By Deborah E. Mikula, executive director, Arts Council of Greater Lansing
After launching the iPad in 2011, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.” He is definitely a man after my own heart!
To this day, I can’t think of anyone who believed more strongly in technology, in design and in strategies that appealed to the hopes and dreams of individuals than Steve Jobs. He also must have been one of the first proponents of STEM to STEAM.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education uses an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach that relates to real-world applications. STEAM adds the “A,” representing the arts. I am a vigorous and enthusiastic champion, along with teachers across the country, of the national movement to change STEM to STEAM.
But why add the “A”? Why make room for art? As someone who has embraced and rejoiced in the arts my entire life, I believe art is about discovering and creating ingenious ways of problem solving, integrating principles and presenting information. The arts spark students’ imaginations and help them innovate, invent and communicate their feelings. Statistically, we know that the arts help students build confidence, develop motor skills, and sharpen their decision-making and problem-solving skills. The arts are critical and essential to students’ success in the 21st century.
Let’s be clear though. STEM to STEAM isn’t about cultivating more artists, it is more about integration and making sure those who study STEM subjects will think more creatively and engage more readily in their learning. What we’ve learned and what we now know instinctively is that blending the arts and sciences can lead to richer student learning. Instead of teaching disciplines in silos, let’s create lessons including the arts that are well rounded and focused on interdisciplinary learning. In STEAM, creativity is the central tenet – making concepts more concrete, contributing to greater retention and understanding. Let’s use movement and dance to model concepts about electricity, or theater techniques to build astronomy vocabulary, or abstract art to better understand atoms and molecules.
It is our job to encourage students of all ages to question, to explore, to collaborate, to use critical thinking and to communicate as they draw, dramatize, dance or compose music! I believe we will be amazed by what our students will achieve in their lifetimes when they become passionate about learning.
Full STEAM ahead!
Deborah E. Mikula has been the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing since 2013. She is a nationally renowned expert on the resources and programs that an arts council provides to artists, arts educators and arts organizations, and she places a high priority on any creative project that creates a sense of place, showcases a community’s authentic heritage, allow access to children, and contributes to the economic prosperity of a region.