The state of the union for STEAM

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Texas Science Teachers meeting in Houston. I loved the theme, “Houston, we have a solution”. I was there as part of a group that is investigating education at the intersection of the Science, Arts and Humanities. “What is the state of Arts integration in STEM?” We have been talking about STEM and STEAM for a while. There are whole schools that identify themselves in their name with one of these two labels. Many started their presentations with , “Hi I am Frank and Sally and we are from X school. We are are a STEM or STEAM school.”

While this conference was a focus on science, not on STEAM. a fantastic benchmark for STEAM will be when Arts integration happens every where, not just at a STEAM specific conference of people preaching to the choir. Are we there yet??

There were many sessions that advertised STEAM and I certainly did not get to most of them. The ones I was privileged to attend had some great educators dong excellent work. They were all working hard, trying to be creative, and had the best interest of the kids in mind. However, I wonder if the superficial, add on level of arts integration that seemed to pervade the sessions I attended is indicative of teachers wanting to do something cool with STEAM, perhaps because it is the buzz word of the brings funding, but not really having any idea what that might look like in the classroom. Even more disturbing was that as you got to the higher grades, there was less and less integration.

For instance,:

  • One science museum was very proud of their arts integration by providing coloring books and crayons to the young participants who finished the museum tour early.
  • A middle school example had students draw their view through a microscope rather than using a camera. The intention here was that drawing fulfills the arts compenet of STEAM.There did not appear to be any discussion about the drawing slowing down a learner to take time to really focus on your subject, gradually seeing more and more. It is one thing to integrate arts at a low level because you are a STEAM school. It is something¬†completely different for the teacher knew why they were doing a particular integration so that they can maximize the positive effect and not ruin the effect by not considering the small nuances. It is the PROCESS of drawing that slows the mind and focuses the observations.

In the future I hope to see art and science so intertwined that it is impossible to do one without the other. I do believe that this will be harder, although not impossible, in a high school at the class level because for of course selection, bells, periods and prerequisites. One example is the Insulin project.

I am looking forward to the day when schools and conferences and grants will not need to differentiate between STEM and STEAM, because everything will be so nicely integrated with purpose so that students won’t confine themselves to only being math or science or art students. So much of the creativity and innovation in the 4th industrial revolution will come from the intersection and interplay of the arts, sciences and humanities.