The A in STEAM
The “art” part of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) opens wide a door that can enhance any curriculum. By including visual arts, media arts, dramatic arts/theatre, dance and/or music, the resulting curriculum has the potential to improve outcomes for many learners. While there are disagreements on how the “arts” are defined and what their purpose is within the curriculum (e.g., to help teach 21st Century Skills like creativity and problem solving or to teach skills specific to STEAM) (see Boice et al., 2021), many continue to build curriculum with a focus on STEAM and see positive outcomes.
In this episode, Donzell Lewis shared his role in adding the art component of the 3rd grade STEAM-based curriculum. Within his focus on the art of theatre, he didn’t take on the role of writing a play to showcase the work of the students. Instead, he used the UDL framework to think of ways to gather the students’ voices to build an entire performance.
Likewise, other teachers from the arts have shared how UDL enhanced how they either teach the arts (listen to Lizzie Fortin and Timmary Leary) or how they represent a topic or skill through the arts (listen to Jessie Sherman). These examples can help educators understand how UDL can enhance the use of the arts for learning, and ensure every student has full access to the art.
STEM education has always been about application, exploration, innovation, observation, problem-solving and the interconnection and dependency that exists between the four subjects. In fact, research has shown that students’ knowledge in STEM, student intent to continue studying in the areas of STEM, and attitudes toward STEM have all increased as have gender dynamics in the classroom (Boice et al., 2021).
While the arts were added as an “onramp” for students who might be less inclined toward STEM (can we say, “hello Recruiting Interest”?), it soon became evident that the use of the arts to engage and represent the information was extremely beneficial (Bury, 2018). In addition, having the students utilize the arts to demonstrate their knowledge and skills related to STEM disciplines furthers their depth of understanding and connection to the content.
Donzell provides a beautiful example of this. He demonstrates that the arts do not pull attention or focus away from the STEM areas; in fact, the arts further immerse the students within the work and the products. The joy is palpable in both the student and his colleagues. The students are engaged in the learning process and overjoyed to see and hear their contributions to the final product. The teachers are engaged in creatively collecting representations of the students’ understanding and knowledge and are overjoyed to witness their students’ creativity.
I always end each blog with a reference to expert learning since that is the purpose of implementing the UDL framework. I hope you take time to listen to the podcast because I ask Donzell to articulate how he sees one aspect of expert learning come alive in the process of the arts and he describes it beautifully. I will leave you with this, though. The disciplines of STEM are “head” oriented. Formulas and equations, numbers and measurements can rule your thinking in science, technology, engineering and math. But life is lived through the head and the heart. As the artist Marc Chagall famously stated, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works. If I create from the head, almost nothing.” A focus of STEAM is to provide students the opportunities to create from the hearts so they can become wonderfully connected with the heady stuff. STEAM on, friends.
Boice, K., Jackson, J., Alemdar, M., Rao, A., Grossman, S., & Usselman, M. (2021).
Supporting Teachers on Their STEAM Journey: A Collaborative STEAM Teacher Training Program. Education Sciences, 11(3), 105.
Burry, M. (2018, December 26). Why art was added to science, technology, engineering, and math education. Retrieved from: https://www.nymetroparents.com/article/how-stem-became-steam