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Program Design, Development, and Quality

No Love Loss Between STEM & STEAM

no love loss-STEM-STEAM

As an Out-of-School-Time professional and a true Geek, I am amazed at the ongoing battle between STEM supporters and those who love the Arts.

I hear it everywhere I go:

  • “Our program practices STEAM, so that we don’t forget about the Arts!”
  • “STEAM is just a bunch of hot air, we need to focus on true STEM.”
  • “STEM is just tough to swallow, STEAM gets things moving!”

I am confident that many of you have heard the arguments. I have overheard people describe STEAM advocates as hippies who sit around dreaming of Steampunk adventures in a camp like environment. Likewise, I have heard that STEM advocates just walk around like the Borg in Star Trek trying to assimilate everyone.

I must be fully transparent that I was one of those that had a tough time with the STEAM concept. I just couldn’t understand because many of the programs I work with had a great Arts focus and yet hardly did anything with STEM. Why would they need to place an emphasis on Art when they had it down? Its not like I am Arts hater and walk around like Dr. Horrible in my lab coat and rubber gloves trying to destroy anything beautiful in the world. I just know that our world is evolving quickly and the majority of future careers will have a STEM focus.

We have a serious supply versus demand issue. Don’t believe me? Check out the latest U.S. News & World Report update on the issue called “New STEM Index Finds America’s STEM Talent Pool Still Too Shallow to Meet Demand“.

I don’t know about you but I like an open Internet, clean water, bridges that don’t fall down, my iPhone, electricity, and medical technology that saves lives. I also like music, Broadway plays, movies, sculptures, beautiful paintings, transformative literature, and amazing architecture. We need our students to love STEM and the Arts, but do we really need to create an acronym to highlight that. Why not add an R for Reading and call it STREAM? Perhaps we should add another S for Social Studies and call it STREAMS?

You see where I am going with this.

Education advocates in the US are focusing on STEM because there is a strong demand for it, but those who believe strongly in the Arts want to ensure that we don’t go so far with STEM that we become a Borg-like society. What’s the solution? Honestly, I am not sure. I am taking a tactic with my colleagues of simply keeping the conversation going. As we look at the curriculum we design for OST programs, we discuss all aspects of education in general. If we are writing a computer-coding curriculum, we might design the task objective to be a challenge of getting the code to design an illustration based on fractal art equations (see Amazing Seattle Fractals). If we are working on a curriculum for a dance class we might incorporate aspects of Physics in it (see Physics and Dance).

STEM is not always framed like this.

Many times STEM is framed in a silo approach. Science must mean biology, Technology must be computers, Engineering is bridge-building, and Math is Olympiads or worksheets! No wonder kids lose interest. We must help our parents, our staff, our colleagues, and our administrators to see beyond the silo approach and be more holistic. We may need more than creative acronyms to do that.

Fortunately, there is some research out there that can help.

The FrameWorks Institute has a multitude of reports and general guidance on how we can frame STEM (see K12: STEM Learning). The work the institute has done in understand how the public looks at STEM Learning has been such a value-added asset that is has changed the way we approach STEM in our dealings here in Texas. Another great resource is the Arts Integration Portal sponsored by J.P. Morgan Chase.

So whether you call it STEM & Arts Integration, STEAM, STREAM, or anything else, keep the conversation going. The kids we serve deserve it!

Oh, and today I had a moment of weakness as I had ice cream and chocolate syrup for breakfast!

Author Profile: @shawnpetty

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