George Lucas Educational Foundation

7 Ways to Turn STEM into STEAM

7 Ways to Turn STEM into STEAM

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Fourth grade student’s collage their ideal school habitat in the artist’s workshop.

I remember a few years ago when I first began hearing about STEM initiatives around the country, the effort to bring more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math into the curriculum of schools across the country. The initiative makes sense, for one, because annual surveys of America’s top CEOs and leaders have indicated that the American work force is not adequately trained in these areas. So, yes, we should invest resources into STEM. However, one other thing that these same leaders have been saying is that they want to see more creative workers, as well.

About 5 minutes after I heard the term “STEM” for the first time, I heard arts educators and advocates saying, “STEAM,” which is STEM content taught through an integration of the arts. The two terms have been in a little bit of competition for attention since, unfortunately. For arts integration advocates, STEAM makes perfect sense. Teach the content of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math through the arts. Visual arts like sculpture and painting depend on the elements of STEM for their success. Architecture wouldn’t be an art form without engineering because all the buildings would have fallen down. Here's an article from the Huffington Post advocating STEAM:

One of my teaching positions is in the Towson University Arts Integration Institute, which issues a post-baccalaureate certificate in arts integration. As the final class of their certificate program, teacher-students undertake an action research project in their classrooms. I spoke with one of the teachers, Dana Link, an elementary school art teacher in Maryland’s Baltimore County, who has been working on integrating art and environmental science in her classroom.

Dana worked with elementary age students to study the life of the endangered Maryland checkerspot butterfly through art. Here is part of our conversation:

What do you think are the 1 or 2 (or 3) things that school leadership needs to do in order to bring STEAM into the building?

  • Provide Time for Teachers to Collaborate: Any type of integration requires planning time in order to be effective. Please give teachers as much time as you can to collaborate so your STEAM efforts can be successful.
  • Provide Adequate Training: Teachers will shy away from integration if they cannot visualize how it works or do not feel confident in its implementation. Many opportunities are out there to have your faculty learn about STEAM. Teachers need the tools.
  • Embrace Cooperative Learning: The new STEM standards require cooperative learning methods. The entire school body has to understand that working together is required. Leadership needs set the expectation that each person has to have ownership in this process. The good news with STEAM is there are many opportunities for faculty to feel like they are contributing in a relevant way.

What advice would you give to teachers who want to bring STEAM into their schools?

  • Find Others with Your Passion: Change is very difficult for teachers because we already have so much on our plates. If you are going to start this process, however, you need willing participants. Begin looking for others who have the same excitement you do for STEAM education.
  • Learn as much as you can about STEM standards and Arts Integration: Read the research, attend a conference or workshop, talk to experts, and begin practicing. The more you know, the better you will be able to advocate for STEAM at your school.
  • Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know: STEAM education means that people learn to use resources to solve problems. You are not expected to be an expert in all of the topics that might be covered as you integrate.
  • ADVOCATE: share your experiences with others, choose an interesting and relevant topic for a STEAM project, get the community involved, support others in their STEAM efforts, and feel free to show off when you notice that your students are fully engaged in learning.

Is there STEAM in your school building? Is Dana’s advice helpful to you?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (16) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Research and Standards Editor

Love this discussion! Can't wait to read more.

Denise, here are a few great PD-oriented resources for STEAM implementation:

4th Annual San Francisco Bay Area STEAM Colloquium: "Full STEAM Ahead: at the Corner of Common Core and STEAM"

Arts Integration: Resource Roundup at Edutopia

Oklahoma A+

For additional project ideas, check out:

"STEAM" at Open Educational Resources

Collection of K-12 hands-on activities at the Lawrence Hall of Science

STEM to STEAM at the Rhode Island School of Design

Finally, if you're able to attend, the NSTA conference is a great resource for STEAM workshops and presentations.

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out!

Raymond Rose's picture
Raymond Rose
Online Learning Evangelist

Some may see this as nit-picking, but I believe long term it is important. Can we replace STEAM with TEAMS? Same letters, but very different image. I see STEAM programs using an OLD steam train for their logo. TEAMS reflects a 21st Century approach to learning and working.

TEAMS presents a much more modern and relevant image than STEAM.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Great article! We brought STEM into my Elementary Computer Lab two years ago and I am now in conversations with our amazing art teacher about possible synergies. Seems like the best approach would be to pick a project and just dive in! Anyone have any advice? We currently use and love the Engineering is Elementary ( curriculum in my classroom, could be very easy to add artistic elements, as this student did on a project involving parachutes from last year: - appreciate any guidance!

