STEM, STREAM, and Montessori?

Education is an evolving subject bursting with ground-breaking research, modern philosophies, and renewed programs. Having listened to the latest rumbles about STEM and STrEaM education, imagine my surprise to find them reminiscent of my Montessori childhood!

Gaining popularity by 2008, STEM, an acronym proposed by academic administrator Judith A. Ramaley as a substitute for the original “SMET”, is an educational philosophy that integrates the science, technology, engineering, and math curricula in one program. However, more recent arguments criticize STEM’s restricted focus and suggest STrEaM education, adding reading/writing and art to the STEM program. Georgette Yakman describes STrEaM as “Science and Technology, interpreted through Engineering and the Arts, conveyed through reading and writing, all based in elements of Mathematics.”

Both STEM and STrEaM programs create a collaborative peer environment of self-guided learning, hands-on projects, and assimilation of learning material with world problems. Interestingly, the description strikes up the spitting image of a Montessori classroom!

Classrooms are sectioned into five areas, each dedicated to one of the five Montessori subjects: practical life, sensorial development, language (reading, writing, and speech) development, math development, and cultural and science studies. From dust pans, blocks, flash cards, beads, and puzzles, all class materials and projects are hands-on. With the freedom to choose their own work, students take charge of their own education as they reflect on their actions, problem-solve with peers, improve from mistakes, and guide beginning students. Through open class discussions, students relate their personal experiences with those of their peers and with their learning material, allowing them to understand the world in both a broad and narrow view. Ultimately, these students develop their critical thinking skills, academic abilities, creativity, focus, teamwork, and leadership. While the ideas of STEM and STrEaM  are making their way to public education, these concepts are not new to the Montessori classroom!