STEAM- Where Art Meets Science

“The greatest scientists are artists as well.”
-Albert Einstein

Introduction

Science, technology, engineering, and math are highly regarded as educational priorities, but these subjects and fields can seem scary and inaccessible to many. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which every three years measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries, placed the U.S. 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science (US). In recent years, at the root of the reform movements in the field of education was concerned with the restructuring of the educational programs and was directed at the integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines (STEM) at K-12 level (Asgjar). STEM education invests efforts to integrate the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by establishing connections between real-life problems.

Background

What is STEM

In the 1990s, the National Science Foundation coined the term STEM, an acronym which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM can trace back to the Morrill Act of 1982. This act was responsible for the development of land grant universities that originally focused on agriculture training, until engineering based training was also formed. Technology and engineering flourished during World War II, with the development of the atomic bomb and land and air based vehicles. In 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched the Sputnik satellite. The significance of this led the U.S. to initiate and further technological advances in space travel. It was at the end of this period that National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed, and the importance and birth of STEM movement continued to flourish.

When taught in the classroom, STEM utilizes an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach that relates to real-world applications. Students are introduced to the STEM curriculum in elementary school in a structured inquiry-based and real world problem-based learning, connecting to all four of the STEM subjects. In middle school, the STEM courses become more rigorous, and students begin to explore STEM related careers, while an emphasis is fostered in indoctrinating the interest of underrepresented populations, like women and non-whites. In high school, courses and pathways are offered into STEM occupations, and students involved in the STEM curriculum  are prepared for post-secondary education and employment.

What is STEAM

STEAM is the integration of the arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics- a pairing that has been utilized by some of the greatest minds in our history. Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs were innovators who not only built their livelihoods and careers from science, technology, engineering and math, but who all understood the crucial importance of art integration. Da Vinci, who was a scientist and mathematician as well as an artisan, often employed scientific and mathematical theory and equations in his art. In one of his most famous works, Mona Lisa, Da Vinci used the Golden Ratio, a mathematical equation outlining proportions and patterns in human features and in nature. Einstein, the father of the theory of relativity and world renowned physicist, was also a musician, boasting skill in piano and violin. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, stated that “technology is not enough. It’s the technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields results that makes our hearts sing.”

STEAM is a relatively new concept, though we can find examples dating back hundreds of years– the STEM to STEAM Initiative, championed by the Rhode Island School of Design, is now widely adapted by institutions, like colleges and schools, individuals, like Keri Kural, the founder of the Raw Science Foundation, and other groups specializing in science, art and design. The objectives of the STEAM movement are to transform research policy to place Art and Design at the center of STEM, encourage the integration of art and design in K-20 education, and influence employers to hire artists and designers to help drive innovation.

The formation of STEAM is credited to Georgette Yakman, who began implementation of STEAM in 2007 as a middle and high school Engineering & Technology teacher. For her, the STEAM framework includes a way for all the subjects to relate to each other and to a rapidly changing world for developing reality-based life-long learning skills called ‘FUNctional Literacy for All,’ meaning: learning and using “Science and Technology are interpreted through Engineering and Mathematics. Everything from the Corvette  Stingray, the 2014 North American Car of the Year– a engineering marvel that is aesthetically pleasing– to the newest design in lightweight running shoes- to the acoustically designed facilities of an opera or symphony house, are examples of art and design integrating with science and engineering.

Examples of STEAM

Raw Science Film Festival and Raw TV

Keri Kural is the founder of Raw Science TV, a science media platform with the goal of making science as exciting, fun, and entertaining as any other form of mainstream media. The annual Raw Science Film Festival celebrates young filmmakers all over the world, highlighting stories in science and technology. Film categories fiction and nonfiction, with various types of films– documentaries, dramatic features, and animated shorts for both students and professionals. The festival highlights the artistic stories in science and technology. Kural herself created the Raw Science Foundation to promote STEAM education globally through access to energy and connectivity, particularly for women and girls, including a sponsoring a robots team of Afghan girls who participated in the Entrepreneurial Challenge at the Robotex festival (Hauser).

Josef Albers- Homage to a Square

German artist Josef Albers combined art with science as he explored colors’ relationships within geometric shapes. His Homage to the Square explored chromatic interactions, objective specification of the quality of a color regardless of its luminance (Homage). The Homage to a Square would go on to make up the body of more than a thousand works created over 25 years, from paintings to tapestries to drawings. The entire series was based on mathematical equations of several squares, which appear to be overlapping or nested within each other. The geometric abstraction was Albers’ template for exploring the subjective experience of color and the affects adjacent colors have on one another.

Nikola Tesla- Light and Sound

Nicola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, physicist, and futurist who is partly responsible for our access to light, the internet, radio, television, and heat. “Tesla: Light, Sound and Color” was a performance celebrating the inventor using original choreography, digital animation, songs performed by a string octet, electronic musicians, and live physics demonstrations. The performance was created by Harmonic Laboratory, a nonprofit collective known for their multimedia art performances and installations. Harmonic Laboratory has covered subjects ranging from famous artisans, to natural phenomenon, to the relationship between body and space. Many of their performances and projects involve emerging, underrepresented or marginalized voices and interactions among art, humanities and science.

Tesla’s life and works not only contributes to the idea of art and science integration of STEAM, but to the foundation of STEM as well. In September 2012, the Tesla STEM high school opened in Redmond, Washington. It offers a STEM based curriculum and is the number one school in Washington and number 28 in the nation.

Sesame Street + STEAM

During its 43 season, Sesame Street began integrating the Arts into its already existing STEM focus, with an 11 minute segment called Elmo the Musical. The new segment replaces Elmo’s World and is an interactive adventure, integrating music with math skills, like relational concepts, addition and subtraction, and geometric shapes used to solve problems. The focus on STEAM continues even after the segment has aired, with the Sesame program offering children and parents exciting games and learning tools all related to STEAM.

Project Mc²

Project Mc² is an American web television series produced by Dreamworks’ Awesomenesst TV. It follows the  adventures of McKeyla McAlister and her friends who work for a government organization called NOV8, run entirely by female teenaged government agents trying to protect the world. The girls use their intelligence,  science skills, and STEAM subjects to save the world. The show is notable for its diverse and female cast, and the girls have specialties in engineering and software design, and their love of science and math is stated in the show’s tagline, “Smart is cool.”

Conclusion

Art integration with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can yield some breathtaking results, innovating the way we as communicators and scientists discuss subjects that may seem inaccessible to many. STEAM is a clear example of how everything is connected, and how something as beautiful and simple as a painting of a square can express complex ideas. STEAM also has a multimedia communications approach, through television, the internet, through music and architecture, through light shows and clothing design. This allows for new and exciting ways to communicate and share, and to highlight the technological and scientifically driven innovation of our society. STEAM adds an artistic element, allowing students how may not been comfortable in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, to communicate their ideas in a hands on approach. STEAM will continue to develop, as new mediums are explored and new technologies to develop. This is an exciting time to be involved in science communication.

Works Cited

  1. Asghar, Ellington, Rice, Johnson & Prime, 2012; NAE, 2010; NAE and NRC, 2009; Williams, 2011;
  2. “U.S. academic achievement lags that of many other countries | Pew ….” 15 Feb. 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018
  3. Hauser, C. (2017, November 29). Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Overcomes Setbacks to Win Contest in Europe. Retrieved March 21, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/29/world/afghanistan-girls-robotics.htm
  4. Homage To the Square: With Rays | Josef Albers | 59.160 | Work Of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline Of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum Of Art https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/59.160/
  5. Students settle in at Lake Washington’s new STEM school, Sammamish Review, May 23, 2013.

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