As a former art teacher, adding art to science and technology seems long overdue. I spent three quarters of my career as an art teacher. I balanced traditional art instruction with using technology to invent new art or used technology to do creative projects.
On the art side I taught Renaissance drawing and painting techniques, Chinese brush painting, art history and an assortment of other lessons all art teachers end up teaching, from the pottery wheel to collage. On the technology side, we would build machines to turn paper and donated clothes into pulp for making watercolor paper, hack computer programs to turn them into artwork or just use computers to do the standard uses of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for standard design lessons to make posters or portfolios. When students had wild ideas, we sometimes make it happen. This was before MakerSpaces spaces were around and seemed a risk at the time. But to not expose students to creative use of technology seemed worse so I’m glad for the changes in mindset that has since taken place.
What my students at a math and science school in Chicago taught me over the course of that decade is that the arts offer us deeper and more personal meaning to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The trans disciplinary approach gives us access to living our dreams.
I love camping and I wanted to build my own camper. Immediately, I was faced with a challenge that transcended across the disciplines. When I built that camper I wanted to send all of my math, science and engineering teachers thank you letters. From algebra to trigonometry, material science to even biology (figuring out how to manage the ventilation was very much based on studying biological systems). I needed it all.
That same camper had to operate at highway speeds. Because my engineering teachers were wise enough to allow me to explore materials and work in non-traditional ways, I knew how to design for long-term wear and tear and also to calculate for the center of gravity so the camper never so much as tilted while driving 13 hours to a campsite.
One of the biggest complaints from scientists and engineers is how hard it is to communicate across disciplines. A friend who does genetic testing at a US pharmaceutical company uses CRISPR, a gene editing kit. He finds it difficult to get others outside his area of specialisation to understand the limits of his findings. He feels like they don’t understand what his results do and don’t mean. Even though he uses one of the most powerful technologies ever invented, what is lacking, he feels, is a clear vocabulary to communicate across disciplines even in the sciences. This is where STEAM also does vital and important work. STEAM teaches kids to make connections across boundaries previous generations did not get educated in crossing. It may seem small, but vocabulary and language has always been part of schools for a reason.
The challenge of getting experts from different disciplines to work together is one that Google is trying to tackle. It had such a hard time finding people who knew how to communicate, manage and create across disciplines that they realized they had to train them specifically. Hence, Google put together a program with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to train creative managers because it recognizes that this is something art and design schools like SCAD understood well.
This is where we get to what makes The Harbour School such a magical place for learning. The importance of having cross discipline programs is already well entrenched. Students get to learn on their terms in a safe and supported environment. We value who they are above grades and the usual way schools approach rules and norms. STEAM offers the opportunity for all students to engage on projects from their point of strength and can use that strength to support areas of challenge. Arts-only can leave out those of us with more structured minds. Science-only leaves out the kinds of human-driven factors that motivate the work in the first place.
STEAM isn’t just a fad. It allows every mind to come to the table with something important to contribute.