the A in STEAM

Three Things to Know about the A in STEAM

By Abby McManus, Rubicon International

You may have heard of STEAM as a relatively recent initiative to integrate arts into traditional STEM subjects across K-12 schools. While most people know that the A in STEAM stands for arts, articulating exactly what the added A means can be challenging. To start you off with a better understanding of this added letter, here are 3 things you need to know about the A in STEAM (and why it’s important):

1. Think “Design”

You may think of the A as standing for Arts (and you aren’t wrong), but expanding the definition to include Design emphasizes the importance of incorporating the design process into traditional STEM subjects. Design is essential for connecting STEM subjects and the creative processes necessary for better problem solving.

Have students create prototypes for their projects, like in this exercise designing models of chairs, to demonstrate iterative design principles.

2. The Connection is in the Process

Don’t limit your thinking to just adding an arts project to your existing science class. STEAM is meant to repair the artificial division in schools between “technical” and “creative” subjects by focusing on the connection between scientific and design processes.

Understanding the design process is crucial for being able to create the technical products that bring technological change to society. Your STEAM course should highlight the creative thinking, experimentation, and visualization skills used in arts and design that are vital for continued innovation in STEM. Give students time to create and problem solve, independently or in teams, by working on small engineering projects that relate to the content of your unit.

Check out the Spaghetti Tower Marshmallow Challenge as an example of an activity that reveals the connection between engineering and design.

3. Focus on developing student’s “soft skills”

Much has been said about the importance of STEM to prepare students for the needs of the job market, but STEAM also develops the soft skills, like problem solving and communication, employers rank as most important for their employees.

STEAM teaching should integrate writing and group work into STEM courses, creating additional opportunities for students to develop their communication skills. This school in Idaho found that students’ writing skills noticeably improved after implementing a STEAM approach. Using the inquiry and experimentation based learning STEAM encourages also allows students to answer questions on their own, improving their ability to problem solve.

Incorporate writing into STEAM classes by following South Fremont High School’s example and have students respond to related writing prompts after completing a design project.

While there are countless ways to implement a STEAM approach in your classroom, beginning with these fundamental STEAM concepts should get you off to a strong start.

Learn more about STEAM by reading our other post, Board The STEAM Train: Steps To Developing Rigorous, Arts-Focused STEAM Units.

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