It's a simple argument.
STEM already gets funding by the National Science Foundation under legislation passed some time ago.
But now that inclusion of the arts is being recognized, shouldn't STEAM projects get some money too?
Yes, says the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and while not as obvious, the National Science Foundation (NSF) seems to agree.
By way of history, STEM is a Bush initiative to help students earn a bachelor's degree in one of the sciences; math and science teachers to get teaching credentials; and provide money to help align kindergarten through grade 12 to better prepare students for a scientific college experience.
After a few years -- yes, it seemed to take that long -- the arts community asked: "Why not the arts?" Thus STEAM.
STEAM adds the arts to the mix, believing correctly that art and art based training greatly helps young people understand the way the world works, see the connections between things, and nurtures their sense of wonder and their creative instincts.
Last Thursday the NEA announced its grant agenda for the next six months in art and science. Proposals which demonstrate how both subjects can be woven together in an art work, or play, demonstration or lab experiment or even an educational effort costing no more that $10, 000 to $100,000 are welcomed (there is a one-to-one match required) by the deadline of Aug. 1, 2012. (An archive of the webinar has been posted in the "Podcasts, Webcasts, & Webinars" section of the NEA website.)
Bill O'Brian, senior adviser for Innovation programs at the NEA said that "creativity and innovation" clearly support U.S. economic interests and he expected this effort to continue well beyond the current request for applications. He also noted that the government community of artists and scientists are very much in agreement that these are the kinds of things they wish to fund. He stopped short of endorsing STEAM -- maybe too political a decision -- but seemed enthusiastic about the idea of funding art and science projects.
The NSF meanwhile is listening to and reading about the teaching of innovation and creativity and the importance of music and the arts. In one article posted on the NSF website, Parag Chordia, director of the Music Intelligence Lab at Georgia Tech, is quoted as saying, "One of the difficulties of teaching math and science is that it quickly becomes very abstract. You have to have points of reference that people can relate to and it becomes much easier. So, whether we're talking about teaching basic mathematical concepts, or designing experiments, you can design experiments around music."
This parallels a paper issued last year by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), called "Reaching Students Through STEM and the Arts," which stated, "Teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are discovering that by adding an "A" -- the arts -- to STEM, learning will pick up STEAM."
The NSF grants are not as obvious as those of the NEA but as reported earlier, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Learning Worlds to host three conferences -- in Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Diego, Calif. -- to look at what business, education, and communities across the U.S. were doing to merge the "two cultures" of art and science.
Similar grants have come from the agency.
Both STEM and STEAM have merit and in a sense, move us in the right direction. Both approaches to regaining our economic prowess in the world mark a real opportunity for meaningful change in our schools, and our nation. STEAM may never be formally endorsed as such, but the fight for recognition will continue to grow.