SMART: A New Educational Paradigm

Above and Beyond S.T.E.M. / S.T.E.A.M. / S.T.R.E.A.M.

S.M.A.R.T. : Mastery Education through an Indigenous Framework for Early Childhood Learning, K-12, College, and Beyond.

Thayne. A. Yazzie (c) 2018


“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”

-Albert Einstein

STEM: Trends and Issues

STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) is among the most popular trend in the United States’ educational paradigm. STEM has gained momentum as society has shifted to supplying industries with qualified workers educated in STEM related fields. However, it is not entirely clear as to whether or not this STEM paradigm will actually yield the results educators, communities, and societies are seeking in regards to our world’s most desire concerns. “Education policies to foster innovation have traditionally focused on increasing participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Recently, however, a more comprehensive view of innovation has emerged which recognizes the contribution of a wider set of skills and disciplines” (OECD, 2016). The study and understanding of the learner’s self, the learner’s natural and social environments, historical and current ethical and moral dilemmas, cause-and-effect of choice, and healthy well-being are an example of what the SMART Education paradigm hopes to deliver to teachers and educational organizations in today’s modern society. Furthermore, the study and understanding of nature, logic, art, design, reading, and writing with the inclusion of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are as crucial and integral to the holistic education of a student and should be regarded as such.

STEAM / STREAM: Trends and Issues

There have been several attempts to add holistic approaches within the STEM paradigm. One of those movements is STEAM in which the inclusion of the “arts” utilizes creative outlets in tandem with quantifiable and scientific approaches. Additionally, STEAM is intended to invoke the study of humanities within the application of science and technology. “STEM education cannot stand in isolation. The well-rounded education of human beings needs to include lessons learned both from a study of the physical world, and from a study of humanity” (Krieger, 2018).

There is, however, a major critique that is issued by both STEM advocates and those advocating Art within STEM. For example, STEM only advocates suggest that art should not be included the STEM paradigm because it is unnecessary for highly technical fields such as becoming a doctor or engineer. Another professional educator said, “I believe we should leave the STEAM, STREAM acronym as a marketing tool for libraries, museums, retail advertisers, etc. It is for those who do not need to concern themselves with the long term learning content objectives 9 (of STEM)” (Martin, 2017).STREAM is the inclusion of Reading & Writing. Other points of view that support the separation of Art and STEM is that education institutions might economize their schools/districts and remove separate art/music instructors which would in turn leave art and music out of the curriculum.

However, what is being advocated in this paradigm is not STEAM or STREAM, but instead an holistic approach that educates students entirely – in their mind, physical self, environments, social relationships, communities, and systems both in the macro-level and the micro-level. Therefore, the goal of this curriculum is to provide a framework that is greater than STEM or STEAM (or STREAM) and allows a new education paradigm that benefits the learner, the teacher, the community, and, maybe even, the world.


The study, history, application, and understanding of:

  1. Science & Nature
  2. Math & Logic
  3. Art & Design
  4. Reading & Writing
  5. Technology & Engineering

“A well-educated student is exposed to a well-rounded curriculum. It is the making of connections, conveyed by a rich core curriculum, which ultimately empowers students to develop convictions and reach their full academic and social potential” (Duncan, 2010).

In this section, we will explore the SMART Learning Framework and its role in a life-long educational paradigm. SMART is not intended to be the end-all be-all of educational curriculum development. Instead, SMART is a foundation for connecting traditional academic disciplines through a holistic and inclusive approach that promotes personal well-being, self-determination, traditional knowledge, and academic knowledge. Additionally, SMART is skill-based and learner-driven, meaning that its goals and objectives are to provide learners with life-based skills and tools that can be used in the learning environment and in real world contexts. SMART is therefore rooted in the educational frameworks of place-based and indigenous teachings where the learning environment is connected to the place, time, and community of the student. Finally, SMART promotes and encourages Mastery Learning, where students must master skills before moving on to the next level of material.  Provided below is a brief summary of the SMART education framework.

1. Science & Nature

What is “nature” and what is “science”? In brief, nature is “what is” and science is “the methods of studying of what is”.

The study of nature is not only necessary for science education, it is inevitable in survial. Science, therefore, should include not only the study of the academic disciples of scienc, but more importantly, the study of “learning” within itself and the study of the human-being learning science. Including the “learner” as part of the education framework is not new in traditional and ecological frameworks. Instead, understanding the learner and the biases formed from the learner’s perspective is just as important to the science as is the quantitative data achieved through scientific means. With the inclusion of Nature, SMART focuses on what is not normally included in STEM related fields which is how the learner will identify, understand, and relate to the natural environment around them. In indigenous communities, for example, students in Native Environmental Science programs are encouraged to learn about a community’s place and traditional practice before entering into a scientific study of that place. In holding students, researchers, and instructors accountable to the place of research, the educational institution is able to foster relationships with the community that is both beneficial to the learner and the community as a whole. This mutual benefit allows for a greater understanding of the interconnections between learning through experience and through academic study.

