STEM into STEAM: Why the arts are crucial

Aug 25, 2016 By Sydnee Yates, content writer, PDF Supply

The sciences or the arts. Which one do you or did you study in school? This question is pretty standard when talking about education. 

STEM refers to science, technology, engineering, and math. But, there is a movement to add "A" (for the arts) into that equation turning STEM into STEAM. And as Anna Feldman wrote, “[this movement to turn STEM into STEAM] seems to be gaining steam.”

There are critics that oppose this fight for the transition. Some concerns are that the arts would distract from the core sciences or that adding the arts into STEM would take away from STEM education. This opposition may stem from a common fear that the United States is not quite up to par in STEM fields as other countries are. There’s also the view that there is already a problem with student engagement, and that the addition of the arts would further dilute their focus.

In my opinion, the STEAM movement is not trying to take away time from STEM subjects. Instead, this movement is trying to invoke a sense of creativity in order to enhance STEM. And maybe even more important, this movement wants to entice students who might not otherwise consider a STEM job to do just that;to get them excited about how important the STEM fields are. 

As a result of adding in the arts, students can become more well-rounded. They can be not just an analytical person or a creative person. They can be both analytical and creative thinkers. It is a movement that inspires kids to not pick one side of their brain over the other, but encourages them to use both.

An article written by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) demonstrates this result.  Their article, How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement, exemplifies just what the title states. NASAA talks about a study done through the University of California at Los Angeles. Researchers found that students scored better on standardized tests when they were more active in the arts. This was in comparison to those who were less active in the arts. These same students reported to watch less TV and to feel less bored in school. They also partook in more hours of community service than those who were less active in the arts.

NASAA discusses that involvement in the arts inspires a hunger for learning. This is because students are actively engaged in what they are learning (even if it doesn’t feel like direct learning). There was a study done by Barry, Taylor, and Walls, in 2002, titled “The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in High School Dropout Prevention”. At-risk-of-dropout students stated their reasoning to stay in school was because of their participation in the arts. Aspects of the arts that motivated these at risk students to complete school “included a supportive environment that promote[d] constructive acceptance of criticism and [an environment] where it [was] safe to take risks” (NASAA article).

Just with a few snippets of information from this article, it is easy to see how the arts can benefit learning. I think the most important feature the arts contribute to education is inspiration. The arts inspire students to want to learn instead of it being something they have to do. 

The arts have the ability to capture students’ attention. And once attached, it can pull that engagement toward any subject (not just the art subjects). This, again, allows students who may not be great at core subjects, like those in STEM, to find motivation to want to learn them. And to even excel at them.

An important aspect of STEAM programs is they are project-based. And this is the key element that catches students’ attention and keeps it. Students don’t start out with learning math and science. They start out with a project (potentially one they have thought up and are excited to start) and learn science and math along the way. This type of learning sets students up for success because it is "hands-on" teaching them how to do it. It is not expecting them to know how to do [whatever the topic is] just from reading a text-book.

Now, adding the arts into STEM is not to say that scientists are not creative. You can look at all the technology we have today and see creativity is not the problem. What it is about is bridging the gap between arts and sciences. STEAM wants to take the best aspects of each field and use them together to create the best experience for the student.

The arts offer a unique way of learning that emphasizes student engagement (a problem that many critics say our students suffer from) and project based learning. While the sciences offer the core knowledge which is the basis, of a large portion, of our technology and development in society. With both of these fields being taught together, there is no telling what our students will be able to achieve. 

With this movement, it is possible it will no longer be the sciences or the arts, but instead it will be the sciences and the arts. 


Sydnee Yates is a content writer for PDF Supply. She received her Bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina Asheville, with a focus on Literature. Working at PDF Supply, Sydnee creates website content and manages social media. Her passion for the arts and belief in project-based learning has inspired Sydnee to learn more about the benefits of STEAM.

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