The Role of Art in STEM Education

I hear and read a lot about the value of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education nowadays. There’s no denying that those subjects are vastly important in the grand scheme of the 21st century.

 

But there is relatively little attention paid to the role that art can and should play in a STEM education. There are definitely movements in that direction in isolated pockets of academia and industry, but that impulse has not gained enough traction yet that the concept of STEM has turned to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math).

 

The Fall 2015 issue of The Seven Hills School Magazine contains an article that highlights how much art and it’s processes, both technical and creative, are an integral part of STEM. (Seven Hills is a K-12 school in Cincinnati, OH.) It’s one of the few articles I’ve read that shows this connection and how it is being applied in the curriculum at all levels of the school.

 

When you think about it, every time we teach our students how to mix paint, graph a drawing, apply emulsions, and create glazes, we are teaching them to use chemistry and math. Making 3D art requires engineering concepts and tools. Software programs and digital printers are vital tools for art creation. So how is art not a part of STEM?!

 

As Seven Hills middle-school art teacher Elissa Donovan says in the article, “Science, math, technology and engineering provide building blocks. Art is the key to imagination, the inspiration to arrange these blocks in new ways.”

 

We all should advocate for art to be a part of STEM education, and should devise our art curricula in such a way that STEM becomes STEAM.

 

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Creating Visibility for Your Classes

When trying to advance your program, visibility is key. It doesn’t hurt your career either. Finding a balance between forwarding programs that are of benefit on multiple levels, versus personal opportunism can be difficult, however if you have the best intentions your efforts to increase visibility for your classes or your program will most likely have beneficial side-affects for you as well. 

Here’s an example: for my upper level courses, I try to hold the final crit in my school’s gallery space. This benefits everyone – first and foremost the students who get to see how their work will hold up in a professional space and feel a tremendous sense of semester end accomplishment. It brings visibility to my department, which is particularly important if you work at a liberal arts school and have administrators who might find what we do in the art department a bit of a mystery. It also brings visibility to my classes and to myself as an instructor. Inviting key administrators is important too – let them know what you are up to and ask them to stop by. A couple of phone calls to set everything up can go miles towards actively engaging in the school community. If you don’t have a gallery option, search out public spaces on campus and introduce art there.