STEM to STEAM: Why the Arts Matter

photo-1465805466987-1a52c4976a92-217548-edited.jpgGrowing up in Mexico city, when I was in elementary school, one of the things that excited me the most about going to school was the art class. Creating something that reflected my personality was very important for me, and still is. Field trips to museums to see some of the most important pieces in the art world inspired me to become the artist that I am today, and also why I'm an advocate and supporter of STEAM.

The word 'steam' has quite a bit of momentum. It is an active word; dynamic and ever fluid, but what does it mean in relation to STEM? STEM is the acronym we use to mean science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM + art = STEAM. STEAM is a movement first championed by the Rhode Island School of Design with the objective to transform research policy to place art and design in the center of STEM. 

Art and Design 
Art and design are frequently dismissed as hobby-like pursuits. Believe me when I say that artists are frequently asked to work for free- their product being likened to a child's craft. But any good artist will tell you that artwork is work, and design is at the heart of everything. Art is the expression or application of a creative skill, typically as a visual form. Music, literature, dance and performance are artistic forms of expression, as well. In addition, design is not only visual, and it is not just 'styling'. Design combines form and function; it brings intent and purpose.

When we talk about what it means to go from STEM to STEAM, we can see that it demands listening to the disciplines of art and design as well as creative expression. STEAM is understanding a human-centered approach to a project and applying design principles to solve the problem.

Art and Students
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are the center of attention in most US public schools today. The focus on STEM fields was initiated to increase global competitiveness and the project definitely has its merits. However, it has left the arts languishing far off in the periphery. This is quite unfortunate, as art education is known to improve academic performance.

  • On average, students who study the arts for 4 years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less.

  • Students who took up music appreciation scored 61 points higher on the verbal section and 42 points higher on the math section.

  • Of the elementary schools with arts, the most common subjects revolve around music at 94% and visual studies at 83%. Only 3% offer dance instruction, while 4% provide theater arts.

Training in the arts has been shown to improve creativity and innovation. Students learn to approach issues with a critical mind and a positive attitude towards problem solving. Exposure to the arts enhances communication skills, which are essential tools for collaboration. Art develops flexibility and adaptability. 

Our children need a well-rounded, quality education that enables them to make informed decisions that will impact the world and the way they live. We must stop thinking about art as a hobby, and begin to think of art as a discipline as essential as science, technology, engineering, and math. 

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