Adding an A to STEM…Full STEAM Ahead!
As professionals in the field of education, we all know the term STEM. This is a movement that exposes students to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It promotes the teaching of these disciplines’ theories and content with a hands-on learning approach. The goal is not only to provide students with a deep, multidisciplinary understanding but to foster understanding of STEM concepts in the real world.
If a letter were added to the STEM acronym, what would the best choice be? In this video, Harvard University education professor Howard Gardner has a definitive answer: “I have no hesitation in saying we need to add the letter A….An education devoid of arts…is an empty, half-brain kind of education.”
To the point.
In that same video, Yale Child Study Center lecturer Erika Christakis isolates perhaps the core reason that adding the Arts to STEM education is so important: “The arts hav[e] something really essential to say about the human condition, just as science does.”
Let’s First Look at STEM.
We are humans living in a rapidly developing society. In no point in recorded human history has there been as many innovative technologies bringing people together. The disciplines represented in STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—are integral to the technologies we use every day—and the tools we will use tomorrow. As stated in the State Idaho Department of Education’s What Is STEM Education?, “Math is the language; Science and Engineering are the processes for thinking; all this leads to Innovation.”
Young people—students—have known no other world. It is in all of our best interest to teach, encourage, and support them in a STEM environment.
So Why STEAM?: Arts and the Human Condition
Knowing and understanding the significance of STEM in our schools may not, at first glance, lead us to recognize the significance of adding an A to this multidisciplinary approach to education.
So we must ask: Exactly what do the arts add to our lives?
Consider what the arts encompass. Music, painting, sculpting, theater, literature, architecture, fashion, and so much more. Just as new technologies bring us together and help create our shared experiences, the arts span time to connect us with each other and ourselves. Consider briefly Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. How many people have viewed this painting across the centuries and have been moved by its beauty and brilliance? Across time and cultures, Mona Lisa created a shared, communal experience that impacted 16th-century viewers in much the same way is it does today. An encounter that becomes both a personal and shared experience.
In fact, at the foundation of all artistic endeavors are creativity, personal experience, and shared experience. It is the same with newfound technologies. Why is this important? Consider what Mae Jemison—an astronaut, doctor, art collector, and dancer—had to say on the topic in this transcript of her 2009 TED Talk on teaching arts and science:
“The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin, even, or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather they’re manifestations of the same thing….The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity. It’s our attempt as humans to build an understanding of the universe, the world around us….[S]cience provides an understanding of a universal experience, and arts provides a universal understanding of a personal experience.”
STEAM in Action
Creativity, personal experience, and shared experience are evident in stories and videos of STEAM in action. When creative writing is incorporated as the A in this Science of Superheroes Lesson, students are able to make connections between the science of flight—which was the STEM component of the lesson—and creating a superhero character and story, which was the A component of the lesson. The video highlights the many layers of involvement and collaboration STEAM can engender.
Math concepts, such as number lines, counting, and fractions, are merged seamlessly with interactive theater play in Staging STEM, a video that also conveys the joy students attain when engaging in STEAM activities. The personal and shared experiences, generated by both personal and communal creativity, become essential to and integrated with the learning experience.
Education should be exciting, engaging, uplifting, and inspiring…and it should provide an outlet for creativity and both personal and shared experiences. The multidisciplinary STEAM educational model certainly is an approach worth exploring.
Explore more about STEM and STEAM in this infographic from the University of Florida:
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics
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