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AEP is Celebrating National STEM/STEAM Day!

Date: 02 November 2021
A student holds a marker to a paper which is mounted on a spinning plate attached to a bicycle wheel. Two other students and a teacher look on, and appear to be discussing the project.

Students try out an interactive art project during a school art show for MC2 STEM High School. Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

Happy National STEM/STEAM Day from your friends at the Arts Education Partnership and Education Commission of the States! For those who may not be familiar, when science, technology, engineering and math include the arts as an equal partner, STEM shifts to STEAM. This summer, AEP and Education Commission of the States hosted two State Policy Academies focused on early STEM and K-12 STEAM education. There are a lot of questions about the distinctions between STEM and STEAM, and what we learned is that they are more similar than they are different. There’s value in both STEM and STEAM educators and professionals working and learning together. 

Here’s how leaders from six states– Michigan, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia– responded to three key questions that we asked during the policy academies: 

What does equity mean in STEM/STEAM education for students?

Building STEM and STEAM identity impacts students’ sense of belonging in STEM and STEAM careers and can play a powerful role in encouraging long-term engagement. The exclusion and underrepresentation of diverse racial and gender identities in these careers hampers the success of students who may not see themselves reflected by the scientists and artists they study. Diverse perspectives and experiences also collectively enrich the potential of STEM and STEAM fields.

Supporting STEM and STEAM identity development for students from an early age requires both state and local actions. States can design and implement policies to recruit and retain a diverse teaching workforce that reflects the populations of students served. States can also support districts in designing culturally inclusive curricula by offering equity-minded professional development to help educators ensure students see themselves reflected in their classrooms. It is especially important to center learning practices around the whole child to meet students’ social, emotional and academic needs.

What is necessary for effective STEM/STEAM instruction? 

Policy academy attendees also identified supporting educators and school leaders as a key challenge that is fundamental to improving equity. Educator training and professional development focused on authentic integration of STEAM disciplines is key, particularly for elementary school educators who do not specialize in a specific subject. The type of training also matters — opportunities to spend time in critical reflection, adapting practices and building learning communities are valuable for educators, especially those teaching in small, rural districts who may be geographically disconnected from their peers. 

Engaging workforce professionals from related industries also helps center authenticity in learning by demonstrating how STEM and STEAM exist in the workforce and what it means to have a STEAM career. These connections can also foster STEM and STEAM identity among students. 

What opportunities do state leaders have to clarify the relationship between STEM/STEAM? 

State leaders are pivotal decision makers in advancing equity in STEM and STEAM and in supporting educators and schools. The creation of advisory networks, action centers and governors’ initiatives —such as in Nevada — demonstrate how coalition building among diverse stakeholders can help articulate the connections between STEM and STEAM education. State leaders can establish frameworks to recognize schools that provide equitable access to students, such as those in Georgia and Ohio, which also provide clear guidance for schools looking to increase access to STEM and STEAM education. States can also establish diploma seals to recognize individual student achievement.

In addition to creating networks for collaboration and articulating frameworks for student and school achievement in STEM and STEAM, several states, such as Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina, include STEM and STEAM in their ESSER plans to support learning recovery. 

In light of stagnant national achievement across various subjects, including visual arts, music, math, reading and science, STEM and STEAM education hold significant potential for raising student achievement and improving the economy. In the coming months, we will continue to watch how this work evolves across states and look forward to sharing what we learn from the six states participating in the policy academies. We will also continue to explore the complexity of how STEM and STEAM education relate to one another, considered both independently and collectively. We hope this blog post prompts you to reflect on the value of STEM and STEAM education for the students you serve. Happy STEM/STEAM Day!

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits