Science, technology, engineering and mathematics have long been locked into the four-letter acronym we all know as STEM. But an additional letter is now making its way in, and is carving out a space for itself within a well-established approach to education.
That letter is A, for art.
And although it’s a seemingly unlikely companion to the other letters, embedding art in the world of STEM is actually beneficial to those who intend on pursuing any of the paths which have been part of the original acronym.
STEAM is the process by which educators infuse art into their science curriculums. That infusion can occur by introducing painting, sculpture, theatre, music, language, writing or design into STEM lessons or alongside them. In turn, K-12 students get to not only learn analytical, logical and technical concepts, but they additionally get to develop their skills in relation to creativity, communication, critical thinking, and more.
When it comes to the actual application, there is no one way to go about it. Each teacher can use the STEAM approach to shape their courses according to their strengths and the specific needs of their classrooms. Speaking for ourselves, we incorporate creativity into computer programming to ensure that students (and educators!) exercise their imaginative skills and acquire technical know-how all at once.
One of the ways in which we fuse art and code is through our workshops. For example, when we deliver our micro:bit lessons, we encourage students to code animations that afterwards light up on the device. The activity is therefore visual, and not just a series of 1s and 0s. Students get to learn computer programming through block coding, but the result of their labor shows up in the artistic form that they desire, whether it be the familiar smiley face or a dancing stickman.
Putting the A in STEAM means that students are thinking innovatively when it comes to subject matter than often leans on the technical. With an artistic approach, students can problem-solve more creatively and communicate more freely.
Art education can also foster visual learning. Math might be all numbers, but many scientific and technological disciplines deal with visuals as a gateway to understanding complex concepts. And because art is less rule-based and more flexible, it can encourage students to be curious and ask questions – which not only improves a given student’s public speaking skills, but builds their confidence and opens up their minds.
STEAM is also capable of breaking down some barriers. By showing that the arts and the humanities can also be part of all things STEM, students are less intimidated to enter these fields. This is particularly important in terms of engaging more women and girls into the sciences – a goal that we continue to diligently pursue at KCJ.
Intertwining the arts and the sciences creates a learning environment that is reflective of the 21st century. Today, there is no longer a division between “people who suck at math but are good at art” and vice versa. STEAM bridges two worlds that have long seemed at odds with one another to generate an inclusive learning experience that promotes creativity, collaboration, and innovation.