STEAM arts

Putting the “A” in STEAM education this school year

While there are many ways to integrate STEM into the classroom, it is important to emphasize the arts – the “A” in STEAM education.

As more students head back to school, we will continue to hear about how educators can successfully incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education into curriculums from as early as Kindergarten. Whether it’s providing students with hands-on robotics tools where they can learn to code, program and design on their own, or using more in-class devices like Google Chromebooks that familiarize students with technology and problem-solving skills, there are many ways to integrate STEM into the classroom.

And no wonder: having a thorough understanding of STEM subjects is a vital component for success in the future workplace; reports reveal that nearly half of U.S. jobs could be automated in the next 20 years, so tomorrow’s generation of employees must be acquainted with the technologies and new job functions that will exist when they enter the workforce.

However, as we put our efforts on fine-tuning these technical skills, we often lose sight of creativity.

To keep creativity at the forefront of the educational spectrum, while also fostering “hard skills” like STEM, it is important to emphasize the arts–the “A” in STEAM education. Whether students have an affinity for the arts or not, incorporating elements of creativity into STEM education has undeniable benefits, including making STEM more approachable and understandable.

In fact, there is scientific evidence of a positive correlation between music and spatial intelligence–a vital skill for solving math problems; it all comes full circle.

Let’s examine why the arts are such an important component to STEM curriculum:

Because It Allows for Learning by Design

There are many different ways to incorporate “learning by design” into the classroom, but one specific way that provides a hands-on, holistic education experience is the method of Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL provides students with responsibility for an assignment from top to bottom, holding them accountable for solving a real-world issue through their own process of trial-and-error, making it an interesting way to integrate STEAM education into the curriculum.

PBL tasks students with making independent decisions about what they want to create, why they’re going to create it, and how. At the end of the process, students publicly present their project, prompting them to both develop a thorough understanding of it and to build something that they’re proud of from the ground-up. The overarching goal of PBL is to foster critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

For teachers, creating a PBL lesson is not easy–there are many moving parts and it can be difficult to streamline them all into understandable, actionable assignments for an entire class. However, PBL and STEAM education go hand-in hand.

For instance, teachers can have the class design a futuristic device like a robot; this type of project hit all facets of the STEAM model –

“S” for scientifically figuring out the electrical components required to make the robot function

“T” for technologically determining how to connect the robot to the Internet to make it move

“E” for engineering the pieces into an actual robot

“A” for designing how it looks, and

“M” for mathematically calculating and coding to get it to move

This is an example of a hands-on, physical project that addresses a complex issue (i.e., create a futuristic technology) and encourages students to do all the legwork in a way that’s innovative, collaborative and rewarding.

(Next page: 2 more reasons to focus on STEAM and not just STEM)

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