In a past article we discussed ‘How the push for STEM education in Canada could change your child’s future.’ We talked about how modern curriculums are including science, technology, engineering and math as an interdisciplinary approach. We also discussed the way in which governments, businesses and organizations are investing in teaching and popularizing those subjects. STEM is becoming a framework for ensuring a viable workforce in Canada’s future.
However, a newer term has been popping up, called STEAM learning. The ‘A’ stands for “Art.” Art includes design, and it’s concepts. The newer acronym is changing the way we look at STEM subjects.
For one, it may get your kids more interested in pursuing STEM. And, it can change the approach to teaching these subjects by integrating the creative with the ‘modular.’
How STEAM learning affects STEM education and careers
In our last article on STEM education, we mentioned that STEM is invasive. It pervades our lives nowadays. It’s hard to meet someone who doesn’t own a piece of technology – be it a smartphone or a flip phone. Either way, even if your phone can’t tweet, it still needed people in STEM careers to make your life that much easier.
But STEM is not just about computers. It includes engineering and innovation in the things you don’t really notice or think about daily. Like the fuel efficiency of your car today compared to your parents’ time. Or the ability of your symmetrically-shaped glass windows to keep your heating bill down, compared to centuries ago. Or the systems that take your toilet waste and turn it into clean drinking water without you smelling or seeing it.
These all have the need for something that overlays STEM subjects: design thinking. Sometimes, this extends into a term called ‘whole-brain thinking,’ where business is added to science and creativity too. In short, the design component, while it may seem only creative, is not. The design is what decides how science is going to solve problems for humans in a way that they can adapt to it, or use it.
And so, the Rhode Island School of Design started a push to start changing the term STEM into STEAM. The idea is to combine art into the STEM subjects, because it’s still needed. The two fields are dependent on each other.
Their website, stemtosteam.org explains how art and science often converge. It gives the case study of a painter who discovered daguerreotypes – the precursor to photography. Photography, at the time, needed chemistry to develop film, an understanding of light to capture images, and more. Today, the way a camera is designed is reflective of how it needs science to work.
And we can see this in many areas, without a scholar needing to show us. The height of the Eiffel Tower is clearly related to its magnificent design, for instance. Buildings that grow plants on their walls or roofs are clearly a convergence of design and science working together. And so on.
Edutopia has a list of resources to help educators bridge STEM with art, and explain the need for both:
How STEAM learning might encourage more students to pursue STEM
Since the need for STEM-educated students is rising, the ability to get kids interested in these fields is also proving to be a challenge. Around the web you’ll find articles and stats about diversity issues in STEM, and the reluctance of kids to want to pursue these subjects in post secondary schools. We covered some of that in our previous article on STEM, mentioned above.
However, when you add art and creativity into the mix, you suddenly have an avenue for getting kids interested in what STEM subjects can do. This is most prominently noted among the gender gap in STEM; girls are less likely than boys to pursue these hard skills.
This article on Lifehacker.com also explains how the application of STEM can get kids interested in studying it further. For example, music actually uses a lot of math. And cooking requires chemistry. And so on.
Google started an initiative called Made with Code to get girls interested in the field. You’ll notice that the way they attract girls to take on coding subjects is by things they may be interested in, that involve art: like fashion design.
Thanks to STEAM learning, students no longer have to pick distinct paths
With the realization that art and science can go together, and need each other, it makes the choice of picking a career much easier. In the past, students may have chosen a degree in the arts believing it could not be applied to traditional STEM projects. However, workplaces and educators are seeing that is not necessarily the case. In fact, the most freedom to be able to create can come from the STEM subjects, integrated as STEAM learning.