As a humanities teacher in a STEM-based school, I frequently hear from students that they “hate English” and “will never need to write papers or do research” when they become engineers or scientists. After I count to ten, I always list off the many examples of friends and colleagues who work in those fields and are responsible for reading and writing more than they ever imagined back when they were high schoolers. For the past few months I have been brainstorming ways to show my students that the world isn’t divided into cubicles and that the real world combines math, science, reading, writing, language, health, speaking, listening, social sciences, history, and so much more.
Take me, for example.
I am a reader, writer, teacher, blogger, social media user, therapy dog handler, and citizen scientist. I wouldn’t be happy if could only work in one field. And in the 21st century, we need to prepare our students to be more than paper-pushers and solitary worker bees. Another issue I frequently think about is the need for our students to be innovators. STEM- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics- is the new buzzword for schools around the country. I love what my colleagues and I do at our school and I think the cross-curricular opportunities we provide our students with are priceless . My students need to be innovators and thinkers, brave enough to try fail and then try again, over and over. And they need to learn how to fail in school.
For a few months now, I have been working on a new series for the blog. I am a STEM-loving English teacher who often feels caught between my love of science and my love of literature. While I have managed to find a job that allows me to embrace both, and hobbies that do the same, I meet far too many students, teachers, and parents who believe that life must be lived within the confines of either/or scenarios. Either you are a scientist or a writer. Either you are a linguist or an engineer. Either you are a mathematician or a reader. While I know that this could not be farther from the truth, it is still a stereotype I butt heads with on a regular basis.
That’s when I started reading about STEAM. I spent a lot of time exploring STEAM-notSTEM and found myself agreeing with almost everything they stand for. As they say on their website, “creativity enables innovation”. We need innovators and that’s a skill that needs to be cultivated in our students. If we want to succeed as a country, we need to encourage and incubate innovators. So what is STEAM? It’s a call for the addition of a national arts curriculum to the science, technology, engineering, and math focus that is the focus of many educational institutions right now. The arts are proven to be a key to creativity, which in turn leads to innovation. According to STEAM-notSTEM
The future of the US economy rests on its ability to be a leader in the innovation that will be essential in creating the new industries and jobs that will be the heart of our new economy…STEM is based on skills generally using the left half of the brain and thus is logic driven. Much research and data shows that activities like Arts, which uses the right side of the brain supports and fosters creativity, which is essential to innovation. Clearly the combination of superior STEM education combined with Arts education (STEAM) should provide us with the education system that offers us the best chance for regaining the innovation leadership essential to the new economy.
I’m not an artist by any means. I can barely draw a stick figure, bubble letters leave me frustrated, and my coloring leaves something to be desired. But I love doodling, sketchnoting, and writing. I completed a NaNoWriMo novel, writing 50,000 words during the month of November. My art is usually related to writing or reading, with a infrequent Pinterest-inspired craft thrown in the mix. But that NaNoWriMo novel I wrote last year? It is focused on the migration of the monarch butterfly. Science informs a lot of my writing and my teaching, and I realized that many of my favorite books also include real science. This was a eureka moment for me and I had an idea. Why not reach out to writers who delve into real science in their books and have them share their stories? Those authors, of books that I would classify as lablit, as this NYTimes articles details, have become experts in a STEM-related topic in order to write the story they needed to tell.
Science and art have not always been relegated to separate corners. Leonardo Da Vinci and the renowned Persian polymath Omar Khayyám, both of whom I study with my freshman humanities students, were readers, writers, poets, astronomers, inventors, designers, and scientists. . One of Carl Jung’s mythological archetypes was the artist-scientist, for heaven’s sake! The artist-scientist archetype represents builders, inventors, and dreamers.
And according to Scientific American, “Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.” It’s time for us to recognize these geniuses and those who are among us today, moving effortlessly between poetry, science, design, math, and much more.
I reached out and a fabulous group of authors agreed to share their experience with STEM as part of my new blog series, Full STEAM Ahead. It’s time for the STEM world to embrace the arts, and reading and writing are a great way for teachers to bring STEM and STEAM together in the classroom. The feature will be running weekly, with the first author scheduled to share his story on Thursday. Eliot Schrefer, author of the National Book Award nominated Endangered (one of my favorite books of the year!) will be sharing how he researched bonobos and spent time studying them while working on his book. Please be sure to come back on Thursday to read the first entry in the Full STEAM Ahead series here on TheReadingZone!