STEM to STEAM: Finding a Seat at the 'Cool Kids' Table

Posted by Deb Vaughn, Mar 05, 2013 4 comments

Deb Vaughn Deb Vaughn

STEM is like the most popular kid in school these days. Everyone wants to sit at the same lunch table and share Doritos.

Fortunately for the arts community, we have a powerful resource as the national conversation transforms from STEM to STEAM: Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced the formation of a Congressional STEAM Caucus last month.

The group had a successful kick-off on February 14. Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda, an advisor to the Caucus, regularly speaks about the inextricable connection between art and science and Bonamici echoed the sentiment at Oregon’s 2012 Arts Summit.

While our representatives in Washington, DC, are hard at work advising on federal policy, our state is also taking steps to assure we’ve got “STEAM heat” (thank you, Bob Fosse!).

In Governor John Kitzhaber’s proposed 2013–2015 budget, which is now being considered by the legislature, there is a proposal for an initiative called “Connecting to the World of Work.”

Included in that proposal is funding to support partnerships between schools, arts organizations and businesses to increase opportunities for students in grades 6–12 to connect with creative industries. There is conversation about including internships, mentorship programs, industry residencies in schools, and student residencies at industry firms. 

“Connecting to the World of Work” is part of a larger plan, announced by Gov. Kitzhaber when he took office called the “40-40-20 Goal.” By 2025, the goal is that 40% of Oregonians will have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, 40% will have an Associate’s degree and the remaining, and 20% will have completed high school (or a GED equivalent).

40-40-20 goal

This goal addresses the drop-out rate, which is currently 3.4% state-wide, although many districts struggle with rates much higher than that, and our state’s goal of fostering a competitive workforce. Those of us in arts education understand that the arts help keep kids in school and that creativity is a skill increasingly valued by employers. Transforming STEM to STEAM is a natural step for us.

However, since the proposed state budget doesn’t include resources to fund longitudinal data collection (and the two year biennium doesn’t allow for that kind of timeline anyway), the questions I put to you are:

How can I help potential recipients of this funding demonstrate success on student outcomes related to STEAM, career/college-readiness and/or 21st century skills?

Knowing that interactions with students will take place over a discrete two year period and we won’t be able to track students after that time, how can we illustrate that this discrete investment had an impact on the state’s larger 40-40-20 goal?

What can we reasonably expect to measure?

As the federal STEAM Caucus moves forward with their work, I look forward to deeper conversations about how those of us in the field can demonstrate that we’ve helped guarantee our graduates are the most popular employees in the lunch room, not because of the Doritos they brought to eat, but because they know how to think creatively, work cooperatively, and innovate on the cutting edge.

4 responses for STEM to STEAM: Finding a Seat at the 'Cool Kids' Table


March 08, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Place based project learning tuned specifically to a school and connected with the school community creates STEM to STEAM learning. If you word map places in the school community, you can brainstorm how STEAM activities can connect learning standards with class or individual projects. We work with schools to develop community specific projects in STEM to STEAM workshops( We support those projects with informal learning resource to prime learning and extend learning beyond the classroom. ( The National Environmental Education Foundation published a great STEM poster and our planet availble for free printing here (

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Michelle Mendez says
March 06, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Dear Doris, We have a STEAM committee/team here at Canton High School, Canton, MA. We are working to compile a list of careers in the STEAM arena that need artistic skills in rendering, conceptualizing, planning and organizing. Can you please offer us any links or helpful resources to compile such a list? Or is there an organization, maybe the government? or NEA, that has such a list already

Michelle Mendez
PS - I attended your workshop this summer in Boston--it was wonderful!

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March 07, 2013 at 12:06 am

Good day STEM to STEAM supports, I'm now a STEAM dad. In an effort to convert my teenage kids to the STEM fields I've become an inventor. Who would have thought STEM would convert a grown man like me. We are changing the world of art and design. See this links to our YouTube channel and short story.
I'm also using micro video photography to allow scientist (Nico Eisenhauer of Germany) to watch night crawlers eat, drink and move objects. See our YouTube link His research is grown breaking. My point is as parents we must lead by example. I may have gone over board a touch but your/our kids are worth it. If you like S.T.E.A.M then your kids may pick up the flag and run with it. One man still can in the USA. Thanks Brad Sequim WA. USA.

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March 07, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I am currently implementing a STEAM course for middle school and we are keeping our own unofficial records that will be used in combination with the traditional testing and measurement of achievement and progress. I will use a teacher information survey that asks teachers to analyze their observations of STEAM students. It is not exactly hard data and I agree that there is a need for this information to further credibility for STEAM. At the same time, I think it is someone hard to collect, as STEAM becomes a way of learning and a way of thinking more than it is a program or method to be measured. Teaching critical thinking and problem solving, which STEAM encourages, becomes hard to measure, especially over the short term. I agree outcomes and results must be demonstrated to further the STEAM cause. I also believe it is not so black and white to do. My intent is to create and show an entire scope and sequence of work that students have done for the year and what goals and learning targets were reached. Much of this comes from the formative assessment of teachers evaluating what students learn day-to-day. At the same time, I believe a problem solving/critical thinking evaluation could be created, but the answers will not be uniform. Also, results would need to be collected over a longer time period to fairly evaluate. It is only common sense that experiential, inquiry based learning with a depth of content knowledge will have good results. Proving it on paper may be another thing. Regardless of the difficulty of the task, I intend to move forward in collecting data for positive outcomes.

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