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

This is wonderful Kevin - thanks for sharing the EiE curriculum! A couple of quick things that have proven successful in moving toward STEAM...
1. Collaboration is key. Make sure that both the content and the fine arts educators are working together so that the standards from both sides are being achieved.
2. STEAM (and any integration approach) MUST address two or more naturally aligned standards and they must assess both standards equitably.
3. Use inquiry-driven instruction to drive the lesson. When students get to take control of their own learning, engagement and vigorous thinking are the result.

My best advice for getting started in to pair up with an arts educator (just like you've done!) and look at some areas where your students currently struggle. Is there a standard that you teach that students always find difficult? Talk this through with the arts educator and see if there are any ways that the arts educator addresses this same concept in their arts class. Locate the standards (both yours and theirs), write them down and then think about a lesson that could teach your standard through the arts standard and process that you have identified. Work with the arts educator to also think about how you'll know that students made progress towards using that standard (assessment).

You might also want to take a look at No Permission Required, the book I just released. There are sample lesson plans and assessments, as well as case studies from other schools who are doing what you're doing!

@creativityassoc's picture
Director, Education Division, Creativity & Associates

Hi Kevin!
There are so many great crossovers between art and engineering. Architecture is my favorite example of that combination. But, a lot of sculpture requires engineering knowledge in order for it to stay up! Students could create the armature (structural base) of a sculpture based on an art class' design and then the art class could create the sculpture.

Or, you could help students study the principals of design in order to create anything, really. Simply adding a lesson or two on the principals of design can change how your students look at engineering; the idea is to move beyond function to think about whatever you're constructing as an art object. It helps if you have a working knowledge of the language of the art form you're interested in pairing with. It doesn't have to be an extensive knowledge, but know their jargon and teach the art teacher yours. It helps alleviate people's fears of your subject area. :)

Additional crossovers with engineering are in sound. You could conduct experiments on the different sound engineering of different styles of music. The music teacher would teach students how the music styles are constructed and then you can look at the difference in engineering of the sounds.

As a theatre activity, students could imagine themselves to be important engineers of the past, in order to learn about the person's accomplishments and inventions, etc. They could all come together and share their ideas in an Engineers' Convention. They could also form mock engineering companies, in which they all have jobs. The groups would all get contracts to do something and would have to work together, in character, to figure out how to do it. These kinds of process drama activities can be really simple or extremely involved.

To systematically integrate the arts across all subjects in a school takes a lot of work, but showing the school how it can work is the best first step. A simple conversation with the art teacher, if s/he is open, is the first step to creating dynamic and fun projects. Good luck!

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Joan and Susan, wow - can't thank you enough - so many great ideas and strategies here! More on my situation - I see the kids (K-4) 42 minutes once a week, as does the Art teacher. We don't have common planning time, and the Art teacher is actually a part-time employee. We work well together electronically, but I need to respect her schedule (sometimes I can be a little over-enthusiastic.) Our PD days are already pretty full, but my principal is trying to build more opportunities for articulation, like at staff meetings. So, I am guessing, starting small with a manageable project would make the most sense. What do you think?

Also, while we're on the topic of PD, allow me to give a plug to a free unconference I'm helping to run again this year called Edcamp STEAM:

It's on Tuesday, August 5th in Northern New Jersey, but it's free and fabulous. All are welcome. The blog above has a nice video explaining what the event is all about. We had a blast last year. I actually led a conversation about what we are doing with Engineering is Elementary at my school.

Please keep the ideas coming!


Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

Kevin - yes, starting small is always better. You'll see more success more quickly, and that is something you can build off of both for yourself and as a model for others. I always recommend giving yourself a goal of one or two projects as a start, really refining them and implementing them with care and then reflecting upon the process. It's manageable and makes a great impact.

So excited to see that you are part of the team coordinating the STEAM EdCamp in NJ! I actually just included this opportunity in EdCloset's upcoming newsletter for this Sunday. What a wonderful focus for an EdCamp! Just out of curiosity, have you ever heard of Two Bit Circus? They use circus design and performance as a way into STEAM, and much of it includes engineering. You may want to check them out:

Also - are you on Twitter? If so, we hold a #STEAMedchat once a month. We're hosting one today at 1PM EST, but there is always a storify that we create later. You may want to check out that hashtag for ideas, links and resources. And have you joined the Facebook STEAM Art Educators group yet? Lots of ideas flying around over there that would work well for you and your art teacher:

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Hi Susan, yes, I'm @kjarrett on Twitter, and though I am in school at 1pm EST, I will check out the hashtag and Storify. I joined the Facebook group and am checking out Two Bit Circus. Thanks!

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