With a focus on STEM, what about STEAM?

As reported in the Washington Post, across the U.S. on almost a weekly basis there are new initiatives from schools, universities, businesses and foundations to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses and experiences.  Some of these initiatives openly deemphasize the humanities, setting to the side Art and English classes. Focusing on STEM is understandable considering the runaway success of many tech companies and Silicon Valley heroes. However is focusing solely on the hard sciences best in the long run? Another approach called STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math) could add the creativity and curiosity that may be missing. 

At Start Code, many of our instructors learned programming and digital technologies while also getting a liberal arts education, whether at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) or the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). It turns out we have this in common with other leaders in today’s technology sector who were classic liberal arts students and were also passionately interested in computers.

The opinion piece goes on to state, “Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want.  …A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy.”  

Over the past three years, we have made it a guiding principle to emphasize both critical thinking skills and digital creativity. Start Code offers a portfolio of courses including coding, game design, and digital art.  Our classes and camps include technology skills and coding as well as elements of design and theories of art including composition and color theory. Students become digital creators in building their own characters and sprites, layouts, and adding sounds, music and dialogue to the projects.  And this is done in an environment with social interaction where we work together on coding challenges and debugging activities. Their school day exposures to English, Art, Geography, Music, Natural Sciences and History become very evident as they interact and build their projects.

What our kids really benefit from today is to 'learn how to learn'.  They need to be able to adapt to changes in technology because the hot programming language today may be forgotten tomorrow.  The ability to learn the next coding tool and understand how it fits into the larger picture is what really matters. For example, what implications will the Apple Watch and wearable technology have and what new opportunities will they create? It's the educational foundation students build today that will carry them forward with confidence, and a rounded education with STEAM, including the Arts, is important. We are hopeful that this approach will spark their curiosity and nurture a student’s complete intelligence and adaptability in an increasingly fast-paced and changing world. Go STEAM!