The importance of adding art to science in STEM education


It’s no secret that our perspective here at Women in Tech Tribe is the technology world lacks equitable representation of women. The solution to the issue lies squarely in the domain of education; and we don’t mean only in school. Many of today’s young people have access to excellent STEM tools and toys. Education is becoming more interactive, thanks in large part to the pandemic. Many streams are taught using play and hands-on learning methodologies, however, much of that is not mainstream. Parents and caregivers still need to provide supplementary resources. To help you do that, we’d like to provide you with some concepts and examples.

Research has shown a positive relationship between the arts and wider appeal to a more diverse group of scientific learners. Through the introduction of artistic thinking comes a greater focus on organic problem-solving of real and complex problems. Integrating art, or the A in STEAM, can help students better visualize and understand the concepts they’re learning. Educators agree that STEAM education should start in early childhood, which is when the arts play a key role in the development of reading, imagination, and creative expression. Art makes the introduction of foundational STEM concepts more engaging and accessible for students who may display an early inclination and also for those who are not interested in math or science at all.

STEAM education encourages personal expression, empathy, exploration of meaning and intentionality. Children love this. It helps them understand the purpose of what they are learning by humanizing the ideas and making concepts something you can see, touch, and feel.

Art becomes particularly vital for students in the age group of 6-16, when the concept of play can sometimes take a back seat in the system. Parents and caregivers can help their kids by reminding them (and ourselves!) that creativity is the foundation for advancement in so many fields. (Think: Product design, user experience and customer experience design, sound and video engineering, urban planning – they all rely on creativity. You’ll find the full article on the changing nature of careers for young women here.)

Finding mentors, and stories of people who bring together the arts like writing, music, painting, theater and dance, paired with science, technology, engineering and math is a great place to start to provide inspiration to the young people in our lives. One strong (and lesser known) example is Samuel Morse, who invented the telegraph and Morse Code. He was also an extremely gifted painter. Introduce your kids to Anna Atkins, British Botanist who captured her specimens on screen and became the woman who established photography as a scientific tool. She is also a photographer and the first person to have published a book with photographs. (Note: You’ll find 5 more strong examples in this article.)

At what point did art split from science? Because it wasn’t always this way! And we’d love to inspire you to bring art back to the scientific learning of your children.

Practical teaching examples to inspire a STEAM approach to homework

As most students in North America are diligently taking their first term back to a new year in school, we wanted to curate a few examples of people who have brought more art to the process of learning scientific concepts. We hope something to inspire you as you tackle homework battles that come up, especially in middle school and beyond (trust us, you are not alone).

  • In Massachusetts, Andover High School uses a scavenger hunt at a nearby museum to teach geometry. Students discover that perspective in art and scale in geometry are related. You’ll find in the linked article mentions of two other US school experiments since 2014. The first is an Albuquerque high school where students utilize software to design and build a mural based on the mathematical ideas they discovered in the artwork. The second is Quatama Elementary School in Oregon where students learn about the connection between soil erosion, earthworms, and clay for pottery.
  • Eight-grade students in Annapolis study math while studying Mexican mosaics, taking measurements and performing calculations to determine the approximate number of tiles used in the piece. If you’d like to apply the concept, you’ll find a video here on how to use Algebra tiles for middle school and high school students.
  • A Toronto elementary and middle school offers a completely outdoor classroom experience in which children learn science through nature walks where they collect samples; and they integrate art into the process of learning and creating reports.

As moms, dads, teachers, grandparents, relatives, and influencers of the young people in our lives, we invite you to take a deeper look at some of those examples and bring more art into your child’s life. You will not regret it.

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