Academic Rigor through the Arts

Posted by Deborah Vaughn On May - 20 - 2015
Deb Vaughn

Deb Vaughn

Arts integration has ebbed and flowed in American schools since the 1940’s, in various forms. I read a recent grant proposal that pointed out the challenges of the arts in service of other subjects versus the arts as equal too all subjects. The tension between STEM and STEAM demonstrates ongoing discomfort with integrating subject areas. But intellectual rigor and intense creativity are not mutually exclusive. Read the rest of this entry »

Offering children a new lens to listen through

Posted by Annemarie Guzy On April - 16 - 2015
Annemarie Guzy

Annemarie Guzy

I grew up attending family orchestral concerts with my mother, two childhood friends and their parents, and my piano teacher who, contrary to the stereotype, I was very fond of.  We would head over to the symphony hall every few months to experience the orchestra, and I was even encouraged to enjoy the experience more with the promise of a trip to a favorite restaurant afterwards.  Experiencing entertainment aimed at children just my age, with people I loved, the opportunity should have all led to positive experiences with the orchestra.  Yet, every family concert morning, I would wake up with dread of the boredom that I was about to endure.  I grew up hating orchestral kid’s concerts!

Thinking back on how I would watch the seconds on my watch go around until the concert was over, I now spend a great deal of time considering what it was that so repelled me. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Kids Fail in Order to Succeed!

Posted by Eric Delli Bovi On April - 9 - 2015
Eric Delli Bovi

Eric Delli Bovi

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is a common refrain for describing the world’s most successful people and history’s most brilliant ideas and discoveries. Perseverance in the face of adversity can lead to major breakthroughs. Unfortunately in our hyperactive, high-stakes world of standardized testing, making time in the classroom for discovery, revision, and reflection without fear of judgment is now considered an unaffordable luxury. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education and Cognitive Development: Compiling the Research

Posted by Jeff Poulin On March - 16 - 2015
Jeff Poulin

Jeff Poulin

More and more, we at Americans for the Arts are talking about the transformative power of the arts, echoing the work that has happened at a local level in the arts across America for the past several decades. However, as I move more and more into the education space, I hear a call for the hard facts amongst the heart-warming stories. Education decision makers want to see results, they want to see change, and they want to draw a correlation between the two.

As a professional arts education advocate, I can keep up with most of these requests, but recently I found myself at a bit of a cross roads. I was in Los Angeles, speaking with a self-described ‘music education evangelist,’ who was telling me all about some research that had been conducted on the impact of arts education on the cognitive functions of the brain. Arts Education, he said, could work to close the opportunity gap faster than other – more conventional – tactics. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education: Ten Things to Remember from 2014

Posted by Jeff Poulin On January - 9 - 2015
Jeff Poulin

Jeff Poulin

I can now affirmatively say that I have been at Americans for the Arts for over a year! Woohoo! …And what a year it has been.

Each month the Arts Education Advisory Council of Americans for the Arts has a monthly call. In December, we sat on the call reflecting on the previous year and what we had all accomplished personally, collectively, and throughout the field. In my role as the Arts Education Program Coordinator, I am privileged to see a lot of things that happen on a national scale across the country, and the council often provides insight into the impacts of these trends or brings my attention to something that is up-and-coming before it has actually made a splash.

In our reflective state, we began compiling a list of the ten things that every arts-interested person should know about arts education from 2014 – it was an incredible year! Read the rest of this entry »

STEM + A ≠ STEAM

Posted by Raymond Tymas-Jones On July - 16 - 2014
Raymond Tymas-Jones

Raymond Tymas-Jones

Each day the need for continuous engagement in higher learning is evident.  All sectors of society depend on the advanced new knowledge and full development of all human talent.  To that end, every citizen’s capacity to expand and acquire increased global learning for the express purpose of addressing the world’s urgent challenges and problems—economic, ethical, political, intercultural, and environmental—becomes more and more paramount.  Recently, there has been enormous emphasis placed on the need for greater exploration in areas such as the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While the need for advanced new knowledge in the STEM fields is unquestionable, the development of all human talent requires equal emphasis in the arts and humanities.  Nevertheless, the key is not found in a silo approach but in an integrative or collaborative model. Read the rest of this entry »

The Many Themes of STEAM

Posted by Talia Gibas On December - 18 - 2013
Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas

Back in May, I shared my reservations about efforts to “turn STEM to STEAM.” I didn’t question “whether the arts and sciences are connected. What was missing for me was an articulation of how they are connected. Sure, there are elements of geometry in visual art, and yes, you need to understand basic math in order to read music or follow rhythms in dance. But arranging letters on a page is one thing; bringing disciplines together in a thoughtful and authentic way is something entirely different.”

