The microsystem is the first circle around the child, the environments in which he or she is rooted. These include the home, classroom, childcare or after-school program, and church or other local community settings—and, of course, the people and experiences within those settings. The next circle is called the mesosystem, which acknowledges the relationships between the microsystem environments. For example, the ways that the child’s schooling affects his or her home life and vice versa, directly or indirectly, or the ways that an adult’s training and level of stress could affect that person’s ability to make a positive impact on the child would be included in this system. The exosystem includes the societal structures and institutions that do not directly contain the child but can directly or indirectly affect him or her—for example, government policies and the research that spurs those policies. Finally, the outermost circle, called the macrosystem, consists of the cultural frames, paradigms, values, and models that shape the environment within which the child learns.
Q: The report focuses on STEM, as opposed to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). What led to that decision in framing? How can teachers, parents, and non-traditional educators use a STEAM framing to enhance the learning experience?
We believe that STEM is already present in just about everything. STEM is about a way of thinking, not just about specific content – so it is present in the arts, in literacy, in play, in music, in history, you name it. For that reason it’s already problematic, in a way, that we’ve isolated S, T, E, and M for discussion in the first place, and our main goal was to reintegrate those letters back into all the rest of children’s learning experiences. If we were only to add an A, we would be excluding all the other letters in the alphabet! So rather than grabbing just one additional letter/domain and pulling it into this isolated moniker, we tried to focus instead on immersing these four letters back into the process of holistic learning.
Learning is a process of weaving skills together: no single strand can do all the work and all need to be present, strong, and integrated. As we learn new skills, our brains weave these strands together into braided skill ropes. We use these ropes to do all the complex things that we need to be able to do to function well in school and in life: solve problems, work with others, formulate and express our ideas, and make and learn from mistakes as we grow. Solving problems using data, and experimenting in science, technology, engineering, and math, help us develop strong strands that we can then use in weaving many different kinds of skill ropes. At every age, children need opportunities to practice and learn how to weave these STEM strands into different ropes, depending on the needs of a given task or situation. When kids have strong STEM strands, they can use them for all kinds of things that they will need to be able to do throughout their lives.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview — on how parents and educators can address their own anxieties around STEM (eek!) and incorporate STEM learning into everyday play.