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‘STEAM’ education gains momentum in schools

A growing number of experts say the arts should be included in STEM education initiatives

'STEAM' education gains momentum in schools

Examples of “STEAM education” are cropping up across the nation.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city’s 2013 Summer of Learning initiative will focus specifically on STEAM learning activities.

Emanuel’s announcement is part of an overall plan to boost the city’s education efforts. Those efforts include opening five “early college” STEM education schools, implementing a new arts education plan in the city’s public schools, a $1 million investment in 60 school learning gardens to link nutrition and science, and launching a program called College to Careers for City Colleges of Chicago students.

In Atlanta, the Drew Charter School includes a specific focus on “STEM to STEAM.” The K-8 school’s teaching methods include:

  • An interdisciplinary program integrating the five areas of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.
  • An inquiry-based instructional program with real-world context.
  • Emphasis on design and problem solving, leading to applications.

In 2012, the Georgia Charter Schools Associated named Drew Charter School the Georgia Charter School of the Year. The school has plans to begin building a new facility, with room for a freshman class, in early 2013.

An online petition seeks support for U.S. House Resolution 319, which was introduced in 2011 but not enacted and seeks to “encourage members of the House of Representatives to support the addition of art and design to [federally supported] STEM programming …, effectively turning STEM to STEAM.” As of press time, this petition had gathered nearly 2,300 signatures. RISD encourages visitors of the website to track the resolution’s status and sign the petition.

Sesame Street, currently in its 43rd season, has focused for years on STEM education, but this year the show has added the arts to its programming and upgraded its focus to STEAM education.

“The cornerstone of the curriculum remains the connection between the four main domains: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but the updated approach integrates the arts. This helps make learning STEM concepts relevant and enticing to young children by highlighting how artists use STEM knowledge to enhance their art or solve problems. It also provides context for the importance of STEM knowledge in careers in the arts,” according to a statement from the popular children’s television show.

“As STEM topics continue to be a critical area of a preschooler’s early education, it is important to allow children to explore these concepts through various channels, especially the arts,” said Rosemarie Truglio, senior vice president of education and research at Sesame Workshop. “Incorporating the arts into our STEM curriculum was an exciting and natural addition, as Sesame Street has always used music, visual, and performing arts as tools to educate and entertain children.”

Major companies and groups are picking up the cause as well.

Cultivating organizational creativity in an age of complexity,” a companion study to the 2010 IBM Global Chief Human Resource Officer Study, looks at why some organizations are better at innovating and adapting to change. According to the study, creative leadership is key; IBM researchers found that “creative leadership in action enables a wide range of product, process, and business model innovations.”

State of Create,” an April 2012 study from Adobe Systems (a maker of popular desktop publishing and creativity tools, such as Photoshop, InDesign, and Dreamweaver), took a look at how creativity is viewed in the workplace, at school, and at home.

Part of the study examines what it calls the “creativity gap,” noting that people spend just 25 percent of their time at work creating, and many report there is increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work.

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  1. cath29

    January 21, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    I am excited to read about STEAM evolving from STEM. A couple of things come to mind. One, my local, semi-rural elementary and high schools have yet to really embrace STEM, and the arts have nearly disappeared altogether. Second, study and learning skills are not taught directly, as they could be, and are not well-integrated into the curriculum. Learning to learn strikes me a fundamental in the education paradigm that is being overlooked on all levels: standards, curriculum, and lessons. My thought here is that the STEAM approach combined with a new learning-to-learn focus could greatly improve education overall. Without strong skills for studying and turning information into long-term memory knowledge, even dedicated STEM -or STEAM- program students will falter. The average American student, if there is such a thing, views science and math as another language that is simply beyond understanding. This deeply held assumption can only be overcome if learning skills are emphasized in a whole new way.

  2. renmandfx

    January 22, 2013 at 12:36 am

    want to learn STEM but as STEAM?


    Take classes in Technical Theatre.

    We do it ALL – and if we can find any way to get a computer involved, all the better.

    Carpentry, welding, hydrolics, CNC, automation, riggin, sewing, electrical systems of all types, sound, …. (the list is VERY long).

    After all, theatre is a reflection of the world and any techincal skill in the world can pretty much be found back stage too.

    So here’s a little challenge — and no fair peaking on line to find the answer.

    In the musical WICKED, at the end of the first act, Elphaba as she sings “Defying Gravity” must “fly” from stage level to nearly 30 feet above stage level in just a few bars of music.

    BUT — you cannot use the tradition method of putting her in a harness attached to overhead wires as that would not be repeatable in some theaters when the show goes on tour.

    So, how do you do it? And remember, she must rise straight up.

    Hints: Pythagorian Theorum, hyrdrolics, commercial equipement, a whole ton of black fabric and stage FX smoke and a computer doing CNC.

  3. PatrickA

    January 22, 2013 at 2:02 am

    Please also take a look at Kelley from IDEO – design thinking – similar concept

  4. computerhead

    January 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Great idea. But given the current Common Core
    mania it will be a hard sell. K-12 is busy
    cutting art programs. Though we live
    in a world that–largely due to computational
    power–is more than ever filled with design
    and graphics.

  5. hkranz

    January 23, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Art fosters divergent thinking, risk-taking, and innovation through the Creative Process (Brainstorming, Research and Planning, Executing, Reflecting, and Revising). All children are born with the ability to do this, but gradually lose their ability as they go through school (Sir Ken Robinson). As the experts agree on the value of these 21st Century Skills as being the foundation of our American economy, we risk our own demise if we don’t work to actively foster the arts in education. As Yong Zhao has proposed, we need to stop trying to match the test-taking abilities of other countries and start focusing on what we do best–leading the world in patents, design, and innovation (Zhao). We are this successful because our education allows creativity to survive education, but for how much longer? Creativity increased in our children from 1950-1992, but it has been decreasing ever since (Newsweek)–just about the same time our society starting demanding increased standardized testing as a measurement of success. This is exactly the wrong way to go. Everyone wants to be us–why are we trying to be like them? We should be the leaders, not the followers.
    There is hope if STEM truly becomes STEAM.

  6. dday-wiff

    January 23, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Ideally it should be STREAM–adding an R for reading or literacy. Math, science, technology and the arts must include reading and writing. Learning these different content areas includes learning to read/write in these areas too. We can’t forget reading!

  7. tdwelander

    January 28, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Reality matters more than anything except probably good health; which most say is an integral part of reality. In the STEM world or dealing with reality and how to make life better, requires knowing how the real world works. Which means knowing physics, chemistry, and advance math, generally known as calculus and differential equations along with some kind of practical vocation training which enhances hand-eye coordination. While practically everyone loves an artist, including me, in all my travels, I have never met an artist willing to subject themselves to these above listed real world learning experiences, unfortunately, which are an absolute necessity to understand how the real world works and how to accomplish anything real. So no STEAM from STEM unless STEM is learned first. And likely no endorsements for any STEAM also unless STEM is learned first.