What is STEAM? A Closer Look into How “Art” Fits Into STEM

By Allie VanNest

STEM curriculum, which integrates Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, has steadily been climbing the ladder of importance in curriculum design — especially in the middle and high school curriculum — because it has one overwhelming objective. STEM is indispensable to solving most of the world’s current problems. With a view to creating a future-ready workforce, schools have begun equipping themselves with STEM capabilities. The rise of “makerspaces” that encourage learning and discovery through science and tech is a testimony to the phenomenon.

In recent times, we have seen a push towards including the “A” in the STEM, bringing the Arts and Sciences together, both long deemed polar opposites of each other. STEAM is aimed at rendering our students capable of delivering solutions that are geared toward the 4Cs required for the 21st-century — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.

Art is Gaining STEAM

Driven by a holistic vision, STEAM is garnering support from a wide range of organizations including the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the U.S. Department of Education.

The Sciences and Arts were never considered separate until about even 500 years ago. Famous artists (the most famous among them being Leonardo Da Vinci) have been critical thinkers across several disciplines, finding their expression through art. More recently, we had Steve Jobs who put in his artistic streak into every piece of technology he produced, helping iPhones sell as much for their aesthetic appeal as for their tech capabilities.

“I am not the creative type, I am good with science” is an oft-heard reprieve that can feel disarming when coming from a 12-year-old. After all, research in neuroscience has established that pursuing the arts helps improved brain function while growing up. Learning to play a musical instrument does a tremendous lot to improve cognitive function (in fact, here are 16 benefits!). More recently, “The Sanskrit effect” — brought about by the verbal repetition of poetry and prose texts in ancient Hindu Vedic scriptures, has shown to enlarge the hippocampus for improved memory.

How to Incorporate Art into STEM Curriculum

A good way to integrate arts with sciences in middle grades is to identify the aspects of the art that best align with the STEM concepts about to be taught. Arts often help simplify the concept to be taught. Music involves understanding fractions and cyclical patterns. Dance and theatre require an understanding of geometry, mensuration and spatial cognition. For example, check out this musician that NPR recently featured: he used the Fibonacci series in music set to rapid-fire rhythmic Indian percussion music.

With the world turning more dynamic and interactive with shrinking borders, it’s hard to imagine scaling in any field without the help of technology; this holds good for the arts as well. Integrating STEAM into the learning curriculum helps us develop students into self-learners and dynamic thinkers — which can turn out to be the most valuable skill for the current generation because experts predicting that about 65 percent of future jobs haven’t even been created yet. To be true changemakers and innovators, students need to pick up the ability to make connections between many diverse concepts to solve problems.

Kickstarting STEAM Programs in Your Classroom

The littleBits Education Solutions is an initiative by littleBits kicked off nationwide to help school districts start and scale their STEAM programs. Through free consultation to schools, littleBits will help the school fire up their STEAM program by focusing on their unique needs and implementation stage. Each Solution Kit comes with a Code Kit and STEAM Student Set, evergreen lesson plans, professional development, assessment tools, student resources, and physical storage, focused on making use of available resources, helping beginner schools start small.

Since learning is best done through exploration, our STEAM kits are designed to keep instruction by teachers at a minimum to drive self-discovery and direction. STEAM encourages new methods to focus on real-world problems and drives collaboration by connecting concepts across various disciplines.

Of course, the results deviate from the expected outcome of classroom learning. The journey is so much messier, but students love taking charge of their own learning. STEAM packs so much fun back into learning that we always have them coming back for more!

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