The Movement From STEM to STEAM

Recently in an elementary classroom in southern California, teacher and educational consultant Sarah Weaver was working with a group of students to use marshmallows and spaghetti to build the tallest, freestanding structure possible. In her blog, she writes about this activity as a great way to promote communication, teamwork, and creativity while allowing students to get to know each other and develop an understanding of appropriate group work behavior. Weaver uses this lesson to help her readers understand how this inquiry-based activity is a great example of STEAM programming. 

Art teachers in schools across the country have been singing the praises for the movement to include Arts and the Humanities into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programming, thus putting the “A” in STEAM education. Arts integration specialist and Education Closet founder Susan Riley defines STEAM as “an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.”
In that same article, Riley went on to outline the core components of a STEAM program as follows:
  • STEAM is an integrated approach to learning which requires an intentional connection between standards, assessments and lesson design/implementation.
  • True STEAM experiences involve two or more standards from Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and the Arts to be taught AND assessed in and through each other.
  • Inquiry, collaboration, and an emphasis on process-based learning are at the heart of the STEAM approach.
  • Utilizing and leveraging the integrity of the arts themselves is essential to an authentic STEAM initiative.
Last month, Edutopia updated its list of resources for STEM to STEAM to better help teachers strategize around the different approaches to integrated studies. One of the strategies highlighted by Edutopia’s Vicki Davis was the Maker Movement: Promoting students to tinker, create, modify, design, hack, build, invent, fix, and make things in the classroom. Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager, in their book Invent to Learn, write: “Maker classrooms are active classrooms. In active classrooms one will find engaged students, often working on multiple projects simultaneously, and teachers unafraid of relinquishing their authoritarian role. The best way to activate your classroom is for your classroom to make something.” Indeed I witnessed the benefits of this approach first hand last summer when I sent my oldest three children (I have 5) Brady (9), Cameron (7), and Liam (5) to a Lego robotics camp hosted by LetGo Your Mind at our local elementary school. At Lego camp, my boys were given the tools and the platform to let their imagination run wild as they built cool robots that could perform specific tasks and created stop-animation movies with Legos to depict certain scenes or stories from their imagination. 

Edutopia also highlighted a 2014 We are Teachers article that listed 10 Innovative Projects That Take Learning From STEM to STEAM. In that article, Jessica McFadden highlighted some STEM lessons from School Specialty that incorporated elements of art and design to help students grasp science, tech, engineering and math concepts through the creative process.

The Rhode Island School of Design maintains a comprehensive website called There, in addition to a library of resources on STEAM best practice, you can read about several case studies of RISD alumni who have successfully developed STEAM programs in their classrooms. One such example is that of Meghan Reilly Michaud, an art teacher at Andover High School in Andover, Massachusetts. For several years, she has partnered with the high school’s math department to teach “Geometry Through the Lens of Art,” a museum field trip in which students examine the ways that artistic perspectives and geometric concepts are inherently related.

In today’s fast-paced society, we need individuals with strong skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. STEAM is showing promise as a way to help students develop those important twenty first century skills. 

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.


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