Putting the Arts in STEM Education

Guest post on Artist Strong

by Patrick Ross

I received confirmation recently that educators of our children still understand the importance of arts education in our increasingly math-and-science-focused educational system. I experienced this on a tour of the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a public school in downtown Akron, Ohio, for grades 4-8 that bills itself as a “Center for STEM Learning.” I was accompanied by several board members of Invent Now, the non-profit that runs the National Inventors Hall of Fame and partners with the school. The school itself is located in the former home of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which is now housed in Alexandria, Virginia, at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters. (Disclaimer: Part of my day job is overseeing the USPTO’s Joint Project Agreement with Invent Now on the museum and other projects such as Camp Invention.)

STEM, as you may know, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is what educational systems around the world increasingly are promoting in order to ensure a workforce prepared to excel in the 21st Century innovation economy. But the most brilliant STEM minds throughout history—think Albert Einstein, for example –brought with them a background in the arts. There’s a simple reason for that. There is a direct correlation between the creative thinking that evolves from practicing the arts and the creative thinking that drives innovation.

The U.S. Congress is beginning to recognize that, with a new STEAM Caucus that inserts the “A” for Arts in STEM. And I was pleased to see that  Traci Buckner, National Inventors Hall of Fame School Instructional Leader –what the school calls a principal–and her colleagues understand this. As part of our tour, she took us into the spacious and well-equipped art classroom. I was introduced to Julienne Hogarth, the schools Visual Art Learning Coach (what the school calls a teacher). Students learn computer-aided visual design work in her classroom, but also do “old-fashioned” hands-on arts and craft projects. I was struck by an array of handmade color wheels hanging from the ceiling; earlier that week I had been discussing color theory with my daughter Marisa, who is taking a class on the subject at the Savannah College of Art and Design.  Julienne and I began discussing the science behind color, namely that each color is a distinct band of the visible light spectrum. I mentioned how I find this fascinating, as much as I do the fact that each key on a keyboard triggers a particular sound wave.

We spoke further. Then I realized Julienne and I were alone. Traci was under a tight schedule and had brought her guests up a flight of stairs to another classroom. When I caught up with the tour they were watching seventh graders in a Chinese language instruction class follow along with an animated video as they worked on their pronunciation. As someone who recently earned a Master’s in the field of humanities, I was pleased to see still further emphasis on balanced learning by the school.

We left the Chinese class and headed into yet another stairwell. As we did so Traci said, “We are strong proponents of STEAM education. Have any of you heard of it?” I smiled.

The arts provide so much to us. Those living an artful life enjoy the diversions of a good tune on the radio or an inspiring movie on their family room TV. Those living an art-filled life reward themselves with frequent trips to the theater or weekends jamming on the electric guitar with friends in their garage. Those attempting to follow the path of the art-committed life—a journey I chronicle on my personal blog, The Artist’s Road –make a point to carve out dedicated time to practice an artistic craft. Among those who also pursued an art-filled, and at times art-committed, life was a highly innovative mind I mentioned earlier, master violinist Albert Einstein.

I admire Carrie Brummer for her role in advancing arts education as a teacher, artist, writer and blogger. And I admire instructional leaders like Traci Buckner for recognizing the importance of the “A” in STEAM. You can hear her discuss the aim and approach of the National Inventor Hall of Fame School in the video below.

(Here is the LINK to the video since my embed function is fighting with me at the moment! Creative thinking… 😉 )

Thank you Patrick for your wonderful explanation of Why Do the Arts Matter! Why Do The Arts Matter to you? Email: Carrie@ArtistThink.com to help support and celebrate the arts by sharing your perspective.