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We’re Making STEM STEAMier

As arts-integrated educators, we’re always steeping ourselves in information out there on ways to make STEM STEAMier, as it were. 

This means continuing to find innovative ways to teach more traditional subjects through art. 

Most recently, we came across an article titled, Strategies for Using Art in Math, English, Science, and History in Education Week. It’s from this article that we adapted this blog post.

What Does Making STEM STEAMier Mean Exactly?

Educators know all too well the importance placed on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. And they’re more and more put upon to stress the importance of these disciplines.  

This is because STEM subjects are testable. And how students test in these subjects has too often become the (unfair) measure of how well a school is doing. Or even how well a student is doing. 

In this scenario, there is no room for art and the overwhelming benefits it offers. These include critical thinking, compassion, innovation, creativity, collaboration, and adaptability. To name a few. 

So at our arts academy middle/high school, we put the A (or art) into STEM to make it really STEAM. And we’re always excited when we discover teachers in more conventional settings doing the same. 

Here are four educators who are making (or made) STEM STEAMier. 

Fusing Art and Geometry

When former Chicago math teacher Sara Rezvi used to tell people she was a math teacher, she usually heard others respond with, ‘I’m not really a math person,’ or they regaled her intelligence. She found it discouraging.

“The internalized message I hear from these types of responses is clear: Mathematics is a playground for some, not all,” said Rezvi who was troubled by the notion that those who didn’t like math believed themselves unintelligent. “But what if it’s not mathematics that’s the issue here, but the standard approach in how mathematics has been exceptionalized and taught in the United States?” she wondered. 

She wanted everyone to look at mathematics through a lens that showed it as beautiful and poetic. Instead, many see it as a subject to slog through and overcome. She realized a great way to celebrate and explore math was through art.

During COVID, virtual field trips became a thing. But they’re actually a fantastic way for students to experience all sorts of artwork in different countries and from other cultures. In Rezvi’s case, she introduced her students to Islamic art and challenged them to see how it related to geometry. 

She asked her students about patterns and the different geometries that emerge in this art form to which many had little to no previous exposure. As she continued to ask deeper geometry-related questions, the students became curious about the artwork. It was art leading to math and math leading art. Math was no longer something that had been “sterilized by high-stakes testing.” 

Digging Deeper to Write an Essay

For Gretchen Bernabei, the struggle was in getting her students in English, language arts, and reading to dig deeper and grapple with the abstract when writing essays. 

During her 34 years of teaching in Texas, she discovered that her students who were given a prompt to write were able to access more nuanced explanations and feelings when an image was included.

So she may have offered a prompt like, “What is friendship?” and then include images (paintings, drawings, photos, etc.) to inspire the students. They suddenly had a lot to say. They would apply what they called “truisms” that applied to the image. From there, she would ask them to explore those truisms. 

Were they true? Could they find concrete examples of the truism in one of their favorite movies? Or how about in a book? They would write their responses in three-minute blocks and always be surprised at their own insights. Eventually, she’d have them write about how they know their truism is personally true. 

Based on what they’d written, the final paragraph would begin with “I wonder.” Then they had one minute to write. At the end of the experience, they’d have meaningful essays.

“The initial photos helped the writers plunge into their own experiences and beliefs,” said Bernabei. “Then the directions helped guide and translate onto the paper those thoughts which were already inside the writers.”

Making Art Fishy

Michigan middle school English and media literacy teacher Jeremy Hyler regularly works closely with the school’s art teacher. They’re all about making cross-curricular connections for the students. They even collaborate to work on projects that go with the science curriculum in their district. 

For example, they gathered different examples of leaves from around the school property to do leaf rubbings for the sake of identification. “Later (usually the next day), this would lead to a class discussion on the different species of plants that exist around our school’s property and perhaps why we have such an abundance of certain species,” said Hyler. “It is an easy cross-curricular activity that allows students to be creative.

In addition to the leaf rubbings, the 8th-grade students in the district get to participate in a project called Salmon in the Classroom. Throughout the school year, students raise a salmon from an egg to what is called a fry. 

With a vested interest in the creature they’re raising, they learn about water quality, macroinvertebrates, and other species of fish in Michigan. They use paint and rubber fish stamps of these native fish species and hang the paintings on the wall to excite the students in lower grades about what they’ll do in 8th grade. 

At the end of the project, they release the salmon into a local creek.

Bringing History to Life

For most kids at the high school level, art class is optional. And that’s too bad. “Because we can utilize art (drawings, paintings, music, poetry, etc.) in our daily lives to better express ourselves and connect with our larger communities,” said Kelsey Pycior, a social studies teacher in New Jersey.

Pycior tries to incorporate art in her courses by having students demonstrate evidence of learning through creative expression. 

To emulate Michelangelo, students have gotten on the floor and sketched art upside down. They’ve created murals out of scrap paper upon which they wrote Haiku poems while studying Japan. They created their own propaganda for many topics. They designed graffiti they’d pain on the Berlin Wall. And they watched performances from the Harlem Renaissance to trace back to today’s modern music. 

“A favorite activity my U.S. History 2 students participate in is the analysis of Vietnam War protest songs. We listen to music, talk about the lyrics, and connect those to what we see happening with the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and other rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s,” she said. “Without the incorporation of art, history does not come to life. 

Curious About Arts-Integrated Education?

For many students, learning comes above when there’s a concrete and sensory experience. For them, drilling down on STEM topics can feel alienating and frustrating.

If your child is that kind of student, he/she/they will feel at ease at an arts academy middle school or high school. If you’d like to see how we’re making STEM STEAMier, then contact us today to take a tour of our school

We look forward to meeting you!


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