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STEM vs. STEAM

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“Learn how to see. Realize that everything is connected to everything else.”
Leonardo da Vinci
 
Are you left-brained or right-brained?
 
This common question is often posed in regards to one’s preferred school subject matter and contributes to the widely held belief that one’s brain is dominant either on the right side or the left side. What does this mean?
 
The left side of the brain, aside from controlling the right side of the body, deals with analysis and all things logical. For this reason, it is associated with science and mathematics. Inversely, the right side of the brain is predominantly associated with creativity and the arts. So, in other words, if you go through school looking forward to your reading, writing, and art classes, you are thought to be right-brained. On the opposite side of the spectrum, however, are those students that have little to no issues solving equations and, in fact, gravitate towards subjects such as biology, physics, and calculus.
 
However, there are many who do not necessarily resonate with either of the two labels. There are those who have a passion for science, but by the same token, nurture their abilities to create art with ease. Leonardo da Vinci, among the most notable historical figures that fell into this gray area during his lifetime, managed to find a perfect balance between making calculations and moving forward to create from there. His passion for painting, engineering, sketching, and science propelled him. It was under the belief that everything is connected, that he was able to provide so much.
 
On a similar note, there exists today a debate regarding whether STEM–the incorporation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics–or STEAM is more effective in the world of education. With just one letter difference, STEAM puts into play the ideals held by the great Leonardo. In pushing to include the arts, not just as a separate concept entirely but, in fact, blending the coursework, those who are in favor of STEAM wish to emphasize the creative process. The ‘A’ for art, therefore, does not stand only for ‘arts’, but ‘liberal arts’ as an umbrella term. It is through the process of reading and writing, for example, that students can apply a different form of analysis which, in turn, could prove useful when having to logically solve problems with regards to engineering or mathematics in later scenarios.
 
Those who are pushing for STEAM programs in schools emphasize the need to engage students from a young age. There is no doubt that with technology’s advancements in recent years, STEM programs are pivotal. It is in making these subjects appealing to everybody, especially those that do not naturally excel in science or mathematics, that will prove to be effective for the long-term. So, in other words, having children participate in hands-on activities with an incorporation of artistic expression, in one way or another, will more likely result in the children’s inclination to further flourish. With that being said, in order to ensure the success of the students, administrators and professors should take into account the fact that in order to prepare these children and young adults for the “real world”, they must take into account the fact that the world around them is and constantly will be changing. Their experiences in the classroom and relationships with schooling, therefore, should reflect this fluid dynamic.
 
There are a number of indirect lessons and values often associated with the liberal arts. Among those are empathy, critical thinking, and problem solving skills. It is in being associated with other like-minded individuals who share a passion for painting, dancing, or singing that children begin to pick up at an early age, the ability to empathize with others. Similarly, through years of reading and being expected to analyze texts, reflect, and then write, students go through what can be considered an unofficial critical thinking training. With that, comes the strengthening of problem solving skills that are also, in a way, related to interpersonal skills refined within the liberal arts community. The ability instilled in students to apply these notions gracefully when faced with real world problems, makes all the difference. For this reason, it is widely believed that STEAM, as previously described as the combination of STEM and the arts, is of such great importance when deciding how to move forward with education plans and guidelines.
 
The future is in the hands of these students.
 
It is time that we set aside the structured, black and white mentality and move forward with what is undoubtedly the most efficient way of nurturing the talents and minds of those who are responsible for the future of our society. By introducing a more seamless process, students will feel the freedom to explore, inquire, and simultaneously express themselves. The demand for STEM related jobs will surely not be dwindling any time soon. So on that note, early intervention is critical in order to inspire and encourage as many students as possible to move forward and follow through. And, because the skills that students attain through STEAM programs can be applied to any and all careers, it only further ensures the well-roundedness of our community as a whole.

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