I think the acronym thing drives people nuts in a way. It is supposed to define something and by doing so, therefore limits understanding. I am thinking about this a lot lately as those I work with struggle to understand. Truthfully, I believe they rely on me to tell them what STE[a]M is supposed to be.
I have engineering professionals say they like the arts or the idea of STE[a]M but not too happy about the acronym, or is that another acronym. It doesn’t explain anything, and actually neither does the STEM acronym. It is really a combination of academic disciplines that refer to possible future careers. Each one of these subjects is involved with the other in some way. This is true for STE[a]M as well. So, how can you do science without mathematics? Technology? And how do you do engineering without any of the other STEM or STE[a]M disciplines? STE[a]M, in my humble opinion, suggests that we infuse the STEM curriculum with the arts to make it more accessible and understandable, and yes experiential.
So why am I even bothering with this pedantic and detailed analysis and discussion? Because so many people comment, criticize, support or question. These acronyms are a point of reference or a point of departure for a much more detailed list of what this is. So, back to STE[a]M. I never would question the need to include the arts in a comprehensive education. No matter how much you may believe that public education needs to prepare a child for what comes next, to be a productive and valuable member of our world (and it should do this!), we need to justify what components exactly accomplish this. We need to defend that we include the arts as a part of education. How many students will ever be artists? Musicians? Can they support themselves and a family this way?
The arts for the art’s sake are valid — no discussion here. The arts have a history of thousands of years, be it for pleasure or a way to evolve and develop culture and society. People have always needed to communicate and much of the arts is about communication, the rest is about creative or self-expression. All that we lump together as the arts reflect out world today, what we value, and how we look. In the future, it will be a mirror to the past. I don’t talk too much about the arts for art’s sake, simply because to me this is a no-brainer. Who really wants a world without art?
What is important in today’s “who knows what the future will bring” world, educators focus on tasks as a way to innovation and technology. Get a better education and do it in a straight-forward, measurable way. Learn vocabulary, write in this formula, spit back math facts, memorize what you are told. Don’t think too much, just give those testers what they ask for.
STE[a]M and the arts in general are not specifically measurable. You can’t assess someone on their ability. There are not necessarily right and wrong answers. The goal is to think, explore, and figure it out. These skills can be used in all the STEM/STE[a]M disciplines. It is my opinion, and not mine alone, that this kind of learning actually enhances knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving. And of course,it enhances a student’s ability to find the answer. They have to know where to look. The questions are not only why, but also why not?
My question is why do we need to argue about it? I think we need to define in some way what STEM requires and how the arts can contribute to making this type of learning more accessible to all students, whatever their age level. It is clear that by the time an engineering student gets to higher education, they must understand some of these complex problems and concepts. Maybe building and designing, along with an evolving understanding of how beauty and aesthetic value contribute to human sensibilities, will further their imagination to look beyond what is immediately seen. This practice begins with very young children and opens the door to not be afraid. To not be afraid to try something and to challenge oneself.
So my reason for saying “full STE[a]M ahead” is let’s just go there. It is a collaborative learning style and it needs collaborators who are not afraid of the box getting broken. Don’t worry about the acronym or its definition. Open the box.