Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The A is Important

I've been thinking a lot about the conversations surrounding STEM education and the inclusion of an A for the Arts. To me, it comes down to this video of a lone trombonist and his computer. Watch what I mean:

I want to show everyone this video because this is how so many of our kids (and adults!) think. Through sounds and movement. In pictures. Through stories. There's so much STEMmy goodness jam-packed into this video, all manifesting itself through the melodious sounds of a trombone...isn't it wonderful?!

Growing up, traditional STEM subjects didn't come easy to me, nor did they interest me. I excelled in music and took honors courses in English and Social Studies, yet I routinely struggled in math and science classes. I often remember sitting in those classes wishing I could just be somewhere else making music, reading, or writing...because that's what I was good at (or so I told myself). To ease the pain, I often chose the "easier" math and science courses over the years, even if they left me feeling inept compared to my peers. It was frustrating being an honors student in the low-level math and science classes, and by senior year I was completely defeated. I dropped out of trigonometry three weeks into the school year to take sewing, much to the disappointment of my guidance counselor. I continued to struggle during my undergraduate years, yet found interest in the nontraditional courses I took to fulfill my prerequisites - astronomy, accounting, and physics of music.

I spent my whole educational career thinking I wasn't good in math and science because I struggled to learn the content in the traditional way. It wasn't until I began to look back on my college classes as a new teacher and dive into my graduate work that I realized that this was not the case. My struggle in these classes allowed me to see that I was interested in what STEM subjects offered and I could learn the material - as long as I could relate it back to my passion - the arts. Suddenly, science and math became relevant and interesting because I saw how it could help me to become a better musician and teacher. Moreover, I began to see how integral math and science really was in some of my other classes. Sewing, world music, and aural skills had new meaning once I began to see how math, science, technology, and engineering influenced these subjects. It was probably one of the biggest "aha" moments of my life.

Innovation comes from the the blending of STEM with the arts, and we need to start living this within our classroom walls. STEAM curriculum allows individuals to not only be creative and expressive in their learning, but see the complicated and beautiful relationships between the subjects. Instead of just encouraging our teachers to focus on STEM curriculum, we need to really think about its long-term relevance for our kids and relate knowledge back to individual passions. Not everyone is destined for a career in medicine or computer science. We need to demonstrate that STEM is alive and well in writing, social studies, music, art, and physical education. Ultimately, we need to get kids to stop thinking they are bad at these subjects and see the value they add to their overall lives. Having STEM skills doesn't just prepare us for careers in math and science - they prepare us for careers in anything. And that's enough to make anyone feel "happy."

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