STEM to STEAM: Why the Arts Matter

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In the ever-evolving world in which we live, where STEM fields seem to be on the forefront of innovation, we must not lose sight of the essential role of the arts and creativity. Over the years, numerous research studies have pointed to the inherent value of the arts in education. “Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.”1  A recently published study in Trends in Neuroscience and Education found arts-integrated instruction to be as effective as or more effective than conventional instruction in students’ long-term memory of science content.2 To read more about this particular study, Psychology Today published an article last week that offers a great breakdown.

Evidence of the crucial relationship between innovative achievements and artistic expression abounds, both anecdotally and empirically. One study found a striking connection between the arts and scientific success by examining the recreational pastimes of Nobel Prize winning scientists and their more typically-achieving peers.3 When compared to typically-achieving scientists, Nobel Laureate scientists were almost three times more likely to have a creative hobby. More specifically, these Nobel Prize winning scientists were

  • 7 times more likely than their peers to enjoy design, painting, drawing, and sculpting
  • 7.5 times more likely than their peers to enjoy working with their hands and crafting (i.e. wood-turning, mechanics, glassblowing)
  • 12 times more likely than their peers to write creatively (i.e. fiction, plays, poetry, short stories)
  • 22 times more likely than their peers to engage in performing arts (i.e. singing, acting)

Not only can this study be interpreted as a specific testament to the value of artistic expression, but it also seems to make a strong case that there is a distinct advantage to being a polymath. In looking at ourselves and our children, perhaps we should all strive to pursue diverse interests and to accumulate wide-ranging knowledge.

Incorporating the arts into the STEM fields offers children multiple-entry points for participation. Such multidisciplinary learning offers children the opportunity to blend skills and ideas to create innovative combinations. Honing one’s artistic vision involves making observations, being comfortable asking questions, taking risks, and appreciating the process. This artistic process enhances curiosity, adaptability, perseverance, and confidence– all attributes that are arguably as valuable in the STEM fields as they are in the arts. Lisa Yokana offers an excellent analysis of how the thought process involved in the arts also informs scientific thinking in her article, The Art of Thinking like a Scientist. Yokana explains, “The arts not only support scientific thinking but also expand and transform traditional STEM curriculum to invite deeper observation, imagining, and revision.”4

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1 Smith, F. (2009, January 28). Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/arts-music-curriculum-child-development

2 Mariale M. Hardiman, Ranjini Mahind John Bull, Deborah T. Carran, Amy Shelton. “The Effects of Arts-Integrated Instruction on Memory for Science Content.” Trends in Neuroscience and Education (First published online: February 7, 2019) DOI: 10.1016/j.tine.2019.02.002

3 Root-Bernstein, Robert & Allen, Lindsay & Beach, Leighanna & Bhadula, Ragini & Fast, Justin & Hosey, Chelsea & Kremkow, Benjamin & Lapp, Jacqueline & Lonc, Kaitlin & Pawelec, Kendell & Podufaly, Abigail & Russ, Caitlin. (2008). Arts Foster Scientific Success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi Members. Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology. 1. 51-63. 10.1891/1939-7054.1.2.51.

4 Yokana, L. (2014). The art of thinking like a scientist. Generation STEM, 9(9). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol9/909-yokana.aspx

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