Elementary STEAM Expo and the Importance of Arts-Centered Learning

by Tracy Broback  

Imagine my surprise when I attended every workshop I could find on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) education at the National Arts Educators Association (NAEA) meeting last Spring and found that art educators weren’t necessarily keen on the idea.   I was right in the midst of reimagining the annual elementary science fair to include art projects for the STEAM Expo and began to wonder: Does art does need to have a STEM tie-in or can it stand alongside the other disciplines as its own area of inquiry?

When one considers the creation of a self-directed art project, it is clear that students are engaging in higher order thinking.  Teachers often refer to the “depth of knowledge” required for instructional tasks and assessments.  Deep thinking occurs with tasks that ask students to apply their knowledge–tasks that require them to design, connect, prove, synthesize, critique, analyze, or create.  Those are the actions that drive art making.  Despite my years of work as an artist and educator, I had not considered that the artistic process is one which is inherently rigorous.

After much discussion with Piedmont’s science, technology, math, and art specialists, we decided to move forward with a tri-school STEAM Expo, to be held this year on April 6.  We look forward to the event and seeing what students have chosen to explore.  All students, regardless of discipline, will have completed a process where they identified an interest, researched a topic, made a plan for learning, revised their work, and shared the results at the Expo.

When I first began my investigations into integrated learning I was driven by the desire to find time for more creative experiences that allow for self expression.  Through my training, I have learned many techniques for incorporating the arts and visual thinking strategies into all aspects of my teaching and understand the bigger picture of an arts-centered education.  Now I know that making art is more than a tool for relaxation and an outlet from academic curriculum.  Arts-centered education can be the key to delivering today’s challenging academic instruction in a way that allows students to deeply absorb, reflect on, and demonstrate their understanding.

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