Since then, I’ve had the privilege of spending several days with other members of the Arts and STEM Collaborative for 21st Century Learning, a cohort of arts and science education leaders from across Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties. We’ve met three times since the summer, and despite our thoughtful conversations, I had a nagging question: is STEM-to-STEAM simply about the integration of the arts and STEM subjects? If so, can we take an existing definition of arts integration (I’m a fan of the one developed by The Kennedy Center), declare the S, T, E, and/or M the “other subject area,” and call it a day? If not, why not? How is STEAM different? Read the rest of this entry »

Claudia Jacobs

Claudia Jacobs

When I was a college student in the 60s we thought ourselves intellectual, political and even somewhat evolved. A widely acknowledged putdown of college athletes oft heard was that their course load included Basket Weaving 101. That statement was not only insensitive to athletes; it also inadvertently reflected an additional put down of the arts. And that attitude remains and is reflected in how the arts are viewed today. “In the public schools, arts are all too often the first programs to be cut and the last to be reinstated,” says James Grace, executive director of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston.

Today we need to update that thinking. If we are to actively enrich our communities, arts should not be a stepchild of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). In New England alone, over 53,000 people are employed in the “creative economy” and that sector, if it were considered in the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS), which it is not, would rank just below the data and information sector and just ahead of the truck transportation sector, according to 2009 statistics compiled by the New England Foundation for the Arts. The 18,026 New England arts organizations supply the economy with nearly $3.7 billion–so why does STEM, an acronym that excludes the arts, seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue? Yes, there are major reasons why the U.S. needs to be focused on producing adults with skills in these areas, but why not include the arts and go from STEM to STEAM?

Philanthropies are more and more focused on impact, grantee accountability, metrics and getting results. Sound good? Not so fast. While these evaluation measures have importance, danger could be lurking. For the metric-merry this can have the potential of giving stepchild status to the arts as the less easily measured are most vulnerable to being cut from the roster. Some argue that the increased frenzy with metrics may indeed play a role in stifling innovation. Read the rest of this entry »

John Eger

John Eger

Business in America knows well that we have entered the Age of Innovation. This became evident to attendees putting together a California “Blueprint for Creative Schools” meeting in Fresno California recently.

Business knows too, that creativity leads to innovation and that, understandably, we need to find a way to nurture creativity and attract the creative worker–across town, across the nation or using H1B visas for young people in other countries. As Randy Cohen of the Americans for the Arts has argued–and The Conference Board, and studies by IBM have found–“the arts build the 21st Century workforce.”

What is still not yet clear is whether the role of the arts and art integration is perceived by the business sector as the most legitimate method to foster creativity. Yes, business says, the arts are nice but are they really necessary?

Business isn’t stupid or shortsighted…it’s just that they don’t always see the connections. Or maybe they do but don’t have the time to hear all the rhetoric about how important the arts are. Or maybe, because of the quarter-to-quarter pressures, are not yet willing to invest in programs that will deliver a more sophisticated workforce with the new thinking skills in the decade that follows. Maybe it’s all too long range.

More to the point, maybe artists and educators are not yet talking the talk.

They are not saying what business needs to hear to get them fully engaged in the struggle to put arts back into the formula; and to push for STEAM not just STEM education. Read the rest of this entry »

To STEM or to STEAM? – that is the question.

Posted by Carol Bogash On May - 29 - 2013
Carol Bogash

Carol Bogash

In 2006, the U.S. National Academies, expressing their concern about the state of education in our country, recommended improving K-12 math and science education. In 2007, Congress passed the America COMPETES Act, which authorized funding for STEM initiatives, kindergarten through graduate school. I think most everyone would agree that we are not where we had hoped we would be. 2012 National Assessment of Education Progress tests results showed only a tiny increase in 8th grade science scores over 2009. This same test showed that 4th, 8th, and 12th graders performed poorly when asked to use problem solving and critical-thinking skills in laboratory settings.  So why aren’t these initiatives working?

Now, President Obama has announced a major initiative to create a national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Master Teacher Corps. This is to underscore that STEM education is a top priority for the Obama administration. “A world-class STEM workforce is essential to virtually every goal we have as a nation – whether it’s broadly shared economic prosperity, international competitiveness, a strong national defense, a clean energy future, and longer, healthier, lives for all Americans.”

Of course, this is important for the future of the United States. But, I believe it is equally vital that “longer, healthier, lives for all Americans” include reference to productive, creative, fulfilled, happier, inspired lives as well. We truly need to focus on developing creativity in order to help achieve these lofty goals – otherwise , I believe , all these initiatives are doomed to continue to fail. Read the rest of this entry »

STEM to STEAM Reflections (v. 2)

Posted by Talia Gibas On May - 14 - 2013
Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas

Four years ago, when I first heard the phrase “turn STEM to STEAM” – i.e. add the arts to the federally-recognized acronym for science, technology, engineering and math — I was skeptical.

As a theater geek born to a physician and biologist, I understood that the artistic process and scientific process have a lot in common, and that participants in each arena can learn a lot from one another.

My skepticism was not rooted in whether the arts and sciences are connected. What was missing for me as the “STEM to STEAM” mantra started to pick up more and more (ahem) steam was an articulation of how they are connected. Sure, there are elements of geometry in visual art, and yes, you need to understand basic math in order to read music or follow rhythms in dance. But arranging letters on a page is one thing; bringing different disciplines together in a thoughtful and authentic way is something entirely different.

