My son who is currently in eighth grade had two recent experiences in school that made me want to do some more digging on the subject of STEAM.
In the last few years, Art has been added to the curriculum agenda that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.
Scenario One: He's in Social Studies learning about the 20th century. They read a chapter on "Heroes of the 20th Century" and were told to write a paper on one of the heroes.
He was all jazzed to write about Howard Hughes.
His teacher said, "No. Write about someone who is in the textbook."
My son complained, "but that doesn't require any research or imagination. All the information is already given to me."
No dice. He had to regurgitate what he read.
I spoke to a reading specialist who confirmed that yes, teachers need to know that students understand what they've read. Creativity, take a seat.
Scenario Two: In Science he is learning about simple machines. His assignment is to draw a dilapidated house with the 6 simple machines being used to fix different aspects of the structure.
He was given an 11"x17" piece of drawing paper.
Conniption to follow.
He spent the weekend with Ed Emberley's Little Drawing Book of the Farm, going step by step to draw a barn and farmer. Stencils assisted the rest of the way.
What Art in STEAM Really Means
This was taken from a TEDx talk...
Art integration - an approach to teaching in which students demonstrate understanding through an art form, engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in each.
Since the words above resemble the kind of stuffing and crushing that happens when I try to pack for a 7 day vacation using only a carry-on sized suitcase, let me expand on that into some specifics.
Art doesn't mean drawing and painting necessarily. Reading about Johnny Appleseed and then finger-painting an apple tree is not STEAM.
Ambiguity - teacher's this is what's going to keep you employed. Ambiguity leads to assignments that cannot be scanned through a computer to see if they're right or wrong. Students are taught that there isn't one right answer and the possibility exists that there is a NEW ANSWER.
Idea generation - learning isn't about memorization but about connecting dots and building off of what already exists. This is the concept of innovation that relies on creative problem solving.
Transdiciplinary research - research that serves curiosity goes beyond quantitative to qualitative with the purpose of exploring unknown conclusions.
Skills Developed Through STEAM
Presentation skills - being able to express ideas, especially visually (think infographics) will serve future communication
Creative Thinking - unique ideas will drive classroom discussions rather than textbook discussions.
Adaptability - education will not keep up if it doesn't take what we already know and apply it to emerging trends and problems.
Group Work - we have a global economy, why not have a global classroom. In a smaller sense, we'll see the sharing of ideas and skill sets between students rather than individuals being expected to struggle and excel inconsistently.
Examples of STEAM in the Classroom
Essentially, adding the art element to core curriculum does not add to the workload, but rather enhance it. Teachers are being challenged to create something that represents interpretive metaphors to their lessons.
Imagine traditional lessons being in service to ideas such as...
1. Acting out the water cycle in dance form where hand gestures and movement mimic the stages of evaporation, condensation and so forth. Heck, there's already a song!
2. Cutting fabric shapes and "quilting" them together to represent fractions.
3. Creating a food truck in Spanish using Google slides.
3. Expressing vocabulary words through typography design.
The bottom line is students need knowledge, skills, techniques and experience with resources to become tomorrow's innovators.
Please share your thoughts and project ideas in the comment section. Much appreciated!