Arts and Sciences in Tandem: STEAM not STEM
Arts and sciences are often thought to operate in disparate worlds. In time that is prioritizing math, science, and engineering, is it surprising that the arts are the perfect companion for acquiring 21st-century skills when integrated into the STEM curriculum? Educators worldwide are recognizing that the critical thinking skills that are developed with the arts are essential to becoming successful in today’s workplace. The emergence of the “science and art academy” are reflections of this change in perception. So why are the arts traditionally defined as extra-curricular and not part of all of our academic classes?
Arts and Sciences—Not Just Science
Creativity has always been an integral part of American ingenuity. Imagination creates change, design creates innovation, and the ability to collaborate in a work environment creates the solutions vital to evolve as a society. These are all disciplines that the arts instill and inspire in our younger generation that will transform the next century, just as technology drove the last one. I have listed five critical skills that students acquire through the arts that can be easily applied in all of our classrooms:
Creativity: I mentioned before how important imagination is in today’s highly educated workplace. Art makes us look at the world from different perspectives and that leads to understanding and innovation.
Collaboration: Working together as a team builds student’s confidence that their ideas are valuable. It also develops strong communication skills to properly take advantage of the power of collaboration.
Confidence: Creating something that is well received encourages the student to push themselves out of their comfort zone and take academic risks in all their subjects.
Cultural Awareness: In today’s global economy, awareness of the world we live in is important to being an active and engaged member of the workplace. The arts create access to other cultures and establish empathy for those around us who are different.
Critical Thinking: The big dog of the bunch. Observation, reasoning, and problem-solving are all significant skills in the future that we are creating at this very moment. These skills are developed and refined when producing a work of art.
So before we discount the life long effect of exposure to the arts and the creation of projects in tandem with our academic curriculum, remember the powerful impact creativity and imagination has in the shaping of the minds that will create our future.
Comprehensive School Curriculum
Why does the integration of arts and sciences in our academics work? It breaks down to well-practiced brain science! When students are in the creative non-verbal process with the subject matter they are learning – a process researchers called elaboration – they are busy embedding that material. Think of it as another layer for the student to enhance their ability to retain and recall information. It’s that simple and a lot of fun! Don’t discount the significance of enjoyment when trying to keep our students engaged.
And how do we implement art integration into our academic classes? Teachers do not have to be “artistic” to bring art into their classroom. It will take collaboration, research, intentional alignment, and practical application, along with some high-quality teacher development, to prepare our teachers to take on this exciting new approach. The students also need to be mindful of this process. We need from them creativity, problem-solving, and the ability to recognize threads that connect concepts and ideas to create a final product. Integration is not just a mash-up of content, but an approach to teaching that has the ability to identify aligned standards and take both areas to a deeper and richer understanding.
Arts integration in academic classrooms is not a brand new idea. There are schools who have been defining and refining this concept since the nineties (consider the science and art academy). And it has been working! “From 2011 to 2014, the average improvement in math proficiency across our schools was 22.5 percent, and reading proficiency improved by 12.6 percent,” reports John Abodeely, deputy director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Turnaround Arts Initiative.
Even with this success rate, there are naysayers in the academic world. It is implied that it puts too much of a strain on teachers who will need to cultivate expertise in multiple disciplines as well as becoming proficient in the techniques of integration.
Some say that putting the arts everywhere we will end up with specific art instruction nowhere. With dwindling budgets at our schools, the arts are sometimes the first to be dropped from the curriculum. But this is not a movement to replace arts programs in schools, but to find creative and exciting ways to make students more successful in areas that previously traditional models had limitations in connecting with students. In tandem, comprehensive school curriculum that blends the arts and sciences can help students in these very ways.