STEM, STEAM, and an Integrated World

Integrating material is a natural inclination for many educators. We intuitively understand that the world is not neatly divided into separate areas of study—all of life is interdisciplinary. Think about any area of life to see this play out  in your own life. Taking care of family includes budgeting, planning, teamwork, entertainment, problem-solving… Playing baseball includes score-keeping, situational thinking, leadership, order, identification… Cultivating a healthy lifestyle includes shopping, exercising, cooking, sleeping, enjoying, accomplishing… While life is made up of many elements, those elements are all part of a larger whole. This understanding is clearly seen in STEM-education.

“STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.”

Of course, this makes sense. Science has the goal of systematically moving from ignorance to knowledge. Technology is the practical application of knowledge. Engineering uses science and technology with the aim of creating things/spaces/systems which are useful for people. Math is the science of numbers which is used as a language for measurement and communication. Each element of STEM serves the others. They exist with one another and for one another. However, the world of education is now noting that the symbiosis does not and should not stop with science, tech, engineering, and math. STEM does not exist as something walled off from the rest of the world.

Think about the area of “design.” Is design more related to engineering (designing bridges/planes/golf-clubs) or art (designing sculptures/beautiful buildings/music)? Uh oh. You might have noticed the cross-over. Bridges and buildings do need to be engineered, but they also need to be artfully developed. Consider the old cathedrals of Europe—are they great feats of engineering or great works of art? Both! Architects are artists… and engineers. It turns out that the world is, as previously noted, naturally integrated.

This is one of the reasons that STEAM education (STEM plus Art) is on the rise. There is a need for scientists to think creatively as they produce hypotheses, consider how to test them, and convey their findings. Musicians are innately mathematical. In fact, music is, in a very real sense, math (twelve tones combined systematically in horizontal and vertical patterns). City planners have to do the math in order to pragmatically engineer working systems, but they must also engage in the art of developing appealing and attractive spaces.

Is it any wonder that some of the great thinkers were artists and scientists? Consider Leonardo da Vinci: painter and inventor. Consider Benjamin Franklin: author and scientist. And think about some of the great developments of every age. Is the Parthenon art or engineering? Both. Is the iPhone practical or stylish? Both. This shows the natural integration of the ultimate Designer—God. And it shows that those in his image are made to be integrators too.

In my next post, I plan to help you explore how STEAM teachers can think about how a Christian worldview differs from secularism when it comes to teaching from and toward the glory of God.


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