By Adding Arts, STEM Education Blossoms into STEAM

In an effort to spark innovation, STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — could be turning into STEAM by adding art into the mix. But Ohio schools are finding the transition isn't a seamless one. Challenges include how schools will delineate disciplines and diminish traditional barriers, reports Tom Prendergast from

"Scientists and artists are both trying to get a better understanding of the world around us, but they are doing it through different lenses," says Kate Cook, a life science teacher at the Dayton Regional STEM School. "Nothing exists in a vacuum in the real world or in a school. It makes sense when we try to approach problems from multiple perspectives."

From Ohio's 2012 ACT data, 6,000 graduating seniors intended to pursue a degree in the arts, while 6,500 seniors planning on studying engineering. Students pursuing the arts outnumbered students intending to major in engineering in 2010 and 2011.

Advocates of STEAM believe integrating arts into science education can increase students' understanding of the material.

Teachers are attempting to integrate art into science lessons and is proving to be a powerful tool in teaching traditional STEM curriculum.

The teachers say the cross-curricular projects require extra effort and continual refinement, but that it pays off in the rich learning experience without sacrificing content.

"We're having real success with kids that don't respond as well as they could with the traditional assessment methods," says Montgomery. "They are doing portfolios and placing a lot of value on reflections. The process is the important piece."

Major institutions are investing in STEAM education by merging high-tech equipment with creative studio environments. The Columbus College of Art and Design received a $300,000 towards a "Fab Lab" which features 3-D printers, large scale plotters, computer driven laser and vinyl cutters and a computer numerical controlled milling machine.

Initially the donation was intended to benefit the Industrial Design students, but the Dean of the School of Design Arts, Tom Gattis saw an opportunity for a broader range of colleges. He sees the equipment as an opportunity for any student to bring their ideas into fruition.

"Having these (hands-on) skills is extremely important to talk with vendors to ensure the integrity of their solutions," Gattis says, adding that many Industrial Design graduates are placed in design firms or corporations where vendors will likely produce the final product. And while the students don't generally operate the machines, they perform all the necessary design work on software, including three-dimensional drafting.

"Fashion design students used rapid prototyping and the laser cutter to make enhancements of garments for the annual senior fashion show," says Gattis. "Watching the show, I was thinking, ‘that was in the Fab Lab just a week ago.'"


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