THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS
So let’s get this out of the way – STEM has been the big buzzword around education since it became a centerpiece of President Obama’s education platform. WHY are we adding the arts to make it STEAM?? Isn’t the point of STEM that the focus is on the sciences? After all, isn’t that the future of our job market? Should we just go ahead and add English and Social Studies as well? What about Health, Physical Education, and Languages? Aren’t you just diluting STEM and making meaningless?
Ok, yes, I get the point. However, I want you to think about the way that you were taught math and science in school. How much creativity was involved? How much innovating did you have to do? How much was just memorizing formulas and algorithms? If we as a society expect to move forward with great innovations and new technologies, we need creative thinkers that can think outside the box. Part of the reason Apple became so dominant in the last decade was Steve Jobs’ insistence that design and aesthetics were just as important as function. The problem is that we just spent the last two decades educating an entire generation to think that the answers are always one of five multiple choice options. We spent little time teaching students to question why or how things work and even less time allowing them to come up with alternative solutions.
Enter Common Core. Common Core State Standards were actually designed to be more rigorous and require more thought and creativity on the part of the student, as opposed to drilling them with facts to get better test scores. Yet, how much good press have you seen about Common Core? I’m willing to bet that you have seen 10 or 20 times more negative opinions, mostly from parents who no longer know how to help their kids with math. I would place the blame of this squarely on the roll out of CCSS. Teachers were not given the opportunity to fully understand the standards before being told to teach them, textbook companies had not developed new materials, and parents were blindsided by homework that no longer looked familiar with no good explanation of why.
So where does that leave us? Am I suggesting that kids have to become dancers and musicians to be creative or that we should look to actors and designers for our technological advances? Of course not. Science and math are still science and math and require a specific skill set. The idea behind STEAM is not to turns scientists into artists and artists into scientists. Rather, it is getting kids to understand the interconnection of creativity and calculation. It is developing our children to become people that are not looking for the correct multiple choice answer, but look for solutions and have a wide array of problem solving methods and processes at their disposal. STEAM teaches students to look at information from multiple angles, to see possibilities and apply information to real life scenarios. This is all on top of the cognitive benefits of participation in the arts (see here, here, and here just for a start). If we truly want to see success, we will look to a fully integrated curriculum that recognizes and supports all subjects and how they connect.
For more on STEAM and resources for the home and classroom, see the links below.