STEM has been a huge acronym buzz word in education in recent years, standing for the “hard science” pillars of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but an initiative led by the Rhode Island School of Design is hoping to turn that into STEAM. Aimed at promoting the national movement of putting arts and design in the STEM education program, STEM to STEAM seems to be picking up momentum with its argument that creativity and flexible thinking are just as important to innovation as science.
This February 14, RISD President John Maeda and other campus representatives co-hosted a briefing in Washington, DC for a new bipartisan Congressional STEAM Caucus with its mission to extend the integration of art and design with STEM education. “There were digital music devices before the iPod, but it took creative design and interface development from Apple to transform the way the world listens to music,” stated co-Chair Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) in a release. “We frequently discuss the importance of STEM education, but we can’t ignore the importance of engaging and educating both halves of the brain.”
That art and science go together seems as obvious as looking at the work of an iconic technical creative like Leonardo da Vinci, but visual arts, music, and other creative classes are often up for the budgetting axe at schools across the country. RISD has also long looked for connections between art and design with science and technology, and their STEM to STEAM website has several case studies setting out their art-in-science cause. For example, there’s the Blue School launched by the Blue Man Group creators that emphasizes “academic enchantment” along with “academic rigor,” and also the California College of the Arts + Climate Change that brings art and design into issues of environmental sustainability. Earlier this month at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, RISD President Maeda moderated a discussion on STEM to STEAM that focused on how the value of technological advances and processes of scientific learning are increased by involving art and design, with panelists including representatives of of the Sesame Workshop, Adobe Education, the Blue School, and Yale University.
It’s also worth looking at not just how art can be a part of science, but how science can be a part of art, because there is no paint color, sculptural structure, or online GIF that isn’t at its core a synthesis of science. Too often in education everything is taught and considered totally separately. Now it’s just time to emphasize the connections a bit more to be sure that art and design find their place along with science and technology to bring them both out of academic isolation to inspire creative thinking across disciplines.