A call to arts: Joslyn Adcock

LEGO Education’s Senior Marketing Manager opens a series asking what are schools and unis doing to emphasise the connection between STEM and the arts?

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

The connection between STEM and the arts is incredibly important. So many of the skills gained through these subjects – including problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking and communication – can be elevated further through incorporating the arts too. For instance, adding the arts into the mix provides an even bigger platform for creativity and innovation. There is usually more than one right answer with STEAM tasks; children are given the flexibility and freedom to make their own interpretations of activities and designs and are therefore able to create and build solutions that employ the different strengths of individuals within the group.

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?

It doesn’t matter whether it’s preschool, primary, secondary, higher or further education; the skills that are introduced by incorporating the arts are transferrable and will be relevant in whatever jobs students choose to do. Therefore the sooner these are introduced the better, and this should then be reinforced throughout their whole educational journey. 

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

Something which has become increasingly more popular over the last year or so is the phenomenon of makerspaces; specific areas created at the discretion of a teacher, which allows children to get hands-on, engage their natural curiosity and develop the skills and confidence they’ll likely need in the future. Within this type of environment, pupils can use a wide range of resources and tools – from robotics and coding bricks to pipecleaners and tissue paper – to build creations related to STEAM learning. What makes a makerspace so effective is the fact that the learning has no limits; teachers can tap into what students are passionate about and then look at how to use tools and technologies to engage and encourage them to use their imaginations. 

“In order to ensure that the connection between STEM and the arts is emphasised for today’s students, education providers need to make learning relevant to the world around them.” 

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

Absolutely! Technology is a crucial part of the world we live in, and it is vital that this is incorporated within the curriculum of arts and sciences. It’s no surprise that the generation we are teaching now will go on to enter jobs that may not even exist yet. This makes the use of technology in the classroom so important to not only help fill the digital skills gap that currently exists, but also continue to evolve with the ever-changing industries. Just as the arts provide a more creative platform for technology, technology provides a route for art into the 21st-century digital world. While the arts hold their own value as a separate subject, combining them with technology elevates their relevance in today’s society and job market. Take learning about space for example: while students could simply paint a picture incorporating all the elements of the solar system to help them understand the different planets, giving them the opportunity to build a rocket – using coding resources and art materials – which can then be programmed to navigate around meteors and land safely, will engage them in their learning and allow them to understand how technology works in practice and how it could be applied in real life.  

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

One thing that we’ve seen work particularly well is giving children a stimulus to work with; they can then use their imaginations to create whatever they like, using whatever materials they want. They then have a prototype and following feedback from peers or their teacher, will continually refine it until the best solution possible has been reached. This helps to build resilience when things don’t always go right the first time, but by this point they’re already engaged and determined to ‘try, try and try again’ until they find a solution. This is crucial in their development as it is these mistakes that often lead to new discoveries; something that happens in everyday life in both business and personal scenarios.

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

In order to ensure that the connection between STEM and the arts is emphasised for today’s students, education providers need to make learning relevant to the world around them. While the arts and STEM work well as separate entities, there can be more of an impact on teaching and learning if they are taught in unison. So many of today’s jobs include elements of STEAM subjects including graphic designers, user experience design and architecture, so we need to make sure that what we’re teaching exposes students to the types of things required in these jobs, and the associated skills needed in order to be a success. For example, imagine you are learning about different communities; you could task students to draw and build a new transportation system, building, or bridge. Or if you were teaching a science lesson on the human body, you could task students to design and create a solution to aid surgeons in an operation or design a robotic limb to help someone walk. Making these connections from an early age will allow students to explore real-world concepts which are increasingly more important in preparing them for the working world.

LEGO Education: education.lego.com