From Interdisciplinary to Transdisciplinary: An Arts-Integrated Approach to STEAM Education

By Liao, Christine | Art Education, November 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

From Interdisciplinary to Transdisciplinary: An Arts-Integrated Approach to STEAM Education


Liao, Christine, Art Education


Why STEM and STEAM?

The rhetoric of STEM education starts with the belief that future economic growth and innovation in the United States relies on STEM fields, yet the number of students pursuing studies in these areas is decreasing (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). The promise that STEM holds for the future is based on the idea that STEM fields drive critical innovation and that innovation, in line with early- to mid-20th-century notions, is explicitly tied to economics (Godin, 2008). Similarly, the idea that innovation is connected to creativity is a product of mid-20th-century research on organizational productivity (Godin, 2008). This link between creativity and productivity supported the connection between creativity and innovation-based economics, and creativity- although explicitly not art-based creativity-gradually became associated with innovation.

One of the strongest arguments for STEAM derives from the view that creativity is the most important ability in the 21st century (Trilling & Fadel, 2009). Accordingly, the arts offer an important way to cultivate creativity. Among the proponents of this view is former president of the Rhode Island School of Design and champion of STEAM, John Maeda, who has argued that art and design education fosters creativity and innovation (2012, 2013).

Art educators have also advocated for STEAM. One view emphasizes STEAM's potential for advancing design education (Bequette & Bequette, 2012; Watson, 2015). Aligned with Maeda's (2013) viewpoint, this position highlights the potential of teaching design thinking skills and of encouraging students to become innovators. This position situates design education as essential to STEAM education. Another argument for STEAM aligns with the perspective of arts integration1 described next.

How Can Art Educators Participate in the STEM/STEAM Education Dialogue?

Integrated Approach to STEM and STEAM

Some educators argue that increasing the number of school hours dedicated to STEM subjects will not foster students' interest and ability in STEM fields. Therefore, they call for an integrated approach to STEM education as most applicable to the real world (Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber, 2014). Numerous methods have been used to achieve an integrated approach of this nature, including project-based learning (Capraro, Capraro, & Morgan, 2013), problem-based learning (Lou, Shih, Diez, & Tseng, 2011), and integrative STEM education (Sanders, 2008). An integrated approach to STEM education emphasizes that at least two STEM subjects be used in concert to construct applications, especially those with real-world implications.

Arts-integration proponents have taken note of the continuing focus on STEM education. They see both integrated STEM education and arts integration as ways to support integrated learning (Riley, 2012; Sousa & Pilecki, 2013). Therefore, adding the arts to STEM and advocating for STEAM is the next step in pursuing an agenda designed to campaign for and elevate the importance of arts subjects. The goal of supporting STEAM from this viewpoint is integrated learning; however, it should be understood that arts-integration practices are diverse.

Integrated learning is also pushed by some art educators (Chappell, 2005) who see interdisciplinary collaboration as a best practice for arts-integrated education. In Bequette and Bequette's (2012) view, art and design educators should communicate with their peers in STEM fields to determine how to integrate art with STEM to create a STEAM curriculum. However, they caution that art should be emphasized as a discipline. Similarly, Wynn and Harris (2012) encourage art teachers and STEM teachers to learn from each other. Their view on STEAM education is expressed through creating a class environment where students learn through creative problem solving. This viewpoint also corresponds with problem-based integrated STEM education. …

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