A call to arts: James Massey

The Head of Professional Development at Discovery Education UK is the fourth expert in our series exploring how best to connect STEM and the arts

In your opinion, is the connection between STEM and the arts still important?

There are deep rooted connections between many subject areas when it comes to STEM. Our approach at Discovery Education, however, is not to focus on subject specifics but the transdisciplinary nature. For example, improving pupils’ creative and critical thinking skills through meaningful collaboration and communication when finding solutions to a problem.

Do you think the connection between STEM and the arts is more important in a school or university setting, or is it the same across the board?

Nurturing the creative aspect of the arts should happen whatever the child’s age. It is the context of that creativity that needs to be age appropriate. For example, you wouldn’t give a project around improving the efficiency of a solar powered go-kart to a five-year-old, just like you wouldn’t ask a teenager to think about how their toys could be better designed for play. Pupils of all ages can develop the critical thinking, observational and research skills that are common between STEM and the arts. Creativity is as common a trait in a successful scientist as it is an artist.

Have you seen any particular developments in the STEAM arena over the last 12 months?

We see a lot of confusion as to how STEAM is applied in the classroom, and particularly around making it integrate with the rigours of the National Curriculum. More networking and discussion between schools, both virtually and through workshops, is growing in popularity which really helps to elevate the debate. Discovery Education have been offering accelerated support with our teachers by helping them get together to discuss the benefits of such an approach and how it can be implemented, along with providing professional development experiences to put it into action. 

“It’s important to work closely with teachers to make sure we are providing them with the most current and research-driven materials.”

Is technology playing an important role in STEAM, and if so how?

Technology has integrated itself into most of our daily lives and STEAM education is no different. As with anything though, technology is a tool to support the learning and should not be seen as the main motivator. Solid examples that we have utilised through the use of Discovery Education Coding include allowing pupils to produce their own apps to share with other people globally. Also, our award-winning Espresso service gives access to a large library of non-fiction digital media content to support their research and studies.

Do you have any examples of education providers that are emphasizing the connection between STEM and the arts particularly well?

We have a very exciting long-term Professional Development programme with Grangehurst Primary in Coventry. They are implementing a real skills-based approach to the learning which fully integrates STEM practices into all aspects of the curriculum, including art and D&T. The idea is not to unpack these into silo subjects, however, but to have a topic-based approach instead where they come together naturally, as they would in the real world.

How can education providers continue to ensure that the connection between STEM and the arts is emphasised for today’s students?

It’s important to work closely with teachers to make sure we are providing them with the most current and research-driven materials. These materials also need to be easy for them to adopt in the classroom so that STEM and the arts become part of the everyday teaching and learning experience for the young problem-solvers of tomorrow.

Discovery Education: discoveryeducation.co.uk