7 Balancing skills & knowledge (brains on, hands on)

In this chapter you will learn about:

  • How STEAM education can be linked to constructivist theory?
  • How to plan constructivistic activities?

As a matter of fact, STEAM education can be linked to the constructivist theory which says that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their already existing knowledge. Within this theory the teacher plays an important role because he/she must encourage the students to discover things by themselves. One of the principles within this theory is that learning and instruction must take place with the experiences and contexts that make the students willing and able to learn (readiness) (Bruner, 1973). In other words: The learning content may not be an isolated, context-free fact, and learning must take place within so-called realistic or authentic contexts. As events unfold, each person focuses on their own experience and integrates new ideas into their existing knowledge. Learners create schemes to organise their newly acquired information. Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, Gagne, and Bruner all used this model in their learning theories. Constructivism is a philosophy of many components. The following are the key points:

  • Knowledge is constructed. Students start their learning journey with some prior knowledge and then builds their understanding on top of that.
  • Learning is a social activity. It is important to interact with others in order to build awareness. Understanding is achieved by group work, meetings, conversations, and experiences.
  • Learning is an active process. In order to build knowledge, students must actively participate in discussions and activities.
  • Learning is contextual. Learning may also take place in the light of our lives, alongside the rest of our knowledge. We focus on our lives and categorize new knowledge according to how it fits into our current viewpoint.
  • People learn to learn, as they learn. Each student improves their ability to pick and organize information as they progress through the learning process. They will better distinguish concepts and build more concrete thinking processes.
  • Learning exists in the mind. Hands-on and physical experience are insufficient for retention of skills. The importance of active participation and reflection in the learning process cannot be overstated.
  • Knowledge is personal. Everyone brings their own set of experiences to the learning activity and can take away different items. Constructivist learning theory is entirely dependent on a person’s unique viewpoint and experiences.
  • Motivation is key to learning. Motivation, like active involvement, is important for making connections and gaining understanding.

What to keep in mind while planning a constructivist classroom:

  • The teacher takes on the role of a facilitator.
  • There is equal authority and responsibility between the students and the teacher.
  • Learning occurs in small groups.
  • Knowledge is shared between the students and the teacher.

Therefore STEAM education that incorporates all these aspects is a great way to implement a constructivist classroom in your teaching. One of the pillars of STEAM education is active learning. Active learning is a student-centred approach that engages students in the learning process and encourages them to take charge of their own education. Students engage in active learning as they satisfy their interest by focusing on self-defined tasks and solving problems when working on a project (Christie & De Graaff, 2016). Active learning necessitates constructive questioning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills from students which are also amongst 21st-century skills and active participation of the students is necessary. While actively participating students engage in higher-order thinking such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Dharshini & Sundaram, 2018).

During this enrichment process, however, one of the challenges for teachers, among many others, is to show how science learning in schools is related to daily life and to establish connections with the outside world (Pugh, Bergstrom, Heddy & Krob 2017).

There are different ways to build your STEAM activity. You can start by taking some of the existing STEM activities and turn them into STEAM or you can also design some completely new activities. These activities can involve different pedagogies like problem based learning, inquiry based learning, mobile outdoor learning, and robotics. It is important to set up a relevant problem that would be interesting for students to solve and it could/should also include some hands-on activities.  As Lindsey Own, lead teacher of Makerspace has said:

If we’re not creating something with our  knowledge, we’re just memorising it and not applying it in any real way.

Students can also be the creators of content and therefore learn through collaboratively constructing artefacts of various kinds (ideas, practices, models, representations, etc.) (Paavola, Engeström & Hakkarainen, 2012). The aforementioned approaches emphasise learners as active participants in knowledge building, in which learning happens through curation, modification or authoring digital or physical artefacts individually or in groups. Since learners can gain control over their information acquisition process, through smartphones learning can become more personalised and engaging for them.

While planning your new STEAM activity it is important to keep in mind that the more novel the situation or environment (this includes both physical and virtual environments), the harder it is for the students to concentrate on the learning tasks (Eshach, 2007). Good preparation helps to avoid anxiety and helps to keep the focus. While planning your STEAM activities start from these basic questions:

    1. What activities would help to raise students’ interest?
    2. What activities should be avoided?
    3. What are the means to reduce the anxiety caused by a novel situation and location?
    4. What are the ways of using digital tools and environments to engage students more?
    5. How could you lead students to cooperate in teamwork and discuss?
    6. What are the options to choose from, while planning the hands-on activities:
      • Formal/Informal
      • Indoors/outdoors
      • Enriched with technology/ not enriched with technology
      • Who to cooperate with?
Here are some examples of activities and methods:
  • Active Learning AR methodology for year 12-13 – an effective tool in teaching students STEAM’s technical as well as artistic skills, additionally, a range of complementary 21st-century skills. Students are introduced to the basic concepts of AR and programming and finally they are building their own games (Jesionkowska et al., 2020).
  • Mobile outdoor learning is one of the ways to apply this perspective. Mobile learning helps students to take their learning experiences outside of the classroom and explore a variety of real-world settings. For example students could create location based learning/activity tracks for people visiting the zoo, botanical gardens or for classmates in the vicinity of the school or even a fun scavenger hunt for a birthday party.
  • Using robots and sensors to study socio-scientific topics. Many mobile technical solutions may help a variety of outdoor investigations to raise students’ knowledge of social issues and provide opportunities for them to practice developing evidence-based opinions and arguments about a particular societal problem, as well as to begin thinking in scientific terms and improve scientific literacy skills. For example robotic kits and sensors can be used to build data collecting tools. The collected data can later be used to analyse and make conclusions about some relevant topic like the effect of a road construction to the environment or any other relevant socio-environmental issue.
  • Content and language integrated learning- cooperation between science teacher and language teacher, where knowledge and skills from both areas are joined together to produce a certain type of writing. For example while studying different countries in geography the result could be a travel story or a blog post.  (Meyer et al., 2015)

Self reflection

Use this H5P notes tool to reflect on your readings so far. To write down your notes click on the pencil in the upper left corner. There are guiding questions in the boxes. Read these before writing.


Bruner, J. (1973). Going beyond the information given. Norton.

Christie, M., & De Graaff, E. (2017). The philosophical and pedagogical underpinnings of Active Learning in Engineering Education. European Journal of Engineering Education, 42(1), 516. https://doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2016.1254160

Eshach, H. (2007). Bridging in-school and out-of-school learning: Formal, non-formal, and informal education. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(2), 171190. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-006-9027-1

Jesionkowska, J., Wild, F., & Deval, Y. (2020). Active learning augmented reality for STEAM education—A case study. Education Sciences, 10(8), 198. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci10080198

Meyer, O., Coyle, D., Halbach, A., Schuck, K., & Ting, T. (2015). A pluriliteracies approach to content and language integrated learning–mapping learner progressions in knowledge construction and meaning-making. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 28(1), 4157. https://doi.org/10.1080/07908318.2014.1000924

Paavola, S., Engeström, R., & Hakkarainen, K. (2012). The trialogical approach as a new form of mediation. In Collaborative knowledge creation (pp. 114). Brill.

Priyaadharshini, M., & Vinayaga Sundaram, B. (2018). Evaluation of higher‐order thinking skills using learning style in an undergraduate engineering in flipped classroom. Computer Applications in Engineering Education, 26(6), 22372254. https://doi.org/10.1002/cae.22035

Pugh, K. J., Bergstrom, C. M., Heddy, B. C., & Krob, K. E. (2017). Supporting deep engagement: The teaching for transformative experiences in science (TTES) model. Journal of Experimental Education, 85(4), 629657. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.2016.1277333