Science differs from math, engineering, and technology in that science is a process and the root of learning about all things in nature. Nature, however, differs from an academic standpoint in that nature is not entirely understood and can be influenced by limitations of the learner and learning community. includes the learning of the world – both seen and unseen, both known and unknown.  While controversial to the Western educational system, the realm of the unknown is important in understanding cultural differences. Otherwise known as spirituality, the unknown aspects of nature are as important to the cultural identities of many Native American communities as is the quantifiable, and measurable elements of nature. For non-traditional educators this concept is difficult to discuss and even harder to teach. However, because it is difficult to understand and difficult to teach does not mean it is not important. There will be more on a spiritual education framework later. For now, it is important to know that the goals of Science & Nature are to teach students the fundamentals of scientific inquiry as well as the cultural, environmental, and social context. “I would argue that the central purpose of a basic education is not to teach children how to perform this or that particular skill, but simply to teach them to think clearly.” (Krieger, 2018)

2. Math & Logic

“If (Thomas) Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search… I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.” – Nikola Tesla. Thomas Edison also once said,  “success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, 99% work.” However, anyone familiar with frictionless pulleys knows that inspiration does not always need to be more work.

Understanding effective application of mathematics and theory offers learners an extreme advantage over those who do know theory. For any advocate of STEM, it is not productive to explain the necessity of Math in modern education. Mathematics is defined as “the abstract science of number, quantity, and space” and thus is studied both in its own right and in application to other disciplines such as physics, engineering, and science. However, there is another valuable functionality of mathematics that is commonly left out – “logic”.

“Whether you’re an astrophysicist, a moral philosopher, a web designer, a baseball pitcher, a social worker, a parent, or a panhandler, you make or make use of arguments all the time. Logic helps to render these arguments transparent; it uncovers their strengths and flaws.” (Harmon, 2018).

When faced with real world problems, students should have the tools to solve them using logical techniques before events arise. Logical reason teaches critical thinking skills and will prepare learners to be conscious members of their communities. They will have tools that will enable them to become effective problem solvers and leaders in their own educational journey.

“A useful education needs to give students the skill of following a line of reasoning, of asking rational questions, and of chewing things through in their minds–even if we regard the material are beyond question. Besides feeding students a well-balanced diet of knowledge, healthy schooling needs to teach them to digest this information thoroughly” (Krieger, 2018).

Logic is complimentary to Math as it encourages efficient thinking in tandem with the physical act of doing. Furthermore, logic expands upon math into the academic arena of language and communicating ideas effectively. Beyond that, logic helps the learner begin to explore the philosophy of knowledge. As stated in the previous section, the knowledge of the known world is very limited in the context of what is unknown. Therefore, discussion about knowledge as limited, culturally influenced, and within the confides of the observer, will allow learners to grasp and explore concepts outside of their learning environments. If a new learning paradigm is to make effective learners, it must evolve beyond STEM and include the creative, imaginative, and ambiguous aspects of human experience.

3. Art & Design

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning” ― Plato

Art is defined as the expression of creative work and imagination. What constitutes art, however, is entirely up to the creator and, even times, the audience. Therefore, art as an academic subject can be challenging to articulate especially in its role in education. However, it cannot be overstated how impactful art is on the lives of others. Thus, the practice of art is necessary even if assessing the creative work is difficult; the understanding of the learning student is necessary before critiquing the artist’s journey.

The study of Design is included alongside Art as way of understanding the greater realm of psychology, society, and human nature. “The purpose and intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, system, or material object is defined as design” ( Therefore, Design is more than just pleasing aesthetics. Design is the meaning behind, within, and of things.

In the sciences, students are encouraged to question and learn the natural environment and the material world. In the arts, the students are encouraged to question and learn humanity, society, philosophy, and much more. Art and Design are necessary in an educational paradigm that strives to foster critical thinking and problem solving skills.

“Our education system, from pre-kindergarten to the doctoral level needs and must have the humanities and liberal arts. In the liberal arts, you pursue the trail of inquiry wherever it leads. Truth, not use or reward, is the only criterion.” (Deresiewicz).

In non-traditional learning paradigms, culture is the root of community and knowledge. Within these paradigms, Art & Design are a crucial part of the individual’s learning experience. For example, Native American tribes around the world emphasize the importance of Art & Design as it reflects cultural values. The Navajo, for instance, utilize geometrical shapes and circular patterns to show the interconnections of mathematical and natural elements.

“If you want graduates who will simply engage in “inquiry that leads to pre-determined outcomes,” then the answer is to make all education instrumental and utilitarian, where the focus is technical and on immediate employability.” (Liberal Arts & Humanities vs Science, Math and STEM: What if Educational Leaders Are On Wrong Side of History?)

