Brianne Gidcumb | April 2016

Foundations of STEAM

What is the Foundation of STEAM?

We hear STEM and STEAM arise in the same conversation, and the conversation sometimes comes down to “WHY do we choose STEAM over STEM?” First, let’s look at some key definitions:

Arts Integration: Interweaves two or more areas of study with naturally aligning, equitably assessed standards.

STEM: Focuses on the process and inquiry of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

-STEAM: Uses design principles and processes from the arts to manipulate science, tech, engineering, and math (arts act as a catalyst for STEM); STEM and arts integration combined.

STEAM is not a curriculum, but rather an approach to teaching and learning rooted in authentic cross-curricular integration. STEAM should not be a collection of projects, but rather a mindset for learning based in process. The foundation of STEAM initiative that maintains fidelity to the arts is one that is rooted in arts integration. It should not be a “stop and STEAM” type of experience for students, but rather one in which processes and contents are infused with one another when they are naturally aligning.

Why learn the Foundation of STEAM?

The arts promote some incredibly valuable skills that are paramount to a foundation of STEAM mindset, including but not limited to:

  • Observation
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Planning
  • Revision
  • Collaboration
  • Presentation

These skills are integral parts of the processes of inquiry and design, as well as the mathematical and scientific practices. Additionally, when we integrate the arts and allow students to think outside the box in terms of how they demonstrate their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math concepts, we increase opportunities for rigor, engagement, passion, and discovery in the classroom.

Where is the foundation of STEAM going?

In the new ESSA law, the arts and music are included in a definition of a “well-rounded education,” which has replaced the current term “core academic subjects.” This term, “well-rounded education,” including the arts and music, is clear throughout the bill, and ensures that federal funds are used to support educational opportunities through a variety of subjects. Those subjects include English, language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject determined by state or local governments.

Additionally, the bill includes support to schools that provide a well-rounded education through programs that integrate academic subject areas, including the arts, into STEM. This solidifies the place of STEAM in our schools!

How do you move forward building STEAM in your school?

The key to building STEAM school-wide is to take small, authentic steps. Here are a few tips for promoting a school-wide culture of STEAM.

  • First of all, before rolling out a STEAM initiative as a school, create a cross-curricular STEAM team that goes through the following plan of action first. The others in the school need a model, and if it can be with their peers, there will be more buy-in. Team leaders from each grade, along with the arts teachers, should make up the group, and each teacher should be responsible for 2 STEAM lessons or projects which are peer reviewed by others on the team.
  • Encourage teachers to familiarize themselves with contents outside of their own. This is the most difficult and time-consuming step in beginning to integrate contents, but it provides the foundation and framework for being able to effectively identify natural connections.
  • Bring foundations of arts integration into the classrooms, seizing on opportunities for natural alignment between the arts and any other content area, not solely STEAM content. When you integrate the arts throughout the curriculum, there will be more cohesion in encouraging a school-wide STEAM mindset.
  • Promote habits of thinking (mathematical, scientific, artistic, etc.), and process-based learning (the design process, the inquiry process, the creative process, etc.). Promote habits of thinking and a STEAM mindset, rather than engaging simply in “stop and STEAM” projects.
  • Try out our online course, Designed to STEAM, to build buy-in, create your own lessons based on your current curriculum, and to get everyone on the same page in your school.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: