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Putting some STEAM into STEM

Posted: December 13, 2021 — When you hear the name Leonardo Da Vinci, one immediately conjures up the image of a great artistic genius who would be the text book example of a true “Renaissance Man”. What most people don’t know about Leonardo was that if you were to ask him what his greatest professional accomplishments were, he would have listed his skills as an artist at the bottom of his list in favor of his engineering and architectural accomplishments. Art, it seems has always been seen as secondary to the practical. However, recent theories about the role that art had upon the creation of civilization has been upgraded with many archeologists believing that it was art that created the need for early people to first gather in large groups and build impressive monuments for ritual purposes. These early Neolithic monuments required a great deal of manpower to build, and of course food to feed the labor force. It is no coincidence that it was during this period that the transformative technology of agriculture arose, and the first civilizations were born, giving rise to engineering, science, and math. Art is perhaps not so secondary after all. Today we live in a world that was built by a combination of the analytical mind that had harnessed the power of science and math in conjunction with the creative mind that was subjective, emotional, and innovative. The accomplishments of Humanity all comes down to the balance of the abilities of our own left and right brain skills. It is this contrast of human nature that today has created a debate in education on how to best teach students in an increasingly technological world.

Since the early 2000’s both private and public sectors have called on educational institutions to strengthen students’ science, technology, engineering and math learning (STEM) to provide the skills needed for 21st. century jobs. Indeed, this educational program has proven  essential for the integration and application of math and science skills needed to create new technologies and solve real world problems .There are however a growing number of educators and institutions that feel that a  STEM only education does not educate the whole student . These educators point to data that finds that by integrating the arts into the STEM  mix , creating STEAM,  has shown to have had a positive impact on  overall learning by a greater number and more diverse group of learners. Using the arts in STEM education can be a creative gateway to math and science and helps create engagement for students that may otherwise have been uninspired by STEM alone.

One of the strongest cases for the inclusion of the arts into STEM is design. The process of design serves as the bridge between art and technology and has a very practical function in every aspect of life. Design can be made a measurable form of art that easily fits into the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary for a STEM education. The addition of the arts to math and science education serves to enhance the creative possibilities by incorporating aesthetics and innovation made possible by the artistic mind.

In conclusion, the debate on STEM verse STEAM education will continue to be a tug of war. As an artist and educator, I have seen the benefits of favoring the STEAM model.  I believe education works best when there is a synthesis the student’s whole mind. Perhaps it is time to bring back the concept of the “renaissance” individual to face the challenges of the 21st century. I think if Leonardo was here today he would agree.

This article was writer by Joel Chapin, Professor of Fine Arts , FMCC.

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