Toni Henneman | October 2018

The Arts and STEM: Better Together

Bread and butter. Nuts and bolts. Pen and paper. Some things naturally work better together. In the education world, science, technology, engineering, and math seem to flourish as a group. But… they need one more subject to bring out their full potential. The Arts and STEM education need to work together to give students a comprehensive, well-rounded education.

Art educators could understandably be resistant to sharing their creative class time with the more cerebral sciences. Students are constantly using computers, smart phones, and other technology in their day-to-day lives. So isn’t it important for students to have one part of their school day that can just be imaginative?

A natural fit

At the same time, supporters of STEM education could rightfully argue that the arts aren’t a natural fit with this more left-brained partnership. After all, suppose students are completing a traditionally straightforward engineering project, like designing a suspension bridge. Isn’t it more intuitive to just include elements of math, science and technology in the project? Why try and incorporate art, too?

The question of when to engage STEAM isn’t so much about whether a project can be completed using strictly scientific methods or a purely artistic approach. Instead, the question is how using these seemingly opposite approaches together can help students engage with the modern world in more meaningful and innovative ways.

In the digital age

Teaching science, technology, engineering, and math has definitely become a high priority. With this in mind, we know our students will need to work with computers and keep pace with rapidly-advancing technology. STEAM start-up Arch For Kids LLC notes that these same technological advancements show us why arts and design need a seat at the table as well. As Arch For Kids’ Michael Bettencourt said, “We need to show students how STEM disciplines have affected and altered the world around them, and how they too can innovate using their knowledge of these subjects.”

The desire to innovate also shows why art education benefits from a dose of science, technology, engineering, and math. The easy accessibility of modern technology makes it easy for students to communicate with the push of a button. The arts have never had such an immediate and global platform. For example, within seconds, a video, song, or picture can go viral on the Internet, being shared thousands of times around the world. We need to harness the power of this new platform! But for students to do that, they need to understand the role of technology in their artistic lives. Weaving science, math, engineering, and technology into art class can help students understand how to use these tools to shape and amplify their artistic message.

Do the Arts Belong?

In fact, artist and STEAM-supporter Ruth Catchen sees art as a way to usher underrepresented students into the world of STEM. An Edweek article on STEM vs. STEAM: Do The Arts Belong? explained Catchen’s alternative view of preparing students to live in the digital age: “Ruth believes that in our technically-focused world, we have a responsibility to educate the whole child to become a global citizen in his or her community.” Staying engaged and connected is vital in our communication-driven world. Students need to balance their technological know-how with the self-knowledge and empathy so that they can build a community.  

To some, STEAM may still feel like an unlikely grouping of subjects. But it’s becoming harder and harder to deny that combining left- and right-brained approaches helps students make the most of both worlds. Learning to use critical thinking in conjunction with a creative approach empowers students to become innovators, visionaries, and pioneers. It seems pretty clear that the arts and STEM go together. In our rapidly-evolving world, students will go further if they’re STEAM-powered.

If you’re looking for great ideas to implement STEAM in your class you should definitely check out these SchoolArts articles:

The Artist as Naturalist 

The Physics of Sitting 

Is STEAM the Next Supermodel? 

Combining Streams of Raw Data with Sculpture and Music 

Light Painting 2.0 

About the Author

Toni Henneman is the Director of Marketing for Davis Publications. She is also an art education advocate, art instructor, and artist passionate about furthering the awareness of the crucial impact arts have in education. With Davis Publications, she works to advance their ongoing core mission to develop quality art education and advocacy materials.