Inclusion of the Arts in STEM has not just helped it get a new nomenclature ‘STEAM’ but has resulted in a more evolved learning methodology in many ways:
- Making learning impactful, deeper and more holistic: If we take a bird’s eye view, the biggest implication of having the ‘A‘ element in STEAM is the potential it brings to provide a more holistic approach towards problem solving. The methodology clearly has the power to construct a conduit between the right and left brain of children. Over decades study of music, art, dance, theatre etc have been kept hugely separated from mainstream subjects like languages, science and math, giving the entire Arts umbrella a status of co- scholastic or extra curricular. With its inclusion in STEM, the entire umbrella of Arts gets a mainstream integration. Thus a more holistic and integrated methodology emerges where boundaries are easily broken and the fluidity of thought is appreciated from different angles. However, it is quite a challenge to fully leverage the ‘A‘ in STEAM, and one usually finds it getting limited to drawing, painting and/or sketching. The pedagogical depth of Arts in STEAM needs to come out by exposing children to various forms of artistic expression and helping them develop skills in at least one to add a different dimension about the world. By giving due importance to the Arts through an integrated approach like STEAM, the scope of introducing and integrating art forms into mainstream subjects gets hugely widened and learning no longer happens in silos.
- Giving a wider and deeper scope for problem solving: It has been observed how active engagements in STEAM methodology intricately weaves creative thinking with logical and computational skills. A direct impact of project based learning through STEAM has the power to drive creativity at every step of the thinking process. Once creativity is laid in the foundation layers of any learning process, children start looking at problems with a more creative and imaginative view where a variety of options are pulled out, weighed and tested. The practice of feedback and improvisation is vital in a STEAM project and making classrooms incubators for innovative thinking.
- Enhances creative thinking: I perceive Arts as a a key connector that can help in completing the circuit of design thinking and putting Design theory into action. Many theorists and child development psychologists have found creative thinking and problem solving as huge gap areas in the existing structured format of our schooling system. Though it can, to a large extent be attributed to the absence of propagating project based learning in the widely practiced structure of our formal schooling, one cannot overlook the absence of holistic learning and solution oriented teaching. Usually the tilt in formal schooling is largely towards completing the syllabi with a prime focus on scores and marks in standardised testings. Standardisation thus poses a huge block in creativity and creative thinking. Somewhere for enhancing creative thinking, methodologies like STEAM, which strengthen problem solving need to be introduced actively so that creative thinking gets a nurturing ground.
- Scope for integrating Design theory: Educators can easily utilise the opportunity of introducing Art and Design in the ambit of Arts in STEAM to drive innovation into classrooms. Through an inclusive and dynamic approach of project based learning, children get opportunities to gain a holistic perspective and provide novel solutions to real world problems. All elements of design thinking and entrepreneurship can get easily woven into the DNA of a strong STEAM project simply by exploring the various layers of ART integration. This will also help in scaffolding the core elements and principles of Design that are at the moment either totally missing or hugely marginalised in the current structured and formal school curriculum.
- Opportunities for deepening perspectives: It is often found that one of the attributes that go highly missing in the absence of artistic pursuits is perception building. When children dabble in various forms of Art and gain a certain level of mastery in any one or more forms, they develop a deeper outlook which helps them in identifying the problem areas better in every situation. The way issues and problems are perceived in problem solving are very different to the outlook of a person who has missed out on creative pursuits. In my opinion the reason that Arts was perhaps introduced as an active element in STEAM methodologies was to build perceptions and deepen perspectives in children by structurally weaving it into the curricular framework.
- Deepen the inner connect: Many theorists over time have always struggled with the perceived disconnect between the child’s learning and his inner world. Adding varied forms of creativity, allows softness to be built in the otherwise hard core STEM pursuit. Bringing Arts has given STEM the lift that has helped in connecting thoughts, emotions and intuition with the skill of perception and problem solving in the otherwise hard core structural format of the existing STEM learning. Thus the learner’s inner connect with his intuition and emotions adds value and depth to the problem at hand. Integrating Art into STEM gives the learner a means of tangible expression to thoughts, ideas and feelings. By learning, strengthening and studying art forms in some way or the other can hugely help children to build an understanding of the language of objects, things, shapes and design. All these open doors to innovation and creative solutions which hold promise of giving a future where children are skilled to navigate through life in a more humane and creative manner.
Though how much educators are able to take forward the bandwidth that introduction of Arts has provided in STEAM for problem solving is something only time will tell. However its scope should not be marginalised and reduced due to our lack of driving it effectively into our projects. A good STEAM project should be evaluated by determining how far Arts has got integrated in building a strong engine for driving innovation in classrooms.