Most people can wrap their heads around the concept of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – shorthand for an Educational practice and movement. Pulling together this collection of disciplines was intended to forge collaboration and innovation. But all was not rosy in STEM land. A number of voices (including Rhode Island School of Design) realized that something was missing, and this was the ARTS (A).

In 2011, John Maeda, the President of the RISD from 2008-2013, posited that STEAM –  not STEM alone –  connects design science, arts, engineering and math at an informal talk at the Synergetics Collaborative’s Third Biennial Design Science Symposium at RISD (11 Nov 2011). You should watch it. Two key takeaways one gets from listening to his thoughts: STEAM is a critical balance between logic and imagination and STEAM is NOT science and NOT art…it is something in between. It seems like science but it is more human.

Since his talk, ‘STEAM’ has become a national movement in curriculum development and has populated articles and posts with the A being an insertion of the Arts (liberal arts, fine arts, music, design-thinking, and language arts). Why’s that? What’s changed? The difference between STEM and STEAM requires that we step back and remember that this is primarily about how we look at and understand the world around us; the big picture.

It isn’t as simple as a missing letter and it isn’t just about the arts as a creative discipline: dance, sculpture, or painting. What they’re including here involves critical and creative thinking; encouraging conceptual, inventive and imaginative ways of working. The only way big problems in the world will be solved is by adopting a new way of thinking that includes practicing these creative skills. If we want thoughtful, holistic results, we have to start coming up with a different approach. Maybe more than one approach!. Encouraging broad, creative thinking through an encounter with the arts gives us those skills.

STEAM learning engages kids through art, play, imagination. It doesn’t just give them a rote problem to solve – that’s the way to produce robots. We have to get kids to focus on not just the ‘how’ but on the ‘why’. We have to inspire a love of learning through creative play and arts-based activities. When presented with a challenge related to coding, the ability to think creatively can help a child figure out why they need to solve it and then work their way around the how, even if it’s not something that they’ve encountered before.

In New Westminster, Innovation Week is one way we are trying a STEAM approach. All year round, you can visit New Media Gallery, our international gallery located in Anvil Centre that focuses on cutting-edge, technology-based art. NMG also offers STEAM-based workshops and programs for adults and children. This year, we also recommend you attend the Advancing Women in STEAM Symposium, a day of learning and sharing with incredible speakers from across Metro Vancouver.