One of the things that drew me to a STEAM approach is that I believed it offered a way to Indigenize (which is herein defined as reflecting and valuing Indigenous knowledge in both educational content and pedagogical approaches) and decolonize curricula, since a STEAM approach is culturally responsive and inclusive. I also happen to think it's very My Prairie Spirit Classroom (MPSC).
Here is an excerpt from a paper titled, "The Train Has Left the Station: STEM Should Become STEAM", which I wrote for an Educational Administration university class earlier this year.
The Government of Canada has acknowledged the racism its educational system has historically inflicted on Indigenous peoples, herein defined as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. It has begun the much-needed process of seeking to Indigenize its educational system; STEAM education would positively contribute to this process. One way to Indigenize curricula is by “developing culturally appropriate curricula” (“Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future”, 2015, p. 321), which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada suggested the government do. For the following reasons a STEAM approach would be a much more culturally responsive approach than the traditional Eurocentric one that is so often reflected in today’s classrooms.
The current educational system often treats various subjects as separate entities which, from an Indigenous worldview, is not conducive to learning. Aikenhead and Elliot (2010) wrote that while their worldviews vary, both Indigenous and European knowledge offer valid ways to “understand the physical world” (p. 329). An Indigenous perspective does not view knowledge as “linear but generational and interconnected, therefore, education for Indigenous children must be holistic and inclusive” (Smith, 2016, p. 54). One way to decolonize one’s pedagogical approach is to “Consider arts based and non-dominant forms of demonstrating understanding including re-storying, photo essay, performance, reflective writing” (Pete, n.d., p. 6). STEAM challenges the current Eurocentric view of how STEM subjects are often taught, since an integrative Arts approach is less compartmentalized and more holistic. Saskatchewan’s most recent science curriculum has been praised for successfully including Indigenous knowledge by integrating it into “each of the four units of study at each grade in an attempt to avoid tokenism” (Aikenhead & Elliot, 2010, pp. 329-330). Arguably, a STEAM approach would additionally Indigenize curricula because of its interdisciplinary, creative, nature.
In addition, the STEAM approach is a student-centered one. Student-centered learning contrasts with “the traditional classroom where the culture of the teacher is given central focus and has the power to deem what constitutes appropriate and acceptable knowledge, approaches to learning, understandings and sense-making process” (Bishop, 1998, p. 741). Smith (2016) explained that, “Using culturally responsive pedagogy like co-constructed learning helps to decolonize education. Co-construction is powerful because it places the student at the center of the learning and makes the learning relevant to them” (p. 55). The “Joint task force on improving education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Metis People” report says that what is needed in our educational system is “an ethical space that promotes dialogue, a cooperative spirit and respectful relationships among First Nations, Metis and non-Aboriginal people” (p. 70). STEAM education helps to Indigenize education because it facilitates a more collaborative, equitable, relationship between students and their teachers.
Aikenhead, G. S., & Elliott, D. (2010). An emerging decolonizing science education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 10(4), 321–338.
Bishop, R. (1998). Freeing ourselves from neo-colonial domination in research: A Maori
approach to creating knowledge. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in
Education, 11(2), 199-219.
Ge, X., Ifenthaler, D., & Spector, M. J. (2015). Moving forward with STEAM education research. In X. Ge, D. Ifenthaler, & M.J. Spector (Eds.), Emerging technologies for STEAM education, (pp. 383-395). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future. (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved from http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_ the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf
Pete, S. (n.d.). 100 ways to Indigenize and decolonize academic programs and courses.
Retrieved from https://www.uregina.ca/president/assets/docs/president-
Smith, T. (2016). Make space for Indigeneity: Decolonizing the curriculum. Saskatchewan Education Leadership Unit Research Review Journal, 1(2) 49-59. Retrieved from https://selu.usask.ca/documents/research-and-publications/srrj/SRRJ-1-2-Smith.pdf
Sarah Gerrard teaches Visual Arts 9-12 at Warman High School. She recently received a grant from the Prairie Spirit Schools Foundation to infuse her courses with STEAM.