The acronym STEM — meaning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — has been in use since the mid-1990s, when it was first coined at a U.S. National Science Foundation meeting. Today, virtually no one disputes the importance of fully integrated STEM education as a key to America's continued economic leadership. Not only does it play a central role in curriculum development for all ages, it even informs federal budgetary and immigration policy.
Considering how ubiquitous the acronym has become, many parents may find themselves confused by the recent emergence of the related term STEAM, in which the 'A' stands for 'Arts.' Parents may ask, "What does Art (technically art and design) have to do with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math?" The same question could be — and should be — asked in reverse. "How can anyone pursue the practical uses of STEM without an understanding of art and design?"
It's all about integrating ideas.
Integration provides the framework for any successful STEM/STEAM program. The individual subjects should be taught together, the same way they will be applied in the workplace. That need for integration is why the Arts are so important to effective science education.
In the industrial world, advanced technology and engineering are applied — made available for use — through the Arts discipline of design. The more complex the science, the more scientists depend on advanced communication skills — including drama, speech and persuasive writing — to effectively share their work with the world. And, of course, the demand for entertainment technology is driving many of the greatest breakthroughs in sciences as diverse as nanotech, robotics, optics, virtual environments, acoustics and much more.
Studies show that the integration of art and science, when begun at an early age, actually changes the way a child processes information. The study of music, for instance, reinforces math and problem-solving skills while visual arts improve a child's 3-dimensional thinking.
Does your child's school get an "A" in STEM?
Schools throughout the country are encouraging teachers to reach across the hallway to their colleagues in order to create opportunities to integrate lessons involving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Today a growing number are taking the next step by making sure their Arts curriculum does not stand alongside the STEM program. Rather, it contributes to, and benefits from, a well-rounded exploration of the sciences.
When choosing a school for your child, don't hesitate to start a conversation about STEM vs. STEAM. At The Elisabeth Morrow School, you will hear how our teachers work together to integrate the arts and sciences, in the firm belief that every child deserves to live in a world that welcomes innovation, exploration and self-expression.Beth Anne Brennan is the Lower School Head at The Elisabeth Morrow School.