STEM vs. STEAM: the Intersection of Art and Science

Most educators are familiar with STEM learning. STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The idea of STEM learning deals with an applied approach to educating students in those four subject areas.

At one point, the United States led the world in STEM fields, but over time, we have fallen behind the pack. The U.S. Department of Education along with President Obama have worked to create initiatives that focus on fostering STEM education and career advancement.

How do the arts fit in?

Adding an “A” or the “arts” to STEM education has become a hotly debated topic. Which has posed the question: how can the arts fit into STEM education?

STEM computer with science beakers

There are largely two schools of thought on how to incorporate the arts into STEM education. Some believe that we can apply the arts to the study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, as the arts and arts education can help to build creativity and innovation; however, those working in STEM fields argue that there is no shortage of creativity and innovation in STEM, as we can see from evidence in energy solutions, bridges, and transmission lines created by engineers, along with innovations in medical research and advancements by scientists in the field.

Advocates of the arts are not so happy with this solution either. Most who are passionate about arts education believe that applying the arts to science as a way of building it into the curriculum somehow cheapens the topic, meaning that the practice of doing so would imply that the only value of the arts and art education can be found when it can be applied to science.

The second school of thought is to find a way to apply science to the arts; however, it is unclear what this type of curriculum would look like.

Science informing art

It may be unclear as to how one might create a STEAM curriculum that appeals to both sides while also providing an educational experience that fosters growth, critical thinking, and innovation; however, if we examine accomplishments and innovation on both sides, we can definitely see the connection between the two fields.

A few years ago on NPR.org, I read the article, “Where Art and Science Meet, Exactly.” The writer explains the supposition that of course art can help us to understand science, but can science help us to understand art? I think that it can.

"Grey Column" sculpture

The article features an image of an art piece by De Wain Valentine titled “Grey Column.” The column, which measures 12 feet high and 8 feet wide was created from a type of polyester resin. This is a piece where the artist certainly utilized and applied science to its creation. The column was constructed with a perfectly smooth surface. However, that was not necessarily De Wain Valentine’s vision or intention for the piece over time. The type of resin used is one that continues to move and change even after hardening. The artist hoped that over time, the column would potentially sprout “growths” from the surface. This is certainly an example of the ways in which science can inform and influence art.

Looking forward

The future of STEAM and STEM may not be so clear; however, if we, as educators, can utilize our knowledge of examples like Valentine’s Column or even the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, we can attempt to mimic and apply these same principles and ideas to STEAM education.

   

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Haylee Massaro

Haylee joined Edgenuity in 2012 and currently lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Pittsburgh where she studied English Literature and then went on to receive her M.S.Ed. from Duquesne University. Haylee has been teaching for over five years, and in that time, she has gained experience as a teacher in a brick-and-mortar classroom as well as online.