Where the circle overlaps, thinking about the "A" in STEAM


by Erin Riley -

I have been thinking about STEAM. STEAM supporters believe STEM should be updated to include creativity, innovation and aesthetics. Are we thinking of this like a Venn diagram, merging form (from the artistic side) to function (from the scientific side) or an extra component to add to the mix, enhancing work in STEM?  Either way, arts are valued as the components that “round out” the technical. This makes sense as the products and systems we use in our everyday lives are a result of the “STEAM way” of thinking, relying on the creativity and functionality brought to us by scientists, engineers, designers and artists.  

I wonder if we should also consider what strengthens the “A” in STEAM.  By highlighting where the circles overlap, or expanding the acronym, are we isolating the artistic impulse that drives a maker project?  If we focus too narrowly, is it possible that we could lose the pipeline that feeds creativity, self-reflection, context-- could it mean that we are not bringing in that which is offered through the humanities?

Left: Student cyanotype blueprint of gothic cathedral , Right: Student installation from Story Architects project

Cyanotype Blueprints: From a Middle School interdisciplinary project in Greenwich Academy’s Engineering and Design Lab bringing together ideas from history, art, science and technology. Project notes here.

Story Architects: From an Upper School interdisciplinary project in the Engineering and Design Lab. Project notes here.

At Greenwich Academy’s Engineering and Design Lab we invite teachers outside of STEM disciplines to bring their curricular ideas into the 3D world while providing project support that fulfills their learning objectives.  Projects with multiple layers of content to explore, that bring classroom dialogue to a place that considers making through a different lens, are engaging for educators and exciting for the students. The teachers, the in-house experts of their disciplines, offer rich themes to explore including readings, writing and research.

A STEAM approach is in sync with a rapidly changing global world that our students will need to thrive in.  Considering our students’ future should move us towards a more interconnected model of teaching as our world becomes more complex.  




Christa Flores's picture

I love the video link, thank you Erin. The How (STEM) and the Why (HUMANITIES) working together to make real learning happen. Thank you for your aesthetically pleasing and important posts. 

Heather Pang's picture

Thanks Erin. I admit that while I believe adding the A is essential, I often question the acronym, because at this point all we have to do is add history, English, and fitness and we are back to that old fashioned concept of school!  And that leaves me wondering how much of this debate is about the real and important issues you raise here, and how much is a serious attack on the idea that school prepares students for life, not just employment.  I don't want anyone to lose all the important parts of education as we work hard to make sure that STEAM fields are brought more clearly forward in our curriculum. But as you point out, we don't want to lose what it means to be human. And some of this is just education speek to get around calling everything interdisciplinary, since that phrase seems to have lost some meaning.

Thank you for furthering the conversation, and for the great links.