Cassie Quigley Danielle Herro

Cassie Quigley (left) and Danielle Herro have spent the last several years developing STEAM teaching practices.
Image Credit: Clemson University

CLEMSON, South Carolina — The South Carolina Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education have officially approved the Clemson University College of Education’s STEAM education endorsement, making it the first such endorsement in the U.S.

The endorsement acts as a seal of approval for recipients of Clemson’s STEAM teaching certification, which trains teachers to use educational approaches that incorporate science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM). This approval also opens the door for other South Carolina colleges and universities to pursue the development of similar endorsements that will positively affect student achievement and have a lasting impact on the state’s workforce needs.

Danielle Herro, associate professor of digital media and learning in Clemson’s College of Education, said the endorsement is further evidence of STEAM’s value to the state and its teachers as well as its effectiveness in achieving positive student outcomes.

“STEAM is proven to engage a diverse populace in real-world problem-solving that promotes 21st century skills and practices,” Herro said. “This endorsement is a validation of the STEAM approach and proof of the rigorous curriculum we use to prepare our students.”

The teaching endorsement represents a major milestone in Clemson’s efforts to develop STEAM teaching practices. Prior to the endorsement, Herro, along with her colleagues, Cassie Quigley, associate professor of science education, and Faiza Jamil, assistant professor of educational foundations, developed a STEAM Observation Rubric. The rubric is the first tool for teachers to understand how well they are teaching STEAM practices. Herro and Quigley also worked with educational researchers to develop measures that assess student collaboration in STEAM units.

This work laid the foundation for Clemson to provide research-based tools and coursework for teachers. The endorsement was the next logical step in Clemson’s efforts, as the districts and teachers that have benefited from its STEAM-based coursework requested a way to validate their efforts. Quigley said it also helps to further conceptualize STEAM, which has been difficult due to a lack of set standards for STEAM preparation.

“The endorsement is something unique that teachers can add to their list of credentials,” Quigley said. “It will increase the number of students engaged in STEAM learning and also provide a pathway for teachers to effectively increase and legitimize STEAM in education.”

More than 50 teachers already have taken advantage of Clemson’s STEAM education program based on the four-course sequence, which is fully online. When the state approved the STEAM endorsement, those teachers all retroactively received the teaching endorsement.

Paige Isner is one of those teachers set to receive STEAM endorsement. She completed the courses this fall and is a science and marine science teacher at Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School, so she is happy to add the STEAM endorsement to her credentials.

“I think STEAM has helped me deliver projects to students that allow them to take control of their own learning,” Isner said. “I’ve really seen the learning process in action as students work through a problem and help themselves find a solution.”

Before exploring STEAM, Isner may have been able to just talk about applying different forces to an object to cover topics in a force-motion unit. Now she incorporates a rollercoaster design lesson that requires students to build a rollercoaster that can complete a loop and several turns. The students find their own solutions to satisfy the project requirements and trial and error allows them to tweak the project until it works.

The lesson also requires them to create promotional videos and artwork for the end product, which is a direct result of the arts focus of STEAM education. Isner said the Clemson-endorsed courses helps her incorporate arts and real-world problem-solving into lessons in a more natural way.

“I really started to buy into STEAM education when I realized it was more about adding another layer to teaching rather than changing the way I taught completely,” Isner said. “I’ve become much more aware of what I’m doing in class and I step out on a limb more with how I deliver lessons to my students.”

Isner said the STEAM education courses have increased her confidence to incorporate STEAM approaches and Clemson faculty hope that her enthusiasm for it will be contagious. Several higher education institutions across the state have come out in support of the endorsement. George Petersen, founding dean of the College of Education, said Clemson’s efforts have created a road map for other colleges and universities across the state and nation to create endorsements of their own.

“The College of Education continues to innovate in order to better equip teachers across South Carolina, especially in underserved areas,” Petersen said. “We believe this innovation will lead to better student outcomes and a lasting, positive economic impact for our state.”