The STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – acronym originated in 2001. In 2015, Congress added an “A” moving STEM into STEAM. Allen-Stevenson recognized early on the importance of STEAM.
Interdisciplinary in nature, STEAM works with a project, inquiry-based approach to thinking, problem-solving, and creating. Emphasis is placed on the creative process involved in tinkering and experimenting with ideas, i.e. inventing to learn rather than learning to invent (Martinez & Stager, 2013). Functionality and making things work is important in a STEM classroom, but when we introduce aesthetics, art and design, it foregrounds other factors such as creativity and students’ own meaning making as they engage with the various concepts and skills being taught.
“Encouraging students to think outside the box is where the art piece comes in,” said Art Teacher Dr. Rob McCallum. “It helps to bring science and technology together.”
He went on to explain, “Art is really integral to the design process. Focusing on the aesthetic of something that is being engineered is being considered more and more. Look at the iPhone for example. It’s the design that sells the iPhone. Engineers tend to be more functional. Imagine how different the iPhone would have been if its appearance hadn’t been taken into consideration.”
“I always think historically in terms of what we are doing too. Look at Leonardo da Vinci who combined the arts, science and technology in his numerous inventions and how he improved existing objects by considering their design.”
In the Fifth Grade, students build wind turbines as part of their STEAM project to create waterside homes to withstand storm surges. The art component is continually brought into the process. To make these turbines, the boys use recycled materials like cardboard to design the blades for the turbine. Initial sketches are uploaded into Tinkercad, a CAD software program. The final components are printed using a 3D printer.
“The boys also work with design software like Sketchup for this project. The arts process is the cool component of the engineering process,” Dr. McCallum pointed out.
“What’s particularly exciting is that the boys are also teaching me. I am not necessarily the expert on this. We invent to learn collaboratively,” Dr. McCallum emphasized.
“All in all, the important lesson here is that art engages a creative process and the boys are learning to think sequentially and build and revise on their ideas. There is a logical process that works together with the more creative, open-ended processes. Using the microprocessors in the Upper School, they can come up with their own ideas and drive their own STEAM project. It’s very exciting. It encourages them to think and it encourages them to collaborate. Learning through failure is so important. If something doesn’t work, you try again, until you get to the outcome you are seeking.”