Why am I advocating here on an Arts Integration focused site for STEM education? Because the definition for STEM is actually very similar to that of Arts Integration. STEM is…”an approach to teaching and learning that integrates the content and skills of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” according to the Maryland State Department of Education. And if we look at the definition for Arts Integration from the Kennedy Center, we find that Arts Integration is…”an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an Artform” which is practically the same thing. The integration PROCESS is the key here and STEM is simply using the areas of science, technology, engineering and math in place of or in addition to the arts.
If this is true, then why is there such a push for STEM in the classroom and not for Arts Integration? I believe that part of it is because technology, science and math have always been high-priority items for the United States. We look to those subjects to help transform and create the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg. However, as Steve Jobs himself pointed out, functional technology is useless if the design and aesthetics are not pleasing to the user. The creativity and connections that the arts demand are the glue that holds our technology and research together. It is through this lens that I propose we STEMify lessons and look to add STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) to the repertoire of teaching and learning in the classroom.
There are some natural ways in which to include STEM and Arts Integration together in the classroom, especially since the processes are so similar. One is to look at the approaches themselves. A STEM lesson generally has 3 parts: Selecting a topic of study, asking an interesting question about that topic or proposing a problem that needs to be soved in that area, and then exploring that problem from multiple angles to come up with a solution. Within that process, it is very easy to embed Arts Integration authentically within the questioning phase or the problem-solving phase. Students can access the elements of design, music, theater, art or dance as a way to approach a problem or as part of the issue itself. This can only serve to deepen their experience in the project and to make the solution more relevant.
The point of all of this is to say that integration is the key that will shape and engage learners in the 21st century. Whether that is through STEM, STEAM or Arts Integration is simply a matter of preference. The hope is that we can all find authentic, relevant and meaningful connections that emphasize the learning process and not just the product.