The View From Here

STEAM Education in the 21st Century

Written by: developer

So, what is STEAM Education? I know what you’re thinking. “I just got used to using and saying STEM. That is the education buzz-word, now, right? Why do we need to add another letter?”

Yes, you are right. STEM is the latest education buzz word. This is just a new, and important, variation to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The “A” stands for art. But, art has nothing to do with techy, sciencey, STEM. Right? Art, in this case, is not just coloring or doodling on a piece of paper with crayons or paint. In this instance, art represents the non-analytical side of our brain. The creative side. The side of the brain that allows us to creatively solve a problem. The side that allows us to “think outside the box.” Everything from typical art, to music, to dance, to “new” art, such as 3D printing falls under the category of art.

In 2014, I was selected as the recipient of the Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal by the International Astronautical Federation. Frank Malina exemplifies STEAM. Frank was one of the founding members of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Later, he became a renowned kinetic artist. If you study his life, you will discover that he attributes the creativity in his engineering career to his love of art. The artistic side of his brain that allowed him to come up with the rocket fuels and equations necessary to get a rocket off the ground and into space, was the side that allowed him to create magnificent works of art.

As we go forward in this century and try to change education to produce the workforce that is needed in the STEM fields, we need not forget the part of our brain that allows us to come up with the next new technology or gadget. The new rocket propulsion system or new space suit technology must be dreamt up from somewhere, right? That comes from the side of our brain that loves music and art. What about designing a new tool that will be printed on a 3D printer on Mars? What about the new space suit design that needs to be functional, yet aesthetically pleasing for those paying thousands of dollars to travel into space? These will come from the side of our brain that brought us the Mona Lisa and the London Philharmonic performing John Williams’ Star Wars theme song.

In fact, according to the Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum, over one-third of job skills that were important in 2015, will have changed. In the article, it highlights the top 10 job skills that were needed in 2015, and the top 10 that will be needed by the year 2020. In that list, creativity jumped from #10 in 2015 to #3 by 2020. Citing the coming of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics will transform the way we live. Skills like creativity will be needed to dream up and advance these technologies.

I urge those of you that are reading this that have a love of the arts to reach out to your local schools and work with them on artistic, sciencey, techy projects. I’m sure most of our companies have marketing or creative services departments. Allow them to reach out to schools and share their love of art and STEM with children.

The Space Foundation education team does this already through our many programs, such as field trips where students can do an Exoplanet Art project or do 3D printing; Space After Dark 21+ programs; Space Story Parties for 3-7 year-olds; our Tinker Space, Tesla’s Toolbox; and our special Star Days on Saturdays.

If you are local to Colorado Springs, I urge you to check out any of these programs at our Discovery Center to get involved in STEAM, or to get ideas for your company to get involved in STEAM education. If you aren’t local, please contact our education team at [email protected], and we will glad to help with ideas for you to get involved in STEAM education in your community. Full STEAM ahead!

Bryan DeBates, Space Foundation Vice President – Education

This article is part of Space Watch: May 2017 (Volume: 16, Issue: 5).