STEM to STEAM: A Welcome Change

One of the most talked about topics in modern education is the implementation of STEM programs. What is STEM? Well, it’s just an acronym for Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics. It is so much more than four letters strung together. It is, what many people believe, the very thing that can save our future economy.

“Okay Nick, what do you mean?” “Aren’t you being a bit drastic?” Well, give me a chance to express my thoughts on the matter.

It really all boils down to the demand for talented technical workers that the current education system is failing to produce. The demand for talented workers in fields such as medical science, software development, mathematics, and computer system analysis is growing more rapidly than all other occupations. Why then, do most students not have the opportunity to study these fields until 2-3 years into their college programs?

STEM is essentially a movement to spark the interest in these fields by bringing the topics to the youth earlier in their education. Giving them opportunities within school and outside of school to embark on projects and research that is missing in the majority of public schools.

STEM programs are very student centric and allow for them to engage by asking questions and getting hands-on with the experiment. The old question of “when will I ever use this knowledge?” is answered as the instructor guides them in the application of mathematical formulas and scientific theory.

So Why the Push to Add Art?

Much of a child’s ability to comprehend the world outside of their normal vantage point is triggered by art and design. This plays a huge role in innovation and problem solving. Art and design is a critical component of creating innovative products and sparking new discoveries. For instance, product design is an important aspect of any new gadget…no one would have bought the iPhone if it had looked like an old BlackBerry.

Many proponents of the STEM movement wish to incorporate art into their programs but they wish to do so without “watering down” the scientific or mathematical topics. Some directors have sought to incorporate the arts into the technical aspects of STEM learning. My example earlier of product design is one example of how art can play a critical role in developing new technology. Communication skills are another important tool to add to the young engineer’s tool belt that will allow them to work together in a team and even market their product or research.

Our Thoughts

I don’t consider myself very creative in terms of artistic ability. However, I have an enormous appreciation for design and I understand how important it is to the future of the technology industry.

I’m not sure how to best implement the arts into the current STEM movement but it definitely should not be removed from the classroom. Art programs are often one of the first to experience cuts in funding when a school district is facing financial issues. I believe that developing ways to implement the arts into existing science and technology programs will help rekindle what is being lost in our public school system.

In the book “The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem”, Deborah Meier sums it up best when she says:

“Change cannot be undertaken by a faculty that is not convinced and involved. Even when teachers are engaged, it’s tough to change the habits of a lifetime, embedded as such habits are in the way we talk about schooling and the way our students and their families expect it to be delivered.”

It’s not only the responsibility of the school to prepare your child for the future. We all need to be in this together. I encourage you to read more on this topic and help out if you can with programs in your area.

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