Friday, December 2, 2011

Raising daVincis with STEAM

We should be integrating the arts more into STEM education--that's the argument explored in an intriguing new article from EdWeek. STEM should become STEAM, because engineering design and invention require some of the same creativity and ability to think outside the box as does artistic exploration.

The article offers some fascinating tidbits and models. For example, there's the tantalizing fact that Nobel scientists are 22 times more likely than other scientists to be involved in the performing arts. There's a description of the biodegradable water bottle that one this year's ArtScience prize. Here's a video from the Wolf Trap Foundation showing how the performing arts can help young children "feel" mathematics in their bodies.

Of course, as Noyce Foundation trustee Alan Friedman points out in the article, there are big differences between art and science as ways of knowing. Think, for example, of how a piece of work in evaluated. In both art and science, boldness of vision and originality may be important. But in the end, a piece of scientific work is evaluated by whether it can be reproduced, whether it proves to be true. Though Keats says, "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty," the two are different.

I tend not to think of myself as artistic, but people remind me writing is an art form. In college I read poetry in the cell biology lab and then went off to my creative writing class to write stories about the adventure of scientific discovery. And to my surprise, Lost in Lexicon's playful approach to mathled to my selection as a featured author at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in April. During my talk I plan to play a Lexicon song titled "Girls Can't Do Math," which comes from the village of Tessellate--more arts integration.

Teachers of Lost in Lexicon have integrated the arts with the book as well. One teacher asked kids to paint scenes from the book as they read. Dotty Corbiere challenges kids and adults to represent mathematical ideas from the book in Lego sculptures. And I'll take the integration of science and art further in the second Lexicon book, The Ice Castle, an Adventure in Music.

Bringing art into STEM will motivate more kids to give STEM a try. It will help kids think about science and mathematics in new ways. Even if they don't all grow up to be Leonardo da Vinci or even Steve Jobs, that's a good thing.

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