STEM is Incomplete. We Need STEAM!

A number of years ago, the field of education had an epiphany.  In conjunction with community leaders and business and corporate leadership, STEM emerged to focus on four areas to work systemically, creating a curriculum to foster learning appropriate for the 21st century and the jobs of the future – many of which don’t even exist yet.  Science, Technology, Engineering and Math were fields that could work together to provide this type framework for today’s learners in the K-12 space, with the ability to write code as just one of the new foci which could develop from this innovative structure.

Unfortunately, “a number of years” in a rapidly evolving world of technology is an eternity, and many schools have added an “A” to STEM to create STEAM.  The “A” stands for Arts education.

You may be saying that mixes apples with oranges.  After all, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are all about “left-brained” logical processes.  Precisely.  It’s only half-brained.

Current brain research shows the positive impact of arts on the brain’s ability to learn.  It’s like planting a tree without first preparing the ground to accept it and allow it to grow.

Further, the world of STEM includes elements architecture, design, schematics, diagrams and coding – all of which have artistry involved.  And, with the addition of a fifth element, the system is now complete.  Peter Senge, in his text “The Fifth Discipline,” published in 1990, posited that a system with only three or four elements is incomplete, and a fifth element is necessary to complete the system.  There may be more, but five is the optimum number for a successful system.

That’s the interesting thing about the fifth element.  It’s usually something that’s related to one or more of the other four elements, and considered to be inherently contained within them.  For instance, engineering involves the ability to create blueprints and develop diagrams.  But if the engineer is phenomenal with stress factor calculations, yet can’t accurately draw a representational view of how the components of the project fit together, then the project loses meaning.  Calling out that element as the one that ties the rest of them together completes the system.

There are a number of resources that support moving from STEM to STEAM:

These are only a few of the constantly growing list of educational resources beginning to advocate STEAM as STEM advances.  Some of them have cited the effect of arts education as the “why” behind the “how” of STEM learning, as well as what makes the processes utilize systems thinking rather than simply the linear thinking that educators know and love.

Education Today: Full STEAM Ahead!