Discover how STEM to STEAM education is increasing the value of creative scientific minds in fields traditionally perceived as rigid and controlled.

STEM is often mistaken for being controlled and exact, comprising the highly intelligent – but not the exceptionally creative. Many STEM jobs require creativity, in addition to intelligence, yet it seems the artistic traits of students in these fields aren’t always cultivated properly.

Under the leadership of former school president John Maeda, northeast design college RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) embarked upon a mission to show it’s not simply an institution of higher arts learning. Through its STEM to STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics) initiative, the school has been promoting the science, technology, engineering and mathematics aspects associated with art and design. Prepare to incorporate STEM to STEAM education into your lesson plans with our list of 10 things you should know.

1. STEAM isn’t new.

While it has a catchy new name, STEAM has existed throughout art and design history. Citing scientifically inclined artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, the Director of the RISD Career Center, Kevin Jankowski says, “One of the things that is quite apparent to me is, by giving it a name, by coining the phrase STEM to STEAM, it highlights something that artists and designers have been engaged with for years.”

2. STEAM provides opportunities.

There are no limits to the possible courses of study in STEAM. Students can follow artistic career paths using geometry, biology, computer science, or any STEM field.

3. STEAM fields can be prestigious.

Since 2012, RISD’s STEM to STEAM initiative has offered a Maharam STEAM fellowship that promotes STEAM paths. Past fellows, according to Jankowski, have included an illustrator whose internship with the Mayo Clinic included illustrating the healthcare process.

4. STEAM fields foster creativity.

Fulbright grants have also been awarded to RISD’s STEAM students. In her grant proposal, one of RISD’s Fulbright recipients sought to use her glass-blown creations to interpret the echolocation of narwhals.

5. Students are never too young for STEAM initiatives.

RISD’s KinderSTEAM program promotes STEAM among Pre-K through grade 5 children. The partnership between Brown University and RISD’s STEAM Club with a local Rhode Island school is allowing the STEM to STEAM program to gain traction (and, yes, steam) among students at an early age.

6. STEAM subjects are interesting and engaging.

Share the story of architect turned illustrator David Macauley’s and keep a copy of his book The Way Things Work available to students in the classroom. Jankowski feels, “The reason it was so potent is that someone who was thinking so visually can be this bridge to science and technology.”

7. There are many STEAM resources available.

PBS Learning Media and RISD joined forces to provide educational resources to teachers who want to incorporate STEAM into their STEM. Many of the tools included can be used to teach students enrolled in grade 6 or higher.

8. You don’t have to do it alone!

Reach out for guidance from art, design and teaching professionals who are experienced with STEAM. Meghan Reilly Michaud, an educator, former RISD Alumni Council president and school trustee, walks teachers through the processes of recognizing existing STEAM concepts that are currently used in class and implementing additional methods.


Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

9. Be a bridge.

One of the largest STEAM challenges to overcome, according to Jankowski, is the public’s perception of STEM jobs. “We need people who are bridges. It’s easy to pigeonhole people and say, ‘Oh you’re an engineer,’ and limit them. The most dynamic programs I see happening are those that break down the idea that this is just a science or math class and allow cross-pollination.” Promote bridging the gap within the classroom.

10. Remember the arts!

Keep in mind the aim of STEM to STEAM. According to RISD, teachers and students should “…transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM…encourage integration of Art + Design in K – 20 education…influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.”

The movement toward incorporating STEAM into mainstream education will only gain momentum if teachers, students, parents, and government education officials work together. Remember to remain up-to-date regarding STEAM initiatives and the representatives who have the power to shape education policy in your school district.

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