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Think STEAM, not STEM, to shape America’s next great innovators
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Being Commander-in-Chief now includes learning how to fire a marshmallow cannon. President Obama picked up this skill from students participating in the
2012 White House Science Fair
, which promoted the administration’s focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Renewed interest in STEM piqued in the mid-2000s, when President Bush pegged these subjects as keys to jumpstarting America’s diminishing global competitiveness. Since then, STEM has been at the forefront of education reform discussions including the $250 million funding of 2010’s “
Educate to Innovate
” Act, aimed at preparing and training math and science teachers.
The activity around STEM makes sense, as students accelerating in these fields will no doubt help to restore our country’s standing as a leading innovator. But the next generation of STEM whiz kids will also need to be able to apply their creativity to solve problems. STEAM not STEM, a rallying call gaining momentum, asks for the arts (A) to be included in STEM discussions. Sadly, while STEM education funding initiatives have been making headlines, cuts in arts education programs have been relegated to the back pages. The National Endowment for the Arts recently found that fewer than half of adults report receiving any arts lessons or classes in schools as a student, a percentage that has been decreasing since the 1980s (
Rabkin and Hedberg
The urge to discount the arts misses the bigger picture, as many of the world’s most successful STEM-ers are also known for their incredible creativity. In
Reinvesting in Arts Education
, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities listed the multiple outcomes of arts programs including problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, intellectual risk taking, and teamwork. At Michigan State University, Robert Root-Bernstein uncovered that Nobel laureates in the sciences were 22 times more likely to be involved in the performing arts than scientists in general (
). Reading, writing, drawing, acting, and designing are the building blocks of innovation and exploration; students can be as well versed in math and science problems as ever, but it’s the coupling of left-brain skills (logic, analysis, objectivity) and right-brain activity (intuition, thoughtfulness, subjectivity) that produces bravery and breakthroughs.
operates eight writing and tutoring centers across the country, and we recognize multiple opportunities for incorporating STEAM projects within our focus on homework completion and helping students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing. On any given day at an 826 center, you might find a student inventing and writing species descriptions for mythical creatures, working with a tutor to research and write a report on how robots work, or interviewing a professional scientist for a student-authored publication. We believe that whether a child will go on to be the next Ernest Hemingway or Ernest Rutherford, a wily imagination, honed creativity, and strong ability to communicate one’s ideas are essential to future success.
posted by Ryan Lewis, Director of Research and Evaluation at
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