KU News Service

New book guides educators, shares successes in transition from STEM to STEAM

Wed, 09/16/2020

LAWRENCE — In recent years, there has been a growing push to include arts in the widely accepted STEM focus in American education. Yet, making such a transition requires time, training and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to explore new ways to teach STEM. Two University of Kansas scholars have edited a new book designed to help guide educators, administrators, schools and communities in shifting to STEAM.

“Challenges and Opportunities for Transforming From STEM to STEAM Education,” edited by Kelli Thomas and Douglas Huffman, associate professor and professor of curriculum & teaching at KU, gathers research in the shift to STEAM from around the globe to help those making the move to include arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The growing emphasis now being placed on creative problem-solving is intended not only to enhance education but to encourage a more diverse array of young people in seeking careers in STEAM fields.

“There has been a national movement to add the 'A' to STEM for arts,” Huffman said. “In recent years, we have been seeing more research from scholars and movement from administrators to include the arts in STEM, and collecting that work was the impetus for this book.”

“Opportunities and Challenges” is designed to guide those tasked in making transitions, the teachers in classrooms implementing such changes, administrators leading the teachers, scholars interested in STEAM education and teacher educators preparing the next generation of teachers. Throughout, the book’s chapters share examples of successes and potential roadblocks of those currently making the change and the evolution in how each subject can be taught. Divided into four sections — learning environments, STEAM in schools and districts, beyond the classroom and teacher education — the book is available in full or purchasable by chapter.

The book points out how the A in STEAM is intended not necessarily as a call to place more focus on traditional art classes in school curriculums but to emphasize the asset creativity and creative problem-solving can be in STEM fields. While the approach does advocate for the value of traditional arts, it also points out the value of skills such as design in the fields of architecture and engineering, to cite just one example.

“Thinking about how the arts can be added to STEM can really show how creativity can be integrated in problem-solving in all of its fields,” Thomas said. “The notion of arts is more than what people often think of when they think about arts. It’s visual art, music, dance, literature and others. Much more than just an ‘art class.’”

Throughout its four sections, chapters written by experts in numerous educational disciplines focus on designing STEAM learning environments, tools to mediate learning and self-assessment in STEAM work, artistic biotechnology, models for integrating arts and STEM, perspectives from school leaders in making the transition to STEAM, integrating the Maker Movement in schools, how youths thrive with design thinking and STEAM education, Black students STEAMing through dance, integrating STEAM in pre-service teacher education, using arts in science and engineering models, and developing relationships among schools, land and partners.

Throughout each chapter, the authors explore research and theory but outline real-world challenges and successes of schools making the transition as well. For example, in one chapter, Thomas and Huffman share the story of two schools that successfully made the transition and identify five features essential to making such a change: Intentional efforts from districts to gain buy-in from teachers and administrators, adequate time for teacher learning through authentic professional development, community connections, mutual decision making between teachers and administrators, and flexible budget planning and allocation.

While there may not be a national mandate or requirement to add arts to STEM education, there is a growing national consensus on the value of creative problem-solving and emphasis on fields such as design and engineering that can benefit from an artistic approach. With that in mind, “Challenges and Opportunities for Transforming From STEM to STEAM Education” aims to guide and inform those making the transition in schools, classrooms, labs, universities and communities across the country.

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