7 Ways to Turn STEM into STEAM

May 20, 2014 Updated April 24, 2014

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 piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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