Right Brain Turns STEM to STEAM by Marna Stalcup

Right Brain Turns STEM to STEAM by Marna Stalcup

Science, math, engineering and arts educators work together to solve construction challenges during a Right Brain workshop.

You know about STEM education, right? Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  It’s resurgence across the country in recent years is seen as crucial for the United States to compete in the global economy. At two Right Brain schools, we’ve added an ‘A” to turn

The idea is not new. Rhode Island School of Design president John Maeda is credited with championing the movement, but Quatama and Jackson Elementary Schools in Hillsboro are the first that we know of in our region to implement it. By virtue of their location in Washington County’s high tech corridor, both veteran Right Brain schools are well positioned to be the initial sites for our STEM to STEAM project. In addition, Quatama is one of eight schools participating in the Portland Metro STEM Partnership, a regional collaborative of public and private organizations focused on STEM education. 

The Portland tri-county area has long been recognized as a creative and innovative community, and we think a perfect environment to foster STEAM. It’s gaining traction at the state level, too. At this year’s Oregon Arts Summit hosted by the Oregon Arts Commission, STEAM emerged as a primary notion in presentations by U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and Oregon’s Chief Education Officer Dr. Rudy Crew.  When addressing education in his 2013-15 proposed budget, Governor Kitzhaber specifically calls out STEAM. The idea seems to be catching on. 

At Right Brain, we see arts integraton as an approach to teaching that engages students in a creative process connecting the arts to other subjects. What a perfect fit for STEAM. Our STEAM project is supported by the PGE Foundation, a long-time Right Brain funder. Planning began in October when we convened a diverse group of professionals to identify powerful curricular connections between STEM subjects and the arts. This think-tank included teachers, principals, a STEM specialist, curriculum directors, engineers and teaching artists. STEAM residencies with Right Brain visual artists Caitlin Shelman and Nicole Pentecello are now underway at our pilot sites and will continue into early Spring.

Quatama Elementary staff collaborate during a professional development session before beginning STEAM programming with students.

Back to RISD’s  President Maeda who hit the nail on the head when he wrote in 2009 in the Huffington Post:

“Right now, our nation sees left-brain thinking, focused on logic and reasoning, as critical to future economic development. You can see it in the emphasis on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects. What’s missing from STEM is right brain thinking — embodied by what I call the key “IDEA” (Intuition, Design, Emotion, Art). We need both halves of the brain to work together and channel that brilliance through our hands and propagate ideas throughout ourworld.”

So, as they say, it’s full steam ahead and we couldn’t be more excited!


Marna Stalcup is the Program Manager for The Right Brain Initiative.

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