Group Seeks to Accelerate STEM to STEAM Push

By Jessica Brown — May 08, 2015 3 min read
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Clips from the children’s television show Sesame Street flashed onto a video screen behind the panelists.

In one, a tutu-clad Snuffleupagus figured out how to leap like a ballerina by using a pulley system. In another, the resident artist, Baby Bear, made a sculpture out of porridge, using math to get the consistency right. In the third clip, when a band’s lead singer arrived for a concert—but his equipment and bandmates didn’t—the fans saved the show by using engineering concepts to build a stage, microphone, and guitar.

If only all classrooms were more like Sesame Street.

Figuring out how to accomplish that—how to seamlessly integrate the concepts of science, technology, engineering, and math (collectively termed STEM) with art (to create STEAM) in an engaging way—was the goal of a Keynote Assembly Thursday hosted by VH1 Save the Music Foundation. The event took place in New York City and featured a panel of celebrities, experts, and business leaders. It was aimed at re-energizing the “STEM to STEAM” conversation.

The idea of integrating art with scientific studies has been around for decades—centuries even, said panelist Kim Richards, co-founder and director of STEAMConnect. During the last century, however, an urgency emerged around STEM subjects (though it wasn’t actually termed that until around 2005). The focus on STEM gained traction when NASA was formed and again when the “A Nation At Risk” report came out in the 1980s, she said. STEM education has now worked its way into the nation’s conscience and policies as being key to a competitive workforce and better economy.

Arts advocates, however, argue the acronym is missing a letter: “A” for arts.

Ample research shows the importance of arts education. Yet some anecdotal evidence suggests that arts programs disappeared from many schools as educators diverted resources to beef up their STEM programming.

Whether the “A” should be added to STEM at all is another conversation. Education Week has reported on the STEM versus STEAM debate.

Everyone at Thursday’s event seemed to wholeheartedly believe that it does. The assembly was a launching pad to raise the profile of the STEM to STEAM discussion.

Thursday’s event marked VH1 Save the Music Foundation’s shift to STEAM advocacy work. It brought some big names to the task. Panelists included Masi Oka, the Emmy-nominated actor from “Heroes"; Kenny Lattimore, the Grammy-nominated R&B artist; Rosemarie Trugilio, a senior vice president of Sesame Workshop; Gabriella Musacchia, a research scholar, audiologist, and president of the BabyRhythms music program; Kim Richards, co-founder and director of STEAMConnect; and Miguel Centeno, a managing director at Aetna.

Here are some of the ideas that the panelists stressed.

  • Educators need to stop thinking in “silos.” Art concepts can be incorporated into any aspect of science, engineering, technology or math. All it takes is a little creativity. Just ask Elmo. Sesame Street started using STEAM curriculum in 2012.
  • Teachers need STEAM training. But many schools don’t offer it. Musacchia said one of her teacher friends actually set up a GoFundMe site to raise money so she could get STEAM training.
  • The conversation needs to get louder. VH1 Save the Music will release a “STEAM toolkit” this fall with recommendations and key findings for parents, educators, and lawmakers to raise awareness of the STEAM concept and foster nationwide growth in the movement.

If you want to watch the event, the livestream is archived on VH1 Save the Music’s web site. (Fast-forward to 43:45 for the Sesame Street discussion. The video clips are played about five minutes later.)

Save the Music’s web site also offers several resources for educators (scroll down to the “Take Action” section) to help them build a successful STEAM program.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.