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Adding the Arts into STEM Education to Produce STEAM

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I’m excited to serve as a podcast host for American Public University’s Exploring STEM Channel, where we discuss innovations in science, technology, engineering, and math. For nearly 30 years, I’ve had careers in each of these areas so I’m happy to share my experiences with a diverse range of guests, podcast listeners, and university students.

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Recently, the tables were turned. I served as a guest on Exploring STEM and was interviewed by Dr. Bjorn Mercer for the audio podcast “Exploring STEM: Adding the Arts: Shifting from STEM to STEAM.”

One of the key concepts I highlighted is the emerging need to infuse the arts into the STEM discipline and the rise of the evolution of STEM into STEAM. This concept really resonated with listeners, so I wanted to delve in more detail into this exciting topic.

What Is STEAM?

First, what is STEAM? When you ask a youngster to define steam, most think of the plumes of smoke emitted as a train travels down the track. Most people think about a train moving forward, and the phase ‘full steam ahead’ is still in common use.

The train analogy is a perfect explanation for STEAM; we all have an innate curiosity about the future or some goal down the road. That curiosity can be sated when we turn on all cylinders and acknowledge how STEAM contributes to every aspect of our lives. If you look around you, you’ll see how science, technology, engineering, arts, and math contribute to our everyday experiences.

What Propels Us Forward?

To further this analogy of a steam engine, STEAM topics and articles represent combustion and forward motion. We need to understand the fuel that propels each of us forward. “What fuels me and makes my life fulfilling?” is a question each of us needs to answer. For most of us, this answer will change over time as we gain new perspectives.

Now, let’s apply that fuel to the ability to teach and learn STEAM concepts. On a broader scale, STEAM is a movement to connect educators and learners to the collaborative global community of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Collaboration means taking linear concepts and developing indirect means of creative combustion.

This is the very essence of the STEAM revolution. The STEAM evolution will produce the next generation of collaborators by influencing science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Learning in Different Ways Is Critical to STEAM

Alternative learning is a great way to approach STEAM in a different way. Arts can introduce people to science. STEM to STEAM can help students learn a new richness by approaching concepts from the vantage point of curiosity.

The creative revolution could not exist without a rich understanding of both analytical and abstract problem solving. Creating new ideas means adding humanity’s curiosity and inventiveness into STEM to develop more inspirational context and to push learners in new directions.

Encouraging Tomorrow’s Leaders Involves Sparking Their Curiosity

Encouraging tomorrow’s leaders starts with sparking curiosity, and curiosity starts with a lack of awareness. You have to be comfortable in environments that are not your normal habitats to learn in a new and exciting manner.

Science, technology, engineering, and math, while interconnected, are not enough to spark curiosity and encourage tomorrow’s leaders to pursue careers in these areas. The STEM gap is quite prevalent in the United States, meaning there is a need to encourage women, people of various racial backgrounds and those coming from lower socioeconomic status to pursue careers in these areas. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “Girls and women are systematically tracked away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their training and options to go into these fields as adults.”

Going Full STEAM Ahead

Hands-on creative processes should not be limited to just the arts. With more technological and scientific literacy infused into artistic creativity, STEAM possibilities are endless. We are constantly redirecting ourselves, sometimes by circumstances beyond our control.

As a result, the average person will have between 10 and 20 career positions in their lifetime. What fuels me and makes this fulfilling? For most of us, this will change over time as we gain new perspectives. So it is important to stay fueled by curiosity.

Art Is Communication at Its Finest

Simply put, how you communicate is as important, if not more important, than the message itself. So if you apply this concept to STEAM, it’s the arts, or the artistic expression of key science, technology, engineering, and math concepts that bring these ideas to light. Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the law of attraction, and Darwin’s concept of evolution and natural selection would not have been conceived if not for the artistic means of expressing them through oral, visual, interpretive, and written communication.

That’s why there’s a need to infuse the A into STEM to acknowledge the need for the arts to be included into science, technology, engineering, and math. This global awareness is needed to make STEAM accessible to everyone at all education levels.

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, CLTD, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in project management and supply chain management. A global speaker and STEM advocate, she obtained a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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