As plans get underway for our first STEAM Fair, many of you have been asking “why STEAM and not STEM?” To understand the answer to this question, we must first understand what STEM is, how it helps our students prepare to solve the challenges faced by our global society, and then how the arts are an integral part of the type of problem solving that will be required.
At its core, STEM education is about taking our understanding of how scientists, engineers and mathematicians ask and answer questions, and then integrating those approaches in a meaningful and intentional way to solve a complex problem. If we wanted to design a house that could be powered only with solar energy, for instance, we might rely on the scientific method to better understand what variables will allow us to maximize the capture of solar energy. Some of these questions might even require mathematical modeling and/or statistical analysis to answer. Finally, armed with this data, we might borrow from the design thinking used by engineers to envision, design and create a prototype for a house based on all of our research. The best solution to this problem is likely only achieved by integrating the methodologies and approaches of multiple disciplines. STEM education, therefore, is about preparing kids not just to understand these disciplines in isolation, but to recognize when and how putting them together can be useful in approaching a given problem.
If we take the example of the solar house, however, it becomes easy to imagine how the habits of mind and techniques of artists might be integrated as well. The envisioning process in design thinking requires an openness and creativity that is inherent in the artistic process. Even more specifically, it requires drafting and modeling techniques, as well as an understanding of space and aesthetics. All of these would be necessary to design a house that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing!
If we look more closely at innovations over time, it is clear that the sciences and arts have a long history of being integrated and intertwined. Perhaps the best historical example is the body of work of Leonardo da Vinci, who used his artistic talents to record and study the world around him and, in turn, to envision and design innovations such as flying machines, clocks and revolving bridges. More recently, however, we have examples such as camouflage for soldiers, which was invented by an American painter, and the pacemaker, which was modeled after a musical metronome. Even our now ubiquitous iPhones are the product of a collaboration between designers and engineers. In fact, Steve Jobs often referred to his employees at Apple as artists. (Pomeroy, 2012)
As an IB PYP World School, STEAM education is a cornerstone of our approach at Seneca Academy! Our transdisciplinary and inquiry-based curriculum is designed to help students learn how to make connections between the disciplines and understand how they can be integrated in order to solve complex problems. If you walk through our classrooms, you might see students building catapults to help characters in their stories escape dangerous situations, designing small machines to understand how things around them work, or using their acting and character development skills to better understand the personal perspectives of historical explorers. Amongst our older students, you would see these skills being used to understand larger societal issues, such as migration and water scarcity, among others.
In going from a STEM to a STEAM Fair, we hope that our students will be able to practice and celebrate their ability to pull together all of these skills to explore or study something that they are particularly curious or passionate about. By encouraging them to rely on all of these disciplines, including the arts, we may, perhaps, be inspiring one of them to be the next Leonardo da Vinci!