The What and Why of STEAM Learning

Click HERE to join our Henrico STEAM Professional Learning Course

For the join code- contact Rachael Toy - K-12 STEAM Specialist


Students engaged in STEAM learning experiences:

  • Apply life-ready skills and core content knowledge across disciplines
  • Broaden their interest and expand their talents in STEAM-related fields
  • Participate in hands-on learning driven by inquiry, collaboration, and critical thinking

STEAM Learning grows students' 6 Cs as defined in the HLP.

STEAM learning experiences provide an authentic context through which learners develop the key skills and attributes as defined within the Henrico Learner Profile.

By incorporating strategic use of the Deeper Learning Model pillars that learning is Anytime, Anywhere, Authentic and Connected, Student Owned, and Community Supported, STEAM is one of the key approaches to teaching and learning that embody our commitment to the learner as a whole.

Visit the Henrico Learner Profile overview page for more detail on these key skills and attributes.

STEAM integrates learning across disciplines.

STEAM Learning experiences mirror the real world.

Organizing STEAM learning experiences for your students can be done in a variety of ways to fit your learning objectives and student outcomes. In moving further toward a more transdisciplinary approach, student learning becomes more authentic and mimics the real world.


Standards of the disciplines are organized around a theme. Concepts and skills are learned separately in each discipline.


Knowledge and skills are interconnected and interdependent. Concepts and skills from two or more disciplines are tightly linked so as to deepen knowledge and skills.


By undertaking real-world problems, application of knowledge and skills from two or more disciplines are required to shape the learning experience.

STEAM connects learning to career pathways.

By 2020, more than a third of the core skill sets required for most jobs will include skills that aren’t considered crucial today. Nearly nine in 10 workers anticipate having to develop new skills all throughout their lives to keep up with the changes. And the most crucial skills they’ll need, according to many experts, are cross-disciplinary ones.

~ISTE.org Article

The How of STEAM Learning

STEAM learning experiences encourage students to design solutions through an interdisciplinary approach that mirrors the world outside of classroom walls. While experiences vary depending on the context of the learning goals, some common characteristics emerge between and among most STEAM experiences.

The HCPS STEAM Design Tool highlights aspects of the learning experience that are foundational to STEAM Learning. Below are some resources aligned to those aspects of the learning experience.

STEAM Design Tool_DRAFT.pdf

Authentic Problems

Inquiry-Driven Processes

Learner Voice and Choice

Strategic Use of Technology

Critique and Revision

Authentic Audience

Planning for STEAM

What does planning integrated STEAM learning experiences look like? Take a look at this example from BIE.org

Sources for Authentic Problems

The United Nations' Global Goals for Sustainable Development bring together a series of ambitious targets to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and fix climate change for everyone by 2030.

The National Academy of Engineering's 14 Grand Challenges highlight 14 game-changing goals for improving life on the planet, aligned to the cross-cutting themes of Sustainability, Health, Security, and Joy of Living.

SciStarter - Find, join, and contribute to science through access to more than 2700 searchable formal and informal ongoing research projects and events.

Google Arts and Culture is an online platform through which the public can access thematically curated high-resolution images of artworks housed in the initiative’s partner museums.

CommonLit.org organizes resources around common themes and driving questions that could serve as the basis for an authentic problem within a STEAM experience.

Newsela provides searchable up to the minute articles that can be adjusted by reading level for the student.

NewseumED provides free quality online resources to cultivate the skills to authenticate, analyze, and evaluate information from a variety of sources and to provide historical context to current events.

Inquiry models and design cycles

Henrico STEAM Thinking process gives our elementary classrooms a common language and process for students to become the problem solvers of the future!

Citizen Science Toolkit shows five basic process steps for planning, designing, and carrying out a project. Each step contains a list of tips to keep the project on track, as well as case studies and examples.

Geo-Inquiry Process by National Geographic uses drivers of Ask, Collect, Visualize, Create, and Act to empower students to connect complex components, see patterns, and make connections to change communities.

Liberatory Design Toolkit designed in collaboration between Stanford d.school's K12Lab and The National Equity Project offers a design process as well as sample "Do Nows" to put the plan into motion.

The LAUNCH cycle highlighted in Spencer and Juliani's Launch: Using the Design Thinking Process to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student identifies key steps for students to engage in design thinking.

HCPS STEAM Thinking Process_11x17 Poster.pdf

Collections of STEAM-Inspired Learning Experiences

Buck Institute Project Search - Search by content area at first but find projects that are cross-curricular and leveled for the beginner to the advanced.

Daily Create - A space for regular practice of spontaneous creativity through challenges published every day.

Engineering Everywhere - Twelve units developed by Engineering Is Elementary with fun, hands-on activities based on real-world engineering challenges.

eGFI (Engineering, Go For It!) - Lessons and resources curated by the American Society for Engineering Education.

Glenn Engineering Design Challenges - Glenn Engineering Design Challenges (EDCs) will connect students, at both in-school and out-of-school settings, with the unique challenges faced by NASA scientists and engineers as they design the next generation of aeronautic and space vehicles, habitats, and technology.

Maker Education - A collection of ideas for bringing maker-infused learning experiences into the classroom.

PBS Design Squad - A collection of hands on design activities and free club programming guides.

MathScienceMusic - A free toolkit for teachers, bringing together the best resources in math, science, and music.

NatureWorks Everywhere - Interactive lesson plans that give teachers, students and families everything they need to start exploring and understanding nature around the globe alongside Nature Conservancy scientists.

Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons - A public digital library of open educational resources.

Workbench Education - Access a collection of sample projects organized by grade level and subject area of focus.

Processes for Planning and Designing STEAM Experiences

Design for Change - Encourage your students to articulate their own ideas for a better world and to put them into action using this one week format.

ISKME's STEAM Design Challenge - Teachers engage in a problem-based process to design a prototype for an arts integration student project (SLANT Summer Institute, San Francisco Unified School District).

Contemporary Quest Model - A resource created by Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Marie Hubley Adcock in their ASCD book Bold Moves for identifying the scope and scale of a STEAM learning experience.

Education Closet - A defined process to create your STEAM Lesson. (Folder from June 21st PD)

BIE Driving Question Tubric - This tool can help students and teachers alike write Driving Questions by framing initial words, person or entity, action or challenge, and audience/purpose.

Your Best Book Resources for Designing STEAM Learning Experiences

STEM by Design is a wonderful starter. Learn about what makes a good STEAM/STEM lesson and get concrete examples. Check out the companion site for more!

When looking at where to incorporate a STEAM learning experience, there are several approaches. STEM Lesson Essentials helps you visualize entry points and design based on your learning community.

This book gives a unique view point for elementary with some solid strategies for designing your STEAM/STEM learning experiences.

Interested in the brain science behind STEAM? This resource explains why authentic and connected problem solving is essential for life-readiness for our students. There is also an array of lesson structures to aid in your design from elementary all the way up to high school.

Link to Schoology Group for additional resources - Coming Soon!