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Op-ed: Students should move full STEAM ahead

By David S. Doty

First Published May 21 2014 05:32 pm • Last Updated May 21 2014 05:32 pm

Don Gale is spot on in his observation that while STEM education is a good thing, "it is far from being good enough in today’s world." ("STEM is good, but not good enough," Opinion, May 10)

Several exhibits might be offered as evidence that adding an "A" for "arts" to STEM, as Mr. Gale advocates, is not only possible, it is necessary.

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Exhibit A is the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. One of the significant components of these new standards is the emphasis on reading, and analysis, of nonfiction text. Not only will such emphasis help students better prepare for college, it will also provide them with new opportunities to experience, and apply, significant intersections of art and science, including those specific to the American West.

For example, the study of a rich biography such as Wallace Stegner’s "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian," describing John Wesley Powell’s exploration of the Colorado River basin, would allow students to learn about critical Utah history, geology and climate, as well as the contributions of talented artists, such as Thomas Moran and William Henry Holmes, to land surveys and the scientific record.

Exhibit B is the trend in higher education to integrate the arts and sciences, which should compel a similar shift in public schools. For example, in January 2012 Stanford University announced a partnership between its School of Engineering and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. The new Institute for Media Innovation, funded by a $30 million gift from David and Helen Gurley Brown, will "bring together creative innovators skilled in production and delivery of news and entertainment with the entrepreneurial researchers ... working in multimedia technology."

Recognizing the importance of building bridges between these two distinct fields within the humanities and sciences, Helen Gurley Brown noted: "Great content needs usable technology. Sharing a language is where the magic happens.

Finally, Exhibit C is the reality that Utah’s technology companies and arts philanthropies are eager to work together to fund innovative, effective programs that bridge the arts and sciences in K-12 schools. Through a thoughtful and strategic campaign that targets the "sweet spot" of interest where both arts donors and STEM businesses have passion, the Canyons School District Education Foundation has raised nearly $400,000 over the past three years to fund an innovative STEAM curriculum for all middle school students. This evidence-based curriculum, in its first year of implementation, emphasizes basic technical skills of math and science, but also incorporates hands-on design projects (such as solar cars and Lego robotics) that encourage the "soft skills" of creativity and teamwork.

Alignment with shifts in higher education should be non-negotiable. Support for the new core standards is imperative. And foundational funding, both public and private, must be a priority. If we want results, let’s do the hard thinking to join the arts and sciences in meaningful ways, bring partners together, and put the systemic changes in place that are necessary to build student interest and skill in all areas of the core curriculum. Every one of Utah’s students deserves the opportunity to move full STEAM ahead.

David S. Doty is a principal with Education Direction, a Cicero Group company focused on improving student achievement through data-driven instruction and systems. He is the former superintendent of Canyons School District.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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