Art education has the potential to serve a practical function outside of the realm of drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. Children are naturally avid STEM investigators, eager to explore, to learn, and to create. It is with innovation, ingenuity, and creativity in mind that we incorporate art education into a STEM curriculum.
Teachers can put the ‘A’ in STEM by challenging students to improve products, using their imaginations and creativity to upgrade or design new tools. Arts can also be incorporated in science through enhancing communication to increase understanding about the power of STEM.
Repurposing and Redesigning. It is impossible to think of the engineering field and ignore the creative ingenuity that goes into solving today’s problems. Through industrial design, students can improve the appearance, design, and usability of a product. Repurposing and redesigning products to be more efficient and/or user friendly are just as important as invention and innovation in modern society.
Incorporating Drama and Theatre. STEAM can also incorporate drama and theater training, speaking, debating, and effective delivery techniques. Books, such as Don’t Be Such a Scientist by Dr. Randy Olson and Am I Making Myself Clear? by Cornelia Dean, address some of the many challenges scientists face in effectively communicating information to the general public in a way that is both appealing and understandable. There is certainly a place in the scientific community for the charismatic, well spoken, and persuasive who can successfully encourage an open dialogue among our citizens.
Designing New Tools. Students can also define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new, or improved, object or tool. They can gather and interpret data from tests of the object or tool to determine if i works as intended. Students can envision and test ways to make a tool more efficient.
Upgrading Toys. In addition to teachers demonstrating the physical properties of engineering through drawings and diagrams, common ‘building’ toys such as Legos and K’nex can be useful tools in the classroom as well. These toys can also be upgraded with electrical components and working gears to allow the tools to grow with the child.
Robotic Alliance Project, has some great resources and ideas for Lego and K’nex projects for grades K-5. Another resource is ME Robots: Mechanical Engineering Basics ‘“ Training Manual: Level 1: Engineer-in-Training (Volume I) by St. Catherine University National Center for STEM Elementary Education. It is an instructor’s guide to activities that teach mechanical engineering basics to children using LEGO robotics.
With STEM and STEAM, teachers and schools have opportunities to help students access new ways of learning and prepare for future careers. Much can be done without extensive equipment or supplies. Incorporating art is one of the keys to student engagement and success.