The Common Core as a Path to STE(A)M

The Common Core as a Path to STE(A)M
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For parents, the question on their mind is simple: "What can we do to make sure that our kids get a job in the new economy?"

On balance, despite all the rhetoric that it's a secret plan of Obama , people are applauding the "Common Core" standards being implemