What do I think?
I think the Arts absolutely deserve a seat at the STEM table. No question!
The Arts utilize the same critical thinking skills essential for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The difference between STEM and STEAM lies chiefly in the form taken by lessons and products.
Unfortunately, many artists/art educators aren’t trained in the scientific method, or are simply unaware of their own scientific thought processes, so they miss crucial opportunities to help students see parallels.
Moreover, parents don’t expect more. These days they’re immensely grateful for whatever art activities can be squeezed back into the curriculum and happy to have something to put up on the refrigerator.
But it’s maddening to see art curriculum standards focus narrowly on process and product, when teachers could so easily maximize learning while nurturing self-expression.
Here’s an example. Though I have no children in the school system I am a dues-paying PTA member at our new STEM elementary school and a former art teacher-volunteer on the parent-driven Arts committee. Our school has no money for arts instruction so parents assist in whatever way they can. Toward this goal, a parent recently attended an educators’ workshop at a local art museum. She returned full of enthusiasm for a lesson she’d learned there about drawing “kinds of lines – diagonal, etc.”, and gushed how the lesson would have children fill a paper with all kinds of lines.”
I hope I masked my frustration. “I taught a painted line lesson a bit like this,” I said, “but first let me clarify. There are kinds of lines and directions of lines. Kinds of lines are dotted, dashed, wavy, zigzag, fast, thick, thin, etc.” Diagonal is a direction. Any kind of line can go in any direction. You would be surprised at how few kids – even 3rd Graders – really know the difference between the directions.
“To reinforce kinds of lines drawn on the board, I had the kids stand up and follow the leader – me – hopping along for dotted lines, skating around the room for dashed lines, and so forth. Great gross motor fun! Then I led Simon Says to reinforce their understanding of directions of lines. Hey, we’re a STEM school! These basics should be a priority for us!” Parents loved the lesson.
So is STEAM really just hot air? You tell me.
Are these basics covered and reinforced in your regular elementary STEM studies?
(In a post next month I’ll share a clever science/stitchery project I adapted for my 4th and 5th Grades.)