Will Adding Arts to STEM Improve Education and Innovation?

Can STEM, an acronym which already seems designed to cause confusion, accommodate an addition of one more letter? STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has been a focus of recent education reform, yet Doug Haller, writing for smartblogs.com, believes that adding an A for arts would better reflect the optimum education program for America's kids.

The ever-growing impact of technology on everyday life makes the importance of STEM easy to understand. But schools, says Haller, shouldn't be afraid of adding arts to the mix — especially since the creativity which has long associated with arts-related disciplines can contribute a great deal to technological innovation.

Many scientists I've met integrate art into their work intentionally or unconsciously. Communicating scientific concepts and data requires creating visual and even sonic representations. I've "heard" energy pulses from space because scientists thought to convert electromagnetic radiation into sound. As a geology student, one of my great joys was illustrating maps of the terrain we researched. In my science classroom, I encouraged my students to draw and communicate their ideas visually as well as in writing or speech. Looking at human history, it appears to me that flourishing societies demonstrate excellence in the arts as well as STEM.

Technological advances don't happen in a vacuum. The biggest leap forward made by humans in their history – the Renaissance – involved both technological and creative evolution. Even the word itself denotes expertise in many different areas; we consider someone to be a Renaissance man if he is equally adept in the realm of science and of art.

Art could even prove to be a powerful tool in teaching the S,T,E and M. Thanks to a recent grant, John Gunther, an associate professor at College of Music in Boulder, Colorado will be exploring ways to make teaching of STEM subjects more effective via music and art.

Gunther will explore the "Science of Creativity" to better understand the creative process as it applies to the arts and the sciences. Working with students and faculty from an array of disciplines, Gunther hopes to learn where commonalities in creativity in the sciences and arts exist, develop ways to visually and sonically represent data and use technology to further the education of the arts and the sciences. His initiative will also take into account the growing body of research and applications in the neurosciences that allow us to map active areas of the brain during different physical and mental pursuits.

Gunther isn't alone in exploring the connection between these seemingly disparate fields of study. Linda Keane of the Art Institute of Chicago, a strong STEAM advocate, spends the time outside of her professorial duties supervising NEXT.cc, a program to bring the teaching of environmental design to secondary schools around the country — an area that requires understanding in all the letters making up STEAM.

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