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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is S.T.E.M. Picking up S.T.E.A.M.?

Most of us would agree that the arts help us develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around us. It could also be said that it's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that helps us interpret our world.

Lately there's been a lot of talk about the need to add arts into the S.T.E.M. equation. In other words, STEM<STEAM.

In a December 7 article in Education Week, Erik Robelen provides a balanced overview about the momentum gathering behind an organized movement to demonstrate the connection and combine arts with STEM initiatives.

There are big guns behind the movement. NSF is providing grants and sponsoring conferences. They recently helped launch a project called The Art of Science Learning, a formalized exploration of how the arts can strengthen STEM skills, "...and spark creativity in the 21st-Century American workforce."

In my book, Connecting Students to STEM Careers, I talk with Dr. Patricia Galloway, a renowned civil engineer and past Vice-Chair of the National Science Board. It was her love of art that first made the connection for her with her field in engineering. Listening to a presentation by a civil engineer professor as a young woman, she quickly made the connection and found the intersection between her art and a career as a civil engineer.

There are many different ways that right brain and left brain perceptions and creations intersect. Art helps young students understand abstract concepts and encourages us to think outside the box, as all great inventors and innovators have done.

Robelen concludes that the jury is still out on the research. And some say, can't we enjoy art for art's sake? Not all aesthetics are engineers. True. But most engineers rely on their creative powers; technologists are problem-solvers who rely on their ability to look at the world in many ways.  Robelen talked with a biology professor who once served on the National Research Council's Board on Science Education. She is not on the bandwagon all together. She agrees there are ways the arts and STEM work together, but, she says, "...they are very different ways of knowing the world." That, in my opinion, is possibly WHY they should go together.

I am STEAMed up. As a matter of fact, it's possible that many of today's students will find their way into technology careers through their creative endeavors in the classroom with video and other digital tools, through the use of social media to explore the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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