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The ‘A’ in STEAM Learning: What, Why, and How

Posted by Melizza Cuizon on Aug 27, 2020 8:15:00 AM

The A in STEAM

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” – Albert Einstein

When most think of adding art to the curriculum, visions of paint brushes and papier-mâché animals spark memories of school days from long ago. While this may be true in some sense, the inclusion of arts in STEM learning – the A in STEAM – is much more than learning about color and singing songs. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) promotes inquiry-based learning through the application of skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking to real-life situations. The inclusion of arts shines a light on the value of creativity and innovation in processing new information and problem-solving. Research, teacher experiences, and testimonials all attest to the benefits of integrating arts which include:

  • reducing achievement gaps, especially for economically disadvantaged students
  • maximising analytical and imaginative thinking, helping students develop ingenuity
  • providing opportunities for students to access learning through different modalities (differentiated instruction)
  • nurture the ability to be adaptable and flexible which is useful when responding to changes in a problem
  • increasing student engagement as students immerse themselves in experiences that incorporate multiple STEAM strands

Proponents of STEAM view the inclusion of arts as providing students a more balanced and complete education that strengthens how students view and creatively solve problems. In addition, students learn to persist and take risks as they work through tasks preparing them to do the same in real-life.

 

“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse

 

How can teachers create engaging STEAM experiences? First, teachers need to identify concepts and skills to be mastered, topics to be explored, and the learning standards to be met (see International Standards for Arts Education). Then, flesh out the units and lessons, identifying when strands can be integrated in authentic ways (to be considered a STEAM lesson, two or more strands need to be included). For example, lessons on comparing story characters could include a role-play experience that can be video recorded or made into a short movie using video-creation software. A possible maths project in geometry that focuses on measuring angles, could incorporate a virtual field trip to a museum to identify angles in different artwork then creating their own ‘angle’ art.

Of course, since many schools are starting the year via hybrid or remote learning, not all students will have access to the same resources. This being the case, try to keep the art component of lessons relatively simple. During a virtual class session, brainstorm a list of arts activities (creating costumes for a play, taking photos, using watercolour or chalk, etc.). Then decide on the media that would be used for most of the activities and identify what can be found at home or easily obtained. Also look to schools to help provide arts supplies such as brushes, paper, colored pencils, etc. To build up arts skills, establish weekly creativity challenges such as using alternate or non-traditional media (things found at home and repurposed) to create a visual piece, acting out a poem, or writing a song about what is being learned in science.

The A in STEAM education is more than simply drawing pictures – it is stretching imaginations so that creativity when solving problems becomes second-nature. Incorporating arts also transforms lessons and topics that might seem dry to lessons that stimulate the flow of innovative ideas. Distance learning does not need to inhibit this flow; there are a myriad of resources and lesson ideas specifically tailored for learning online. Explore the resources and test out how some of these can be integrated into your curriculum plans. You may be pleasantly surprised by how the artist in you responds.

 

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

 

For more on how to incorporate STEAM in remote learning, read the blog STEAM Learning via the Virtual Classroom.

For arts learning resources, explore a collated list by Artis -- Creative Learning Resources.

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