STEM to STEAM

Recently, on NPR, I heard a news program regarding a change in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) program nationwide that is developing. Specifically they are adding Arts…thus creating STEAM programs. This struck me as not only interesting but a very good idea, as well as very appropriate to my blog.

The process began in middle school and elementary schools with teachers in math and arts getting together to create joint curriculum. The reasons for this were sound then and have expanded and developed as the program gains momentum and is implemented more widely. Initially it seems to have started because artistic students, often well suited and very good in these fields never develop an interest or learn the basic skills necessary because the traditional teaching methodology simply does not work for them. From personal experience I can agree with this statement. I have taken quite a bit of math, engineering, and technology related classes at levels from elementary through college programs and done well in them. However, it was in spite of the set program and systems that I did well, not because of it. I felt many times that it was a constant battle to communicate with professors and other students and to get them to see I understood what they were teaching but I understood because my mind applied it the ideas and projects in my head not based on the pointless rote lessons I had moved beyond instantly because they were useless and slow. I had to explain in detail, every aspect of the engineering and proof of every architectural idea I put into projects that other students breezed through because they used the standard rote cookie cutter design that was both a waste of time and bad design. I learned a lot, far beyond the level of the class in question, but that was not the project. I worked significantly harder at each project to get a decent grade and I proved I not only understood the material but understood the process, the reasons, the calculations, the applications, the implications, and how it connected to other work. So why could I not just draw the simple box? Why did my grade not reflect my understanding? I cannot draw the simple box because I do not think like that, the waste of time and resources flew into everything I think and feel. The base design was wasteful, destructive, already designed, and showed no understanding of the material, just an ability to spit out what someone else said. I saw this in business, economics, physics, engineering, algebra, finance, calculus, and many other classes. I inherently understood the practical uses and connections to fields from art to bio-genetics, from English to manufacturing; however, the memorization of a list of formula was beyond absurd. Not only would it never happen, it wasn’t necessary in any practical sense.

What does this have to do with the STEM to STEAM developments? These are the very ideas and processes that are impacting these changes. Students that could be brilliant in these fields will have that chance. Students with creative minds will not learn they hate math but rather that math is part of their art. Looking into the future we see changes in every aspect of life, work, education, economy, and society. What does this mean for the future of careers? Critical thinking is something that develops with creativity, obviously not the only development, but an important one. The ability to adapt, integrate ideas, see possibility, develop ideas, and reach new pathways is already growing rapidly in importance in the job market. This development will only increase as changes occur more rapidly and in more aspects of life impacting every aspect of a career. One thing to consider is how much more quickly a small societal or other change can now impact the economy, and thus jobs at every level. As an example let’s look at another news story heard this week: they have developed a new genetically modified apple called the Arctic Apple that does not brown when cut. People are commenting to the FDA that they do not want it approved but the FDA has found no danger and will probably take the recommendation of the food service and food production industry and approve it. In some cities people will immediately change buying habits in regards to apples as they have other foods. Other areas will complain but do little. Food service will begin looking for availability to this type of apple and wanting less of others to save cost and processing. This means shippers, growers, pickers, fertilizer companies, those that supply fertilizer ingredients, processing plants, small towns supported by these businesses, and more will quickly be impacted. Construction may move to a new area, restaurants in one area will lose business or supply and another will increase, surplus supply will need new distribution channels, and people in all these impacted businesses are now impacted by one simple approval stamp. This particular one is slower than many because trees have to grow and that takes time, but many of these things can happen overnight. Weather can even change the total economy, as it is now because of the late crops in the south using the propane right before major freezes causes a shortage in many areas. I could detail a long line of impacted businesses and people from this. But this emphasizes the need for flexibility, adaptability, creative ideas for development, ability to move into temporary markets, ability to connect disparate and widely different ideas into a whole picture in the developing job market.

STEAM already has a government board examining it to alter the funding for STEM programs and many universities are implementing it already. Princeton is combining dance into this line…I need to look at how, I just can’t picture it. I will cover some of these ideas more in other blogs. I think this one has given enough to think about for one sitting.

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