In my mind, the ability to articulate and explore the authentic relationships between the S, T, E, A and M is crucial.  The arts and the STEM subjects have similar processes, but provide different means of understanding what currently exist, as well as imagining what does not yet exist. If we want the STEM to STEAM movement to have longevity, we need to get specific about what those relationships are. Read the rest of this entry »

Jamie Kasper

Jamie Kasper

Imagine a fast-growing, increasingly diverse school district with approximately 2,700 students in grades K–12, located 12 miles from the downtown area of a city. The district currently consists of three buildings: an elementary school (grades K–4), a middle school (grades 6–8), and a high school (grades 9–12). Also imagine the following:

  • Because of the growing population, the district is building a new facility for grades 3-5 that will open in the 2013–2014 school year. This building will have a STEAM focus.
  • In addition to visual arts and music, students in the elementary school also participate in an Arts Alive class. Arts Alive is a performing arts class that focuses on storytelling; students employ dance, music, and theatre to tell and create stories. Students often comment that they wish Arts Alive would continue into the middle school because they learn so much in elementary school.
  • The administrative team—including the superintendent and other central office staff; building leadership; heads of transportation, food service, and grounds; and other leaders—has spent its last three summer leadership retreats at local arts and cultural facilities, engaged in creative arts-based learning with staff from those facilities.
  • The middle school visual arts teacher took it upon herself a few years ago to attend a robotics workshop at a local university. With the help of staff from a special robotics program at the university, she now engages her middle school students in designing, creating, and programming kinetic sculptures that use the elements and principles of design. Read the rest of this entry »

Akua Kouyate

Akua Kouyate

At a Congressional Briefing about the national dissemination of Wolf Trap’s Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) project—now in the third year of a U.S. Department of Education Arts in Education—Model Development and Dissemination grant—a District of Columbia Public Schools classroom teacher who had participated in an Early STEM/Arts residency approached me.

The teacher talked excitedly about one parent who came to her in tears of joy as she shared how her four-year-old explained to her that the sun does not rise and fall, but stays still while the earth orbits around the sun. The teacher also described how her children spent time in the dramatic play area of the classroom taking turns being the sun while directing their playmates and teachers to “orbit” around them.

What happened in that Wolf Trap residency that had such a strong impact on that classroom? I was able to see it myself a week earlier, when I’d visited the teacher’s classroom during an Early STEM/Arts session. This is what I witnessed:

Through the drama techniques of imaginary journey and utilizing sensory experiences, a classroom of four-year-old preschoolers prepares to embark on an outer space expedition. Before they leave, they put on their imaginary space suits, like the one that is projected on the big screen/smart board.  Read the rest of this entry »

STEM to STEAM: Finding a Seat at the ‘Cool Kids’ Table

Posted by Deborah Vaughn On March - 5 - 2013
Deb Vaughn

Deb Vaughn

STEM is like the most popular kid in school these days. Everyone wants to sit at the same lunch table and share Doritos.

Fortunately for the arts community, we have a powerful resource as the national conversation transforms from STEM to STEAM: Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced the formation of a Congressional STEAM Caucus last month.

The group had a successful kick-off on February 14. Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda, an advisor to the Caucus, regularly speaks about the inextricable connection between art and science and Bonamici echoed the sentiment at Oregon’s 2012 Arts Summit.

While our representatives in Washington, DC, are hard at work advising on federal policy, our state is also taking steps to assure we’ve got “STEAM heat” (thank you, Bob Fosse!).

In Governor John Kitzhaber’s proposed 2013–2015 budget, which is now being considered by the legislature, there is a proposal for an initiative called “Connecting to the World of Work.”

Included in that proposal is funding to support partnerships between schools, arts organizations and businesses to increase opportunities for students in grades 6–12 to connect with creative industries. There is conversation about including internships, mentorship programs, industry residencies in schools, and student residencies at industry firms.  Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education Needs Your Love…and a Little Celebration

Posted by Ken Busby On February - 19 - 2013
Ken Busby

Ken Busby

Last week we celebrated Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. Two weeks ago, the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts met in Mesa, AZ to determine how we can best serve local arts agencies that are providing arts education programs.

How are these seemingly disparate events related you might ask? Let me tell you!

Arts education needs all the love you can give! And you can’t just let the good times roll without there being a few consequences. If we don’t work together to keep the importance of arts education at the forefront of people’s minds, they will fall by the wayside.

There was much discussion at our meeting in Mesa about arts integration, how to help local communities be stronger advocates for the arts, ways to highlight effective programs as models for other communities, and trends in the field and where we need to be heading if we are to keep the arts at the core of learning.

One thing that is clear in 2013—for arts education to be a real focus for educators and politicians at all levels, we as local arts agencies, we as arts teachers, and we as arts advocates are going to have to continue to work collaboratively and stay ahead of the curve in terms of research and best practices, and continue to demonstrate the value of the arts in developing a 21st century workforce. Read the rest of this entry »