Arts Education: Full STEAM ahead!

By Angela Rountree, 2012-2013 Baltimore County Teacher of the Year; Art Department Chair, Ridgely Middle School

As our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) liaison presented the Baltimore County Public Schools’ STEM vision at faculty meetings at Ridgely Middle School last year, I saw endless exciting possibilities for the arts to strengthen this initiative.  I was not the first to have this brainstorm.  

In 2009, artist Agnes Chavez founded the STEMArts project to encourage collaboration between the arts and STEM subjects. In the following year, business leader Harvey White coined the term STEAM (STEM + Art) stating, “We simply cannot compete in the new economy unless we do something now about creativity and innovation.”

Employers are increasingly concerned with the inability of recent graduates to think outside of the box, solve problems, and ask questions.  While some skills can be taught on the job, creativity is best nurtured in a sequential art program.

Educational expert Sir Ken Robinson said, “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” 

Rountree, right, working on a photography project with some of her students.

As an art teacher, I frequently consult various non-art curricula and instructors in order to reinforce academic content.  With the current focus on college and career readiness, now is the chance for my subject to take center stage.  

By working collaboratively, teachers of the arts and STEM content area instructors can design units that merge engineering skills with design principles, music with mathematical studies on pattern, and the scientific method with interpretive dancing. 

After attending a workshop at The Walters Art Museum last summer, I began incorporating some of the elements of the other arts (dance, music, and drama) into my visual art classes to further the creative experience.  Students truly enjoyed having instruction “switched up,” and these changes in routine likely stood out in their memories to reinforce the concepts.

In my dream school, all teachers would post lists of the elements of dance, music, drama, and visual art as reminders to reinforce creativity in their lessons.

Encouraged by our administration, a small group of Ridgely teachers have formed a STEAM learning community for the upcoming school year.  Our goal is to provide support to each other as we determine how to best realize the BCPS STEM initiative in our respective disciplines (science, technology education, art, and math) and to identify ways that we can make meaningful interdisciplinary connections. 

Students participating in the marshmallow challenge.

During the 2011-12 school year, most BCPS students, teachers, and administrators took part in the infamous STEM activity known as the marshmallow challenge.

Not only did it inspire me to create similar artistic challenges, but it also made me think about the importance of aesthetics in the world. 

If we make the jump to think about the marshmallow towers as being buildings that our students will one day design and construct as architects and engineers, perhaps we might consider what it would be like to be surrounded by those unsightly leaning towers of broken noodles and torn tape in our daily lives.  Aside from the many other things art can accomplish, the creation of and appreciation for beauty is still critical to the human experience.

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3 thoughts on “Arts Education: Full STEAM ahead!

  1. I am excited to see creative problem solving making a comeback in our schools!!! The arts are so important in ALL areas of the curriculum. I enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  2. Well said, Angela! Innovation, collaboration and problem solving are at the heart of creative thinking. Traditional artists are celebrated for their ability to inspire others. As a counselor, I see the valuable by-products of creative thinking and problem solving — increased self-confidence, improved social interactions, and negotiation skills. All of these skills will enhance our students’ academic and social/emotional success. “Arts in Action” takes on a new meaning with these goals in mind!

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