STEAM education combines the subjects of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics to introduce children to essential concepts and skills that will prepare them for a bright future. While each component of STEAM is valuable on its own, these individual subject areas are often most powerful when they are integrated. The invention design process is a natural vessel for this integration.
Let’s explore why embracing artistic expression is an essential component of STEAM learning.
The Role of Arts in STEAM
First developed and promoted by famed educator Georgette Yakman in 2006, STEAM might not at first seem much different from STEM. However, the addition of art is crucial to teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics in hands-on and engaging ways. This also aligns more accurately with how these subjects are typically implemented in the workforce.
From scientists who create intricate but accessible graphs to explain their findings, to engineers who use 3D modeling software, STEM professionals find that the arts play a crucial role in their day-to-day lives. Taking the theoretical and transforming it into a tangible object requires creativity and imagination.
For example, if General Motors wants to create and market a new electric vehicle, thousands of professionals across STEAM disciplines must come together and work toward a common goal. Engineers and scientists work hand in hand with artists and designers to create components that are not only compatible with each other but also work together to produce a safe and reliable driving experience.
Rachelle Albrechta, curriculum writer at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), has this to say about why art is such an important component of STEAM education:
“During my 15 years with the National Inventors Hall of Fame, I’ve observed the impact of the seamless integration of art and science through the lens of invention. As children think about the design and utility of their invention prototypes, they naturally engage with STEAM. As they explore, create and make, they discover that their ideas have value and that they have the agency to shape and inform their lives and world. For children who have a natural interest in the arts, STEAM can be their bridge to science. For children who are naturally pulled toward science, STEAM can help them think more deeply about the value of the arts in bringing science into the world.”
Authentic Arts Integration
For over 30 years, NIHF has developed programming that authentically embraces creativity and design thinking. Through activities that encourage hands-on prototyping, children can authentically engage with the arts while creating their own inventions.
Because all our education programs are inspired by the lives and stories of some of the world’s most impactful inventors, our NIHF Inductees, children are able to see the relationship between innovation and the arts firsthand. NIHF Inductee George Washington Carver, for example, was an artist and painter long before he revolutionized agricultural growing practices in the Southern United States. He put his art skills to good use throughout his career by drawing intricate illustrations of the plants and flowers he researched. A profile published in 1941 by Time magazine even described how Carver created special paints made out of clay, peanut oil, vegetables and flowers.
Known for founding a company responsible for creating some of the world’s most iconic characters, NIHF Inductee Walt Disney is also credited with inventing the multiplane camera, a motion-picture camera that moves different pieces of artwork at different speeds and distances to create a sense of depth. This invention was instrumental in giving animators the ability to produce a parallax effect and achieve a level of detail that was not possible before.
2022 NIHF Inductee Polly Smith, part of the three-member team who invented the sports bra, loved art from an early age and throughout her life has continued to cultivate her art skills. After attending art school and studying fashion design, she became a costume designer for Jim Henson Co. Using her artistic abilities, Smith created the first prototype of the sports bra.
In an interview with NIHF, she explains how her career in costume design requires a combination of problem solving and creativity.
“I think in my costume design career, especially with the Muppets, who are not normal body sizes and they do crazy things, I’ve always had to come up with unusual things, which can be daunting, but I’m not daunted by them,” Smith said. “I’m sort of challenged by it. I love it and I always know one way or the other, I’ll figure it out.”
Hands-On Art at Camp Invention
In this year’s brand-new Camp Invention® program, Recharge, campers are given the opportunity to draw, color and tinker each day. For example, in Road Rally, children design their own vehicles with prototype elements that could help them travel across land, air and water. With complete freedom to create their vehicle however they see fit, this hands-on activity is perfect for kids who love to build.
Additionally, in Open Mic, after reverse engineering a wireless microphone to learn about its inner workings, children become entrepreneurs and develop a pitch to promote their very own invention. They design their own logo, learn about intellectual property and discover that the most successful inventions often undergo multiple iterations. Using their Inventor Log, they first draw and then create improvements for their invention using feedback from their fellow campers.
Keep Exploring STEAM
Curious about the other subjects involved in STEM and STEAM learning? Visit our blog to learn more!