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Why Was “A” for “Arts” Added To STEM Education?

Gamers, app developers, robotics freaks, and special effects enthusiasts understand that technology, math, science, and engineering are all creative fields. Music and the visual and performing arts play a significant role in the lives of many proud geeks, who can debate the merits of video game soundtracks, the plotlines of works of speculative fiction, or the designs of robots for many happy hours on end.

Formal education, however, has been slow to recognize that the arts are an essential pillar of STEM education. Incorporating language arts, music, dance, and the visual and performing arts into school curricula positively affect innovation, creativity, and communication. After all, new ideas won’t get much traction if an inventor can’t communicate the benefits of their innovative designs. Plus, adding social studies provides context about the impacts of innovations, whether for good or ill.

Why Was “A” for “Arts” Added to STEM Education?

 

The Origins of STEM Education

According to Education Week, teachers, public officials, and, yes, geeks had been talking about the need for more emphasis in education on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics since the ‘80s. But it wasn’t until 2005 that the first formal governmental use of the acronym “STEM” appeared when the bi-partisan duo of Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Mark Udall (D-CO) created a STEM caucus in Congress.

Soon after, researchers and educators noticed something was missing. Studies showed that including arts education improved performance in STEM fields. In 2006, Virginia Polytechnic student Georgette Yakman developed a plan to include arts education in STEM curricula, adding the “A” to turn STEM into STEAM.

 

Interconnections Between STEM and the Arts

From Leonardo da Vinci to Grant Imahara, arts and STEM fields have always been intertwined. Leonardo’s breathtaking designs couldn’t have been built without his engineering skills. Imahara became frustrated with his college electrical engineering courses until he had the opportunity to deploy his engineering skills creatively in film and television.

Education Commission of the States has reported that incorporating arts education has demonstrable positive effects, improving math scores and language skills, as well as general cognitive and executive functioning, auditory and motor skills, and critical and spatial thinking skills.

International organizations like the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM have sprung up to help K-12 educators transform curricula to incorporate the principles of STEAM education.

 

What Fields Are Added in STEAM?

Along with the physical and biological sciences, mathematics, engineering, and technology, STEAM education incorporates visual and performing arts, language arts, history, and social studies—the full spectrum of “liberal arts” education.

Music effectively teaches collaboration, improves auditory and motor processing, and enhances communication skills for all kids. But in addition to improving communication, music helps relieve anxiety for children with autism, some of whom show exceptional promise in STEM fields.

The arts not only enrich our lives but also advance our thinking. Creativity and artistic expression have always been a part of design, technology, and engineering innovation and the source of breakthroughs in mathematics. STEAM has changed education for the better, and our collective future will benefit.

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