“The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin … or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.” Mae Jemison (doctor, dancer, and the first African American woman in space)
More than a clever acronym that allows proponents to repurpose clichés like “get a full head of STEAM on” and “full STEAM ahead,” the evolution from STEM to STEAM, integrating science, technology, engineering, math (which do seem to fit together) with the Arts (which may seem like a stretch, given our notion that they represent “two cultures”) makes genuine sense if we want to educate students to their full potential and secure a better economic future for our country.
There are numerous reasons to support moving from STEM to STEAM, but with a nod to former TV talk show host David Letterman and his popular Top Ten lists, here are some of the reasons that persuade me.
10. STEAM fosters teamwork and collaboration between teachers in a school (a good thing) and the transfer of knowledge between disciplines. When a school develops a STEAM focus, it actively restores art and science to a place of importance within the life of the school.
9. STEM + Arts engages a wider range of students. The girl who loves math and discovers the powerful connection between math and music or the boy who grows to enjoy science and gains confidence to engage in it through drawing, his preferred way of learning, are both better served by STEAM. According to artist and educator Ruth Catchen, “the arts are a great learning tool and can serve as an on-ramp to STEM for underrepresented students.”
8. With the challenge of translating scientific, mathematical, technological, and engineering ideas and content into artistic products, STEAM increases the opportunities for problem solving.
7. STEAM allows teachers to assess student understanding of complex ideas through the artistic products they produce. Translating science and math concepts into art requires understanding the science and math. Research indicates that it also enhances retention.
6. STEM and the Arts require communication skills to share information with other practitioners and with the public. By communicating scientific ideas, artists can help everyone, even non-scientists, better understand them, and that would include the students themselves.
5. Observation is a key skill of both scientists and artists, and learning how to look is something art teachers regularly teach students to do. Students can then draw to record their observations of the natural world, to capture their understanding of a science concept or to illustrate how they would solve an engineering challenge. In fact, in many STEM classrooms, students are already doing these things, so the distance to STEAM is not far at all.
4. The arts can be a powerful means to spark emotion, adding an important, and sometimes missing, element to STEM. Through art, STEM content can become more personal, more meaningful, more memorable, more engaging, and more fun for students, while providing them opportunities for self-expression.
3. As teachers, we strive to create lessons that move students to higher levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy, encouraging them to develop more advanced intellectual skills. STEAM can help us get there. Creativity sits at the tip of Bloom’s pyramid. Verbs like “design,” “build,” “construct,” “plan,” “produce,” “devise,” and “invent” can generate thinking about how scientific information or data can be represented. Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value” and suggests it “more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things,” for example, STEM + Arts.
2. At the conceptual level, both scientists and artists go through the same processes in order to solve problems. It’s no surprise then that some of our greatest thinkers and innovators have been STEAM specialists, long before the acronym. Think Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein. And design thinking, which makes the built world more engaging, aesthetically pleasing, and functional, combines the best of art, technology, and engineering. Think Steve Jobs and Sir James Dyson.
Therefore, adding the Arts to STEM makes it more likely that student creativity will be kicked up another notch … or two or three … allowing the United States to foster the creativity and innovation that will create a strong economy in the 21st century.
1. STEAM gets us closer to reality, to a world that isn’t divided into discrete disciplines, to real world experiences and applications, and to a future that values the importance of innovation and creativity enough to provide all students with opportunities to develop their innate creativity and their ability to find innovative solutions to the problems that face humanity. Art and science can become bridges to each other, and STEAM can be the bridge to a brighter future for us all.
Surely there are other reasons, and I invite you to offer them in comments. There are also challenges to moving from STEM to STEAM as well as counter arguments against doing so, both of which I’ll explore in a future post. In the meantime, you might want to do a little exploring on your own by checking out the articles below.
To get started on the journey from STEM to STEAM, please see the resources compiled by Edutopia.
And if you want to read more about the topic, I invite you to take a look at the following articles:
You can learn more about STEM Institute here.