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Using Art to Teach Science

Encouraging students to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) isn't a fad -- it's vital to our future. Success in virtually every type of job depends to some degree on familiarity with and knowledge of technology and mathematics. Science encompasses the entire natural world, including topics related to health and fitness. Engineering isn't just about building roads and bridges; it involves practical problem-solving skills with a vast number of practical applications.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of STEM jobs is projected to grow by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is nearly double the rate of non-STEM jobs. Many top-paying jobs are in STEM occupations, and this trend will continue.

The Importance of Science Literacy

According to Let's Talk Science, science literacy -- broadly defined to include science, technology, engineering and math -- is critically important in helping us understand and shape our daily lives. More than that, it is inclusive, as it applies to everyone, regardless of where they live, how they live, or what language they speak.

Science literacy includes understanding the impact science has, and how it is part of history, geography, philosophy, physical education and the arts. It is science that explains how we hear music, move to dance and see art.

STEAM: Teachers Adding Art to STEM

Integrating art into STEM subjects helps students understand the inter-relatedness of everything they learn and promotes creativity and collaboration. Educators agree that STEAM education should start in early childhood. The arts play a role in the development of reading, imagination, creativity and more. Integrating art makes STEM subjects more engaging and accessible, even to students who might otherwise not be interested.

A Google search for "innovation trends" reveals an ever-increasing demand for innovation in America as a way to ensure a prosperous future. This focus on innovation has helped initiatives like the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) STEM to STEAM program, which seeks to establish a network of educators, schools, organizations and resources committed to this goal.

Brian Smith, an engineer and former dean of Continuing Education at RISD points out, "People don't talk about the fact that Samuel Morse, who invented the telegraph and Morse code, was an extremely gifted painter, or that Rufus Porter, the man who founded Scientific American magazine, was a muralist and portrait artist. I think one of the important questions we have to ask is: At what point did art split from science? Because it wasn't always this way."

Practical Teaching Examples

If you've ever watched a Rube Goldberg machine in action, you have seen a perfect example of how science (and technology, engineering and math) and art can be interrelated. Partnering art with hard science and math encourages learning and creativity as art informs STEM, and vice versa. U.S. News & World Report lists ways that teachers around the country are using the STEAM approach.

  • Andover High School in Massachusetts teaches geometry through a scavenger hunt at a local museum. Students learn that scale in geometry is similar to perspective in art.
  • Eighth grade students in Annapolis learn about Mexican mosaics and math at the same time, making measurements and calculations to predict the number of tiles used in the artwork.
  • High school students in Albuquerque study ancient Mimbre artwork and then use software to design and create a mural based on the mathematical concepts they identified in the artwork.
  • Students in Quatama Elementary School in Oregon learn about the relationship between earthworms, soil erosion and clay for pottery in one unit, seeing how it's all connected.

STEAM Project Ideas for Teachers

We Are Teachers lists 15 ideas for using art to increase innovation in science class and 60 apps for teaching STEAM concepts in the classroom.

Learn more about UTA's online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction -- Science Education program.


Science Pioneers: Why Science Education Is Important for Everyone

Let's Talk Science: Why STEM?

U.S. News & World Report: Gaining STEAM: Teaching Science Through Art

Edutopia: Expanding the STEM (or STEAM) Pipeline to Diverse Learners

We Are Teachers: 15 Ways Art Can Increase Innovation in Your Science Class


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