STEAM Rising

Source: Slate

Imagine a high school dance class in session. You might envision an open studio, pupils all in a row, lined up to practice their pliés and jetés at the command of their instructor. Not so much at Boston Arts Academy, where art is “central to learning.” For one class project, a BAA dance student prototypes her own “electroluminescent costume,” which uses electrical currents to light up the fabric. She creates the costume from sketch to reality, complete with working circuits, and all with the help of the school’s modeling software and a 3-D printer.

That’s STEAM in action. “STEAM” takes the standard STEM formulation (science, technology, engineering, and math) and adds an A for arts. And, well, it seems to be gaining steam. In May alone, 27 school districts and programs in Pennsylvania were awarded $530,000 specifically for the development of STEAM programs and facilities, and VH1’s Save the Music Foundation held a high-profile event to promote STEAM.

As STEAM has become increasingly prominent, some have argued that the general addition of an “arts” component distracts from the focus on the hard sciences. Lloyd M. Bentsen IV, a researcher with National Center for Policy Analysis, says STEM already suffers from a major problem with student engagement, and the focus on changing STEM to STEAM would distract from the issue.

Others argue that there needs to be separation between the arts and sciences to prevent anything taking away from the focus on STEM education. This perspective is fueled in part by the fear that the United States is falling behind in the STEM fields—government and private money is being poured into grants, scholarships, and job placement programs specifically tailored to STEM engagement and placing students in STEM careers in the U.S. (Some recent reports suggest that the ratio of STEM grads to STEM jobs is actually not a huge problem—there are other issues at play.)