Pittsburgh Education Blog Part 2: STEAM Learning

We are thrilled to have two of our 2014 disruptors from honoree city Pittsburgh, PA — Cathy Lewis Long and Gregg Behr — continue with fantastic guest blog posts in their series on the evolving nature of education! 

Left and Right Sides of the Brain Reunite through STEAM LearningBy Gregg Behr, Linda Hippert, and Cathy Lewis Long

Last week, thousands gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the coming together of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics at the first ever STEAM Carnival. The carnival featured immersive gaming experiences, mad science demonstrations, wearable electronics fashion shows, musical robots, and more spectacles celebrating the blending of art and technology.

The festivities was quite the coming out party for STEAM learning, an approach to education that integrates right-brain artistic creativity with left-brain technical rigor through multidisciplinary projects. Students of STEAM learning don’t just write poems in English class and then go tinker with robotics in technology class— they turn those poems into robotic performances.

No wonder, then, that support for STEAM learning has been building for years among both educators and employers. Recognizing that today’s workforce needs to be creative and imaginative, pioneering educators, tech visionaries, and even blue chip CEOs are advocating for the addition of an ‘A’ for arts into the familiar STEM acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The need to prepare today’s students for careers in demanding STEM-related fields has been one focus of the national conversation about the future of education in America. While the projected growth of job opportunities in the STEM field is driving the policy debate, STEM alone won’t be enough to prepare today’s students to thrive in a workforce where creative problem solving and cross-disciplinary collaboration are the norm.

In fact, when the Atlantic asked the world’s leading education thinkers to pick one letter to add to the STEM acronym, the letter they chose was an ‘A’ for the arts.

Why all the emphasis on integrating the arts into STEM subjects? Because that’s where innovation comes from: the intersection of imagination and technical know-how. You see the evidence of STEAM learning, thinking, and doing everywhere you look. From the way your mobile phone fits in the palm of your hand to the latest video game blockbuster to the user experience of your favorite mobile app: that’s STEAM learning in action and it’s at the core of the iterative design process used by leading innovation labs the world-over.

Here in Pittsburgh, STEAM learning has become the norm in many of our regions schools. Since 2009, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, an agency of the Pennsylvania Department of Education that supports public school districts in Allegheny County, has distributed more than $2,000,000 in STEAM Grants to more than 150 schools. With the help of these grants, teachers and administrators have reimagined what’s possible when you bring left and right-brain learning together, instead of keeping them apart.

Angela Brugioni