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Full STEAM Ahead: Integrating the Arts into STEM

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Most people are familiar with the acronym STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. But what happens when the arts are added to this acronym? That’s where STEAM is introduced. This new approach integrates arts into STEM to create a balance between the subjects and accommodate various learning types. Elementary education major Isabella Whitehead ’18 wrote her honors thesis on this topic, discussing the importance of incorporating the arts in her classroom lessons.

Whitehead is an East Longmeadow native who implemented STEAM lessons into her student-teaching at Meadow Brook Elementary School in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Learn about how STEAM is making an impact in the classroom and why it matters to the future of education in this Q&A:

Why did you choose to focus on this topic for your Honors thesis?

With STEAM, teachers are able to bridge STEM subjects with arts. Educators can take a science lesson and transform it into creating a physical model which incorporates both engineering and art. This offers a more concrete way of learning difficult information in the classroom. I chose this as my topic because while reading about it, I found it fascinating that teaching STEM subjects in conjunction with the arts leads to more understanding for all students, especially young girls.

When I was in elementary school, my least favorite subject was science. I found it difficult to conceptualize the information being taught. Being a future teacher, I did not want my students to dislike a subject in the way I did. While researching how to make teaching STEM more engaging, I came across STEAM. It felt as if a light bulb went on. I truly believe that if I had teachers in elementary school who taught the STEM subjects with the arts, I would have really enjoyed learning these difficult subjects.

How does this impact the classroom environment?

STEAM can impact the classroom environment in many ways. It really focuses on being creative and working collaboratively. This collaboration cannot occur in a classroom where the desks are put into neat rows. STEAM, especially in relation to young girls, encourages females students to become leaders in STEM fields. By teaching these subjects in conjunction with the arts, we are showing our students it’s okay to be creative. We are also showing them that there are so many different ways to learn about something. No longer in education are we handing students a textbook an expecting them to just absorb the information they learned. The future of education is leading towards the understanding that all students are unique and we can all learn the same information but we may have to differentiate how we teach it.

What are some ways you engaged your class with STEAM activities?

One of the ways we incorporated STEAM into the classroom was with a crystal-making experiment to demonstrate chemical changes and how to make scientific observations. We had the students make a heart-shaped pipe cleaner, then added boiling water and borax. They were able to observe over a period of a few days how the pipe cleaners began to “grow” crystals and see right in front of them the science taking place.

We also performed an experiment related to how crayons are made. As a class, we made predictions on whether different crayons based upon color, size, or brand would melt at different rates. It was really cool to see the students working through their thinking. They were engaged in both activities and enjoying science.

How do you recommend other teachers implement STEAM?

I would tell them to take it slow at first. Start by picking a STEM topic that your students are struggling with, then try to link it to the arts and even another STEM subject. For instance, if I was working with students on learning about the parts of the human body, I would pick a body part, like a hand, and then explain the important parts of the hand such as the joints and bones within your finger. We could then create a workable hand using what we know about the joints and bone. This creating of a “robotic” hand allows for science, engineering, and the arts to come together to lead to greater understanding.

What were some key takeaways you found in your thesis research?

At a time where women are rediscovering our voices in so many different ways, it is important to give our students the tools to use in the real world to make a difference. I feel that it is unacceptable that only 25% of the STEM workforce is comprised of women! Jobs in STEM/STEAM are some of the fastest-growing professions. As a future educator, I feel that it is my job to teach these subjects in a way that engages all of my students, especially young girls. If students feel that they can connect with a subject and even learn to love it, then maybe within the next 25 years we will see more young, empowered, and bold women entering STEM.

 

STEM has made a major impact in education, and STEAM is bringing even more engaging strategies to the classroom, creating equal opportunity for all learners. Through the application of the arts to teaching STEM, students learn the value of collaboration and teamwork. Preparing students for their future is the goal of every educator, and STEAM is helping teachers get students interested in their learning and creating lifelong learners in the process. 

Whitehead graduated this month and will be continuing her education at Bay Path, working toward obtaining a master’s degree in elementary education.