Some schools and universities are using art to help students understand science, technology, engineering and math.
In a webinar hosted by Americans for the Arts this week, top art education advocates across the country shared what STEAM involves and why it's important.
First off, let's define what art really means in this context. The "A" in STEAM includes both the integration of arts in other subjects and an emphasis on art forms, said Janis Hill, principal of Quatama Elementary School in Hillsboro, Ore.
The U.S. Department of Education created a broad definition of art so that school districts could build quality programs, said Edith Harvey, director of improvement programs in the department's Office of Innovation and Improvement. That definition includes music, dance, theater, media arts, visual arts and folk arts. She also stressed that it's important to build quality arts education programs and integrate arts with other subjects.
Art and now STEAM powers Quatama Elementary School. The five-year-old school that Hill heads began with a focus on art for every student with the help of The Right Brain Initiative, a program of the Regional Arts & Culture Council that serves three Oregon counties in the Portland Tri-County region.
Last year, artists started working with teachers to integrate art with other subjects including science, technology, engineering and math.
"When you put teachers and artists planning together, that's pretty powerful," Hill said.
First-graders learned how sound waves affect the materials they go through. Second-graders created wire sculpture circuits that lit up. And third-graders made a large mural that showed the life cycle of salmon using different art techniques such as printmaking.
In higher education, theater students at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., plan to spend a year performing plays that show the connection between art and science or art and technology, said Kevin Murray, program manager of the School of Theater at the university. The university also plans to host a STEAM conference next fall.
A year ago, the university received a grant from Boeing to figure out how theater techniques could help students retain what they're learning better and prepare them to solve problems creatively once they're in the workforce, Murray said. After receiving the grant, George Mason University started a STEAM Table made up of people involved in arts and sciences. The table members meet three to four times a year to share ideas and resources.
"You can't just live in your own bubble," Murray said. "We have to talk with each other."