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The STEAM Camps Are Coming

John Eger

It’s early in the new year but educators across the country are already making plans for the summer and they are thinking STEAM…with the arts playing a critical role.

As demand for a new workforce to meet the challenges of a global knowledge economy is rapidly increasing, few things could be as important in this period of our nation’s history than an interdisciplinary education that brings the arts and sciences together. Not surprisingly, so-called STEAM Camps signal an increased role for the arts as part of the new curriculum.

Most analysts studying the new global economy agree that the growing “creative and innovative” economy represents America’s salvation. The STEAM camps represent a totally new approach to the curriculum, and forge a new beginning in reinventing K-12 education.

Urban Discovery Academy, a charter school in San Diego has partnered with the University of California at San Diego (UCSD); Concordia University in Mequon, WI, together with the Chicago Lutheran Education Foundation (CELF); and the largest Lutheran school systems in Northern Indiana, and other educational organizations across the country are thinking about or have already started hosting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Camps to jumpstart education learning for the new economy.

STEAM is a direct response to STEM, the Bush Initiative called the America Competes Act, which authorized funds to help students earn a bachelor’s degree, math and science teachers to get teaching credentials, and provide additional money to help align K-12 math and science curricula to better prepare students for college.

The concept of STEAM (not just STEM) is taking hold as more parents and educators are learning the importance of nurturing both sides of the brain, and creating the new thinking skills our young people will need in the new economy. Art, in all it forms, does this. Hence, the STEAM camps with the emphasis on the arts and art related businesses such as digital media, biomedicine, biotechnology, energy, and clean technologies.

Concordia, in particular, focused last summer on the physical and chemical properties of water and the local environment. They also gave kids the “hands-on” experience of designing their “own personal crayon color (and) creating the perfect formula for bubble gum.” They made soda and homemade toothpaste and explored the human body including “skeletal structure, DNA function, blood typing, and…dissection of a fetal pig.”

“Our Lutheran schools in this region are working on transforming their classrooms to reflect a 21st century design,” says Mark Muehl, speaking for the Indiana effort. “What we have learned is that there is a lot of growth that must occur with our teachers to allow for project-based learning to be more of the norm as opposed to the exception” and so the STEAM camp idea becomes the entry point.

Ed Abeyta of UCSD agrees: “We need STEAM-based education. Our global competitive edge requires educating our youth in a manner whose training combines the convergent thinking skills found in STEM education divergent thinking skills (and) creative problem solving real problems in the world.”

The Discovery Academy adopted STEAM as an inherent part of the school’s mission “to provide a rigorous education that develops the whole child as a scholar, athlete, artist, and democratic member of society.”

They plan a curriculum patterned on the Fab Lab, a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the San Diego-based nonprofit Heads on Fire. The curriculum is expected to offer courses on: Digital Arts and New media, Design & Digital Fabrication, Electronics & Engineering, Creative Computing & Programming, and Alternative Energy and Renewable Fuels.

In Plano, TX, where Texas Instruments (TI) makes its home, middle schools in the area will get $5 million from the company to help launch and develop the district’s first STEAM Academy; but, also a new innovative high school as recommended by the Academy Visioning Committee meeting in April this year.

Associate Superintendent Cathy Galloway of the Plano Schools district says:

“Our academy visioning committee…opted to ensure that arts education be included as an integral part of the learning context. In addition to problem/project based learning being the instructional method used in the academy, the problems themselves will revolve around the context of STEAM to provide broader experiences than a traditional STEM focus.”

The Plano district serves the residents of approximately 100 square miles in southwest Collin County. This area includes 66 square miles in the City of Plano, with the balance including northern portions of the cities of Dallas and Richardson and parts of the cities of Allen, Carrollton, Garland, Lucas, Murphy, Parker, and Wylie.

And in Massachusetts, there is a workshop called ARTBOTICS, funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, involving art, computer science, and robotics.

They offer an eight-week summer program piloted by a group of Lowell High School graduates and University of Massachusetts students. They have also launched a week-long summer camp for middle school students, and “day-long workshops for educators of art, science, technology, engineering, and math subjects.”

This could be the beginning of meaningful efforts to bring the arts and sciences together once again.

*This post was originally published by Huff Post Arts and is republished here with permission from the author.

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