativity concerns’ is to ensure a process such as Design Thinking or Project Based Learning is the backbone of your STEAM programme. If you are just starting out on your STEAM journey look for educational technology products that offer resources that support active decision making and not necessarily fixed outcomes. The SAM Labs resource are a good example of this.

It is ok to focus on fixed outcomes when convenient but if possible try to hide these from students so that they have the illusion of being in a true creative zone. For creative STEAM to occur the teacher often acts like a magician disguising the solution to a question and allowing the students to feel a sense of mystery and wonder.

Check out our Getting Started with STEAM online courses to help you develop purposeful STEAM projects for your students.

[bctt tweet=”Design Thinking and Project Based Learning help to ensure STEAM learning is truly creative #utbpd #STEAMchat #STEM #PBL #DesignThinking” username=”MrTTHATCH”]

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