“Practical utility, however, is not the ultimate purpose of a liberal arts education. Its ultimate purpose is to help you to learn to reflect in the widest and deepest sense, beyond the requirements of work and career: for the sake of citizenship, for the sake of living well with others, above all, for the sake of building a self that is strong and creative and free. That’s why the humanities are central to a real college education. You don’t build a self out of thin air, by gazing at your navel. You build it, in part, by encountering the ways that others have done so themselves. You build it, that is, with the help of the past. The humanities–history, philosophy, religious studies, above all, literature and the other arts–are the record of the ways that people have come to terms with being human. They address the questions that are proper to us, not as this or that kind of specialist, this or that kind of professional, but as individuals as such–the very questions we are apt to ask when we look up from our work and think about our lives. Questions of love, death, family, morality, time, truth, God, and everything else within the wide, starred universe of human experience.” (p. 155-156, Excellent Sheep)

4. Reading & Writing

“Literacy skills may be the focus in language arts classes, but they are equally necessary for math, science, art, music, and any other course work” (Literacy Belongs in Every Classroom) (Kansas, 2018)

Connecting disciplines are possible through creative and imaginative thinking. Likewise, understanding various disciplines will be very helpful if the students can read and understand their own language and the languages of the world.

Engaged reading leads to engaged learning, but students are not prepared to dive into the written word and immediately extract all of the valuable content. They need instructional guidance on how to read critically, understand the material and implement what they have learned” (Back to the basics of Reading) (Kansas, 2018)

“While all aspects of literacy are critical to eventual success, for most students, the process starts with reading skills. These skills form the foundation for all other learning, which is a large part of the reasoning behind the wide adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) curriculum programs. These new standards put the responsibility for teaching reading and literacy skills on the backs of all teachers, not just language arts instructors” (Making Reading a Priority) (Kansas, 2018)

5. Technology & Engineering

“My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.” – Nikola Tesla


Indigenous Framework: A Framework for Innovative Education

Spiritual knowledge cannot be observed by physical means; therefore, it cannot be measured or quantified. Thus, indigenous and spiritual ways of knowing are often dismissed by scientific researchers. The relational nature of Indigenous epistemology acknowledges the interconnections of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects within all living things, the earth, and the universe. Indigenous epistemology is fluid, nonlinear, and relational (Kovach, 2005). Many indigenous ways of knowing accept both the physical and the nonphysical realms as reality and are considered equally valid and interconnected. In accepting the nonphysical, one must accept that reality cannot always be quantified. Therefore, the means of acquiring non-physical knowledge stems not only from the understanding and investigation of the self, but from the exploration and study of creative work, social environments, emotional awareness, cultural practices, historical causes and effects, personal and societal goals, and subsequently, the interconnection of all things.

Continue reading …

Storytelling: The Art of a Teacher

“You must realize the qualities with which you were born and learn to trust and use your own experience. Somehow education has struggled so hard to develop a conforming good citizen, that the “bending of the twig” has often stunted growth instead of nourishing it.” (Tooze, 1959)

The teacher is the foundation where the learning environment is built. Therefore, an effective teacher must not only be prepared with the fundamentals of behavioral theory, learning practices, or academic rigor; teachers must also be fully knowledgeable, confident, and aware of the self. It is the utmost importance that the teacher is able to perform their duties as an educator and it is important that the organization, school, or company employing teachers understand the complexities of being an effective and successful teacher.

Continue reading …

Teaching History

“What we think of a course in poetry in which students never read a poem?” (p. 16, Lies my Teacher Told me.)

“Textbooks also keep students in the dark about the nature of history. History is furious debate informed by evidence and reason. Textbooks encourage students to believe that history is facts to be learned” (p. 16, Lies My Teacher Told Me).

“Five-sixths of all Americans never take a course in American History beyond high school. What our citizens “learn” in high school forms much of what they know about our past” (p. 16, Lies My Teacher Told Me)

“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner … and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth” (W.E.B. Du Bois)

Continue reading …


Changing Education Paradigms:

Link to More Education Videos

Works Cited

Chase, C. (2014, February 25). Real Learning is a Creative Process. Retrieved from creativesystemsthinking:

Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE PUblications, Inc.

Duncan, A. (2010, April 9). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from The Well-Rounded Curriculum:

Harman, Justin. (2018). 4 Reasons to take Logic the 1st Year of College.

Kansas, U. o. (2018, June 26). Teaching Reading and Writing Skills in Your K-12 Classrooms. Retrieved from The University of Kansas School of Education:

Krieger, J. (2018, September 04). Today’s Focus on STEM Education is Missing a Crucial Point. Retrieved from leapsmag:

Martin, J. (2017, April 14). Why I use STEM, not STEAM or STREAM in Education? Retrieved from Linkedin:

Meador, D. (2017, April 30). Meaningful Life Lessons We Learn From Teachers at School. Retrieved from ThoughtCo:

OECD. (2016). Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation: The Power of Digital Technologies and Skills. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Robinson, S. K. (2010, October). (S. K. Robinson, Performer) Retrieved from Changing Education Paradigms.

Tooze, R. (1959). Storytelling. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.




S.M.A.R.T. Education

Above and Beyond S.T.E.M. / S.T.E.A.M. Early Childhood Learning, Pre K-12, College, and Beyond. Education through an Indigenous Framework.

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