Published on Apr 16, 2014
A quick overview of what STEM education is and why it's important.
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STEM Education in US: In order to spark innovation, creativity and forward thinking in learners, arts must garner the same attention from educators and legislators as STEM subjects. Photo illustration by Bernard Goldbach
The education system in America has been hijacked by the left-brain, convergent thinking Sputnik generation of leadership who fail to recall how imagination coupled with basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics was our country’s formula for success in winning the race to the moon.
The prescription to heal our underperforming education system led to the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 which has resulted in little reform and forced teachers to focus on test metrics. The subsequent prescription by the U.S. Government added a designer drug focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Although these are key education discipline areas; where is the creative design component of the arts? When did the element of imagination and innovation drop off the education radar screen? Without the arts, STEM is just a four-letter word.
The arts are an integral component of schooling; arts programs in K-12 education as well as universities have the ability to touch future artists as well as individuals that are pursuing different fields of study. Congruently, there is a growing interest in measuring the impact of the arts as a key component to educational curricula because research has revealed that there are a myriad of benefits that are associated with exposure to the arts.
Arts education research is a relatively young field, but there has been a substantial amount of research on the relationship between the arts and divergent thinking. More specifically, research demonstrates that arts education has an impact in developing critical thinking skills. Another emerging trend in arts education coursework is the inclusion of the arts within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) movement. STEM education receives national attention and a considerable stream of funding; the STEM to STEAM (STEM plus arts) movement is one way to bring arts education to the forefront. This has led to the creation of a blog dedicated the inclusion of the arts entitled the steammanifesto.com.
The arts are not a liability to the STEM purists who deem their linear left brain convergent approach to education as superior. If we followed this logic we would still have the bug prone Microsoft operating system and not the innovatively designed Apple system which showcases function and form, while remaining visually attractive. Steve Jobs understood the balance of convergent and divergent (right brain/left brain) thinking equated to a whole brain approach to solving problems, innovation, thoughtful design and challenging the status quo.
The Right Brain Initiative non-profit is one of the many initiatives exposing the left-brain bias in education. They explain, “brains come with two sides for a reason. They need each other. They fill in each other’s blanks. One is messy by plan. The other regimented. One is linear. The other bounces off walls. One reasons. The other feels. But what happens when they work together is magical. Magical enough to make kids connect, achieve, aspire, and succeed. In a future that will require the full measure of our thinking, it’s no time to leave kids half-interested, half-motivated, half-engaged, half-ready.”
We need to add the arts to be a more innovative, creative, and forward thinking to compete globally. So send the STEM addicts to rehab. We need to move from STEM to STEAM where whole (left and right) brain thinking can occur with the addition of the arts.
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The Roswell school's transition to STEM teaching was a result of a visionary principal, active PTA leadership and broad community support
River Eves Elementary is a bellwether for public elementary schools seeking a model to transform their curriculum, traditional learning spaces and teaching through the implementation of a STEM-focused (science, technology, engineering and math) approach to education.
River Eves is setting the course among metro area schools pursuing excellence in integrating STEM into all areas of the school day. River Eves’ successful transition to STEM teaching is the result of a visionary principal, broad community support for its education foundation and very active PTA leadership at the 18-year-old Roswell school.
The recent transformation to a STEM-focused school has two major catalysts. The first is an education foundation focused on technology and science enrichment experiences for all students. The second is a commitment from Principal Neil Pinnock, teachers and parents to maximize the experiential learning students receive through interactive whiteboards, iPads, their own devices and more.
At the same time, River Eves has became a model Title I school that serves some 800 students. And in the last two years, River Eves received the designation of Reward School, placing it among the top five percent of Title I schools in Georgia.
A visit to the school reveals ActiveBoards in all classrooms, a STEM lab, and a technology coach who increases teachers’ proficiency and students’ use of technology. The students are benefiting from school-wide STEM Days that offer hours of STEM activities to ensure high engagement and the opportunity for creative success and failure.
“For students to be competitive in the fast-paced, technology-based world, we must offer specific STEM experiences that employ reading and writing, technology, and experimentation,” said Pinnock.
On STEM Days, challenges include constructing a catapult from popsicle sticks and rubber bands, making a toy from recyclable items, or building a space shuttle that can transport a Starburst.
“Parents in STEM careers, STEM-Business Partners and PTA parents all volunteer,” said Pinnock. “The enthusiasm is incredible with every student, volunteer, and teacher sharing in the same STEM challenge that’s grade appropriate for our children.”
One important way the school measures the response to STEM education is students’ opinions.
“I love the hands-on part with my classmates, and that’s also taking place in my sister’s classroom, and simultaneously in all the classes in the school,” said fifth grader Holden Rohrer.
River Eves Elementary is located at 9000 Eves Road in Roswell. The school has earned numerous accolades, including the Reward School Title for Highest-Performing Title I School in 2012 and 2013 (top 5 percent). River Eves was the only elementary school in Fulton County to receive this award.
The River Eves Education Foundation (REEF) was established in 2009 with the mission of enriching and supporting the academic experience of the students at River Eves Elementary, raising $250,000 since its inception.
Photo: River Eves kindergarteners (from left) Alex Goodwin, Talia McDuffie, Annabelle Klein, and Helena Hu collaborate in Mrs. Tammy Trepte’s classroom with River Eves dad and electrical engineer Kelvin McDuffie (center) to build a tower modeled with gumdrops and toothpicks at a recent STEM Day at River Eves Elementary. Credit: River Eves Elementary School.