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From STEM to STEAM: Adding arts to education
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2014 10:18 AM

Educators, businesses and legislators alike have remarked on the need to improve the instruction of science, technology, engineering and math in U.S. schools. After all, according to Forbes, one in five engineering graduates is foreign-born. As such, many want American students to leave K-12 schooling ready to pursue a degree and career in a STEM field. While improving the number and diversity of students seeking STEM degrees is a positive movement, many educators and humanities experts have proposed a change to the current push. Rather than encourage kids to develop an interest in STEM during K-12, schools should lead them toward STEAM. The extra A stands for arts.

Teaching both sides of the brain
Part of the argument in favor of promoting STEAM instead of just STEM is that the latter mainly exercises the left hemisphere of the brain. The left side is in charge of critical thinking, analysis, language, math and speech. STEM subjects all require the use of these skills. The right side of the brain (often thought of as the creative side) is responsible for visual imagery, art, music, facial recognition, spatial awareness, creativity and emotion. Unfortunately, the right side is often left out of STEM fields. By adding art to the mix (in the form of theater, dance, visual arts and music), students would have a better opportunity to flex their right-brain skills.

Benefits of the arts
Arts education has numerous benefits outside of working the right brain: According to the University of Florida, students who study the arts score, on average, 98 points higher on the SAT than their peers who don't. What's more, arts students are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement than their peers. 

Studying the arts isn't just beneficial in school, businesses need people who have creative minds. Such employees are good at communicating and collaborating, can solve problems creatively, and are innovative and flexible. 

Finding a place for both
Skills that come from both the left and right brains are important. By emphasizing STEAM in schools, educators can help students become well-rounded. It's for this reason that many advocacy groups are pushing to add more arts programs to schools. For example, the Rhode Island School of Design has created the STEM to STEAM initiative, which champions the integration of arts and STEM - blending arts and engineering is crucial in fields such as architecture.

Right now, the Common Core State Standards only outline English/language arts and math benchmarks. Some schools also use the Next Generation Science Standards, and some have the National Core Arts Standards. However, integrating arts and STEM will come down to individual schools.