The Shift from STEM to STEAM: Time for a New Acronym

The latest crisis in education seems to be the lack of STEM learning among U.S. students. There has been a huge push for educators to emphasize science, technology, engineering, and math to keep up with other developed countries who rank far ahead of us in those subjects.  After all, according to recent projections, the U.S. will have more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM-related occupations by 2018. Here on Technapex we’ve been swept up in the STEM storm as well. We’ve covered prominent figures in education calling to save STEM education, what two teenagers did to demonstrate the importance of STEM at the Lego Education Learning Summit, the White House’s announcement of a STEM Master Teacher Corps, and the 2012 STEM Solutions Summit.

Our nation has become so focused on STEM learning that we’ve neglected what advocates are calling a key element in education, and that’s the Arts. STEAM advocates‘ mission statement is “to have business leaders, art professionals, educators, and others work together to educate governments, the public, and the media to the need for returning arts to the national curricula.”

According to the “STEAM Not STEM” website, “STEM is based on skills generally using the left half of the brain and thus is logic driven. Much research and data shows that activities like the Arts, which use the right side of the brain, support and foster creativity, which is essential to innovations.”

Recently Steven Ross Pomeroy wrote an article for Scientific American stating the importance of STEAM education. Pomeroy asserts that science and the arts are not at odds with each other but rather go hand in hand, citing examples of collaboration between the two evident in works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Su Song, Carl Jung’s theory of the artist-scientist, and even Steve Jobs, who describes himself and Apple workers as artists. Pomeroy writes, “Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.”

The importance of arts and creativity shouldn’t be underestimated — research has shown that when given the opportunity to be creative, people are at their most innovative. Look to TED Talks for supporters of creativity: Ken Robinson’s assertion that creativity is as important as education as literacy; Dan Pink’s point that half of Google’s new products come from engineers’ “20 percent time,” or free time given to work on anything they want in the workplace; and Mae Jemison’s point that “[science and the arts] are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”

Pomeroy cites a study by Dr. Jerome Kagan of Harvard University, who says the arts regularly combine motor skills, perceptual representation, and language. “Art and music require the use of both schematic and procedural knowledge, and, therefore, amplify a child’s understanding of self and the world.”

In an Artinfo article on the growing demand for STEAM education, Kyle Chayka talks about the funding STEM education has received in the past few years. He cites examples in New York City, including an $100 million grant to develop the CornellNYC Tech School, and funding for high schools completely devoted to technology in the hopes of encouraging students to enter the startup job market. Chayka writes, “In the competition for funding, practical science is always going to come out ahead of art. The true dilemma is not how to make those numbers equal, but how to integrate the arts into STEM.”

Maybe it’s time for a new acronym. Maybe it’s time educators heeded the words of this one scientist (who also referred to himself as an artist) named Albert. You know, the one who discovered that theory of relativity or whatever? Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.