STEM vs STEAM – How important are the arts for scientific innovation?

STEM vs STEAM – How important are the arts for scientific innovation?

 Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.”

Leonardo Da Vinci

 Da Vinci embodied the strong connection between science and the arts all those years ago and yet most modern-day curriculums and education systems keep them very separate. Promoters of the arts have been constantly hit with reduced funding and have seen arts subjects in schools be continuously left at the bottom of the heap. This is apparent across most of the world. Maths and literacy, followed by science and technology, followed by humanities, and then almost as an afterthought: art, design, drama and music.

We hear much talk about STEM in the UK (and overseas): Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The government along with thousands of educational establishments, private companies and organisations are aiming to increase the number of young people taking up these subjects, degrees and careers.

The term STEM was coined in the US back in 2001. In UK education, it appeared soon after and is now widely referred to as a focus area for educational growth and development.

In 2016, the Royal Academy of Engineering published a document called “The UK STEM Education Landscape.” It reported that “the UK is facing a well-documented engineering skills crisis” and emphasised that despite 10 years of efforts and funding, the overall effect of STEM promotion was barely scratching the surface in terms of meeting our industrial demand for skills.

Interestingly, there is no mention of the arts in their report. Other than to say that they found it interesting that employers looking for STEM skills were also taking people from backgrounds in art and design. They also reported that some students who had studied STEM subjects, were now working in the arts, but no connection is made in terms of future collaboration. The report says that a recently revised curriculum for Wales has the arts at the very bottom of the list, whereas Northern Ireland have grouped the arts with language and literacy, with science now combined in a new subject titled: ‘The World Around Us.’ Northern Ireland have been criticised for grouping science with geography and history, from those who are worried about the standard of scientific teaching potentially declining as a result of this.

In the UK, we’ve seen a vast reduction in subject-specific teaching at high school level, with many teachers now teaching up to five subjects. Science teachers are in short supply and some schools have even resorted to having pupils sitting in the school hall watching a streamed video of a science teacher doing an experiment at another school, something that would have seemed unbelievable a few years ago. Cover Supervisors with any degree can also cover subject-specific lessons, so there is an argument to say that despite the effort with STEM, there are still some core issues to address.

Why were the arts originally missed out? Many argue that creativity is already a part of STEM and to dilute it with all of the arts would lose the purpose. But if the arts are not actively encouraged, others argue that innovation will struggle to flourish and that many potential scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technical innovators will not reach their true potential.

Professor Bob Root-Bernstein from Michigan State University is currently working on books concerning scientists as visual artists; how arts foster scientific innovation; and modern polymaths. He published a study that shows that almost all Nobel laureates in the sciences are actively engaged in arts as adults. They are twenty-five times as likely as average scientists to sing, dance, or act; seventeen times as likely to be an artist; twelve times more likely to write poetry and literature; eight times more likely to do woodworking or some other craft; four times as likely to be a musician; and twice as likely to be a photographer. Many connect their art with their scientific creativity.

We recently shared the work of Omid Asadi: an engineer and boxer, turned inspiring leaf artist. There are thousands of other stories of talented people who have a flair for STEM as well a talent in the arts.

STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics

It’s not only Bob Root-Bernstein, but thousands of professionals in education and industry are actively promoting the importance of including the arts in STEM teaching and development. It’s great when discussions about STEAM education go viral and with over 55 million view on YouTube, this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson is well worth a watch (it’s an important topic, but Sir Ken knows how to inject humour into any conversation!):

For more information on STEAM, head to the STEAM Co website:

The future of STEAM (taken from the STEM Education Guide)

“Applying art to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the classroom is only the first step. If you are still skeptical that art can be applied to cutting edge science and technology then look no further than The Origami Revolution that recently aired as part of PBS’s NOVA program. The episode outlined the development of computer software written by Tomohiro Tachi who collaborated with Erik Demaine that used origami algorithms to design two dimensional crease patterns to create any three dimensional object from a piece of paper.

Neither of them are artists; Erik Demaine is a mathematician at MIT and Tomohiro Tachi is a professor at the University of Tokyo with expertise in civil engineering. That alone is a testament to the value of art in the sciences but its application goes well beyond origami.

Using this type of computer modeling has big implications for traditionally STEM endeavors. NASA, for example, can use methods derived from origami to develop solar panels that fold into space and weight saving packages during launch which then unfold into a massive solar array once in space. In robotics adding cuts into origami designs enable them to transform from flat to functional three dimensional tools. And the list goes on, even into the medical field.

The STEAM movement is still relatively new and in its formative stages. That is not to say that STEAM programs have not already found success. From the aforementioned RISD, to the Blue School in New York City, to the Drew Charter School in Atlanta several schools have already implemented a respected curriculum based on STEAM and many more pop up every year. Additionally, there are artists who are tackling the integration from the other end of the issue, working to bring the arts closer to science in their own way. Even the iconic children’s education program, Sesame Street, added STEAM to its program for its 43rd season in 2012.

One thing that both sides can agree on is that art has organically found its way into STEM fields, proponents for STEAM only want to make this integration more prominent.

We’d love to hear feedback on this topic from job seekers and employers in STE(A)M industries!

The Science Solutions team.

#science #support #success (and the #arts)

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