Many U.S. schools have decided to add more disciplines to their traditional curriculum. Some of these schools have chosen arts and music. Why? Because arts and music help students develop their creativity and connect science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM subjects – with innovative thinking.
Is innovative thinking essential? Considering that important discoveries have always been linked to imaginative visions, innovative thinking is critical in educating the scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians of the future.
Teachers and Students: STEAM Ahead
Incorporating arts into STEM allows schools to cultivate creative, critical thinkers who will be able to “draw freely upon [their] imagination,” as Albert Einstein said. According to this scientist, “[Creativity] is more essential than knowledge. [While] knowledge is limited, [creativity] encircles the world.”
Following this approach, schools are investing in arts education more than ever before. The reason? A 20-year study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts has shown that the students who participated in the arts scored better in both writing and science.
Further, 70 percent of these students went to college compared to only 48 percent of the students who have never attended art classes. It seems that arts open up students' appetite for learning, not necessarily from the root but through native thinking and creativity.
Adding "A" for Arts
The main idea behind adding arts to STEM is to determine students to step out of their comfort zone. It’s not about being right-brained or left-brained and creative or analytical anymore; it’s about being both right-brained and left-brained, creative and analytical at the same time.
This new approach focuses on helping our kids to use both cerebral hemispheres and think divergently, regardless of whether they’re reproducing a painting, developing music on a computer, or inventing a new breed of robots. Divergent thinking will enable our children not only to understand facts, but also to look at things from different angles and find new ways of solving problems.
Teaching students divergent thinking isn’t that difficult. Here are a few examples:
- Not too long ago, teachers used to teach about earthworms, soil erosion and clay separately, today’s kids learn not only about the interaction between these three elements, but also how they can use the resulting product (clay) to make pots in one lesson.
- Some teachers use the ancient Mimbre artwork to teach math concepts. Then, they show students how to create interactive designs with the help of specific software programs, based on the math concepts identified in the Mimbre artwork.
- When teaching futuristic societies, the teachers at the DeSoto West Middle School require students to design their own societies with scales, fractions and graphics, and then create brochures presenting the techniques they used. Since students are allowed to sell their creations, this is one of the best ways to motivate them to use different computer programs and create codes, just as they would do in the workplace.
Although arts don’t necessarily show students how things interconnect with each other, art and music classes help them develop divergent thinking skills by encouraging trial and error, perseverance, collaboration and problem solving.
Do We Really Need STEAM?
Arts and music education is essential to attract millennials, a future workforce with skills that many employers are already looking for. Maybe, we’ll never see millennial employees wearing stiff white collars and polished cufflinks. However, these employees will know how to apply creativity to drive waves of innovation and economic growth.
There’s no question; millennials are the critical missing piece in this climate of economic uncertainty. With more and more countries turning to innovation to ensure a prosperous future, America needs STEAM if it wants to enhance its economic competitiveness.
Photo credit: Foter