Last year, Green Ivy Educational Consulting founder Ana Homayoun presented at the National Coalition for Girls’ Schools annual conference on how social media can contribute to girls’ interest in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). The acronym STEM has long been ubiquitous here in Silicon Valley, and STEM has been a long-standing educational agenda across the country, and many now infuse the acronym with the important addition of arts education. The arts are often the crucial and overlooked component of education that spurs creativity and curiosity – and plants the seeds for innovation. Adam Grant’s terrific book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World provides great insight and research on the power of creative pursuits – singing, performance art, studio art – provide a clear link to greater innovation. At Green Ivy Educational Consulting, we are excited about this push to change STEM to STEAM, and believe the power of creativity and imagination is key in the educational and personal success of all students.
The movement to alter STEM to STEAM started at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in response to the cultural divide that sometimes happens between science and the arts. Science content and the arts are often seen as very different disciplines, though it is what they have in common that matters, along with how they can enhance and inform one another. Currently, there are a handful of artists-in-residence at laboratories around the world for just this purpose. In terms of concrete examples, Stephen Beal, President of the California Academy for the Arts, points out that Physicist Niels Borg was inspired by Cubism when seeking to understand electrons, and neuroscientists study the works of Samuel Beckett (an author vitally concerned with the nature of consciousness, perception, and memory) to decipher how the brain works.
While the emphasis on STEM in schools has had many benefits, in turn, some of the academic and life skills that can be learned from the arts remain undervalued. Educators have seen that traits like focus and determination are enhanced when students are artistically engaged, for example, when they learn to play an instrument or paint a picture. Then there are the artistic aspects of collaboration and problem solving, which students can learn from activities such as theater productions or musical ensembles.
In short, it is widely believed that a kind of “super innovation” happens when the worlds of science and art combine. After all, innovation is a human trait, not a chemical or mechanical one, and the same can be said for inspiration.