Studer Community Institute

STEM to STEAM is more than hot air


  • October 23, 2014
  • /   Reggie Dogan
  • /   training-development
With the increasing demand for skilled workers in the high-tech industry, the focus in schools on a STEM education makes educational and economic sense. The term STEM — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — has made a footprint in education. The movement quickly rose to the forefront in education policy circles, but some educators and experts in the arts world believe STEM lacks an important letter to make the combined programs better. Adding an A for arts is, pardon the expression, gaining some steam. STEAM is a movement promoted by Rhode Island School of Design. It is gaining support from schools, businesses and policymakers across the country. What exactly does it mean to turn STEM to STEAM? The idea is to place art and design in the mix with science, technology, engineering and math, to encourage integration of the arts in schools from kindergarten to college, and to influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation. A bipartisan congressional caucus last year was held in Washington, D.C., to talk about and implement STEAM education. It now has more than 50 state representatives from across the nation. Many schools are moving toward integrating different academic disciplines as part of an effort to better connect science and technology with innovative thinking. Supporters maintain that STEAM initiatives are about educating the complete student, encouraging them to become musicians as much as mathematicians, architects and also authors, doctors as well as dancers. The arts, as proven in the past, can enhance student engagement and learning, and open up doors for creative thinking and innovation. Creativity, at its best, is about finding new approaches and solutions to existing problems and situations. It should be clear by now that the arts need to be at the table in any education reform effort. No one is suggesting doing away with STEM. Instead, the suggestion is that arts become an integral part of STEM programs. Connecting the arts to science and math is nothing new — or esoteric. What’s unusual is the idea of keeping the disciplines apart. Renowned scientist Albert Einstein played the violin. Leonardo da Vinci, who left an indelible mark as an artist and sculptor, also was a great scientist, engineer and inventor. Sadly, the arts are often the first programs cut in schools during tough economic times. Education minus the arts leaves a void in learning and limits exposure to activities that spur creativity, innovation and outside-the-box thinking. A well-rounded and integrated education, should offer a variety of disciplines — especially the arts — that involve not only critical thinking but also creative minds. A study by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds who actively participated in the arts tended to score better in science and writing, and were more likely to aspire to college. The arts can reach some students who don’t always connect to the rigidity of science and math. Through creative lessons and good teaching, students can make the right connections and bridge the gap through the arts. Versatility of arts education allows teachers to reach young learners in non-traditional ways. Science, technology, engineering and math are great things to teach and learn, but they can’t do the job alone. In order to prepare our students to be leaders in innovation, we need to also focus on the creative thought that gives them that innovative edge. The STEM to STEAM movement has legs and is getting the attention it deserves. If we want our young students today to become innovators who shape tomorrow, it’s imperative that the A is added to the S-T-E-M. It’s more than a bunch of hot air. STEM to STEAM is about building brighter, better and more creative students. Full STEAM ahead. Our future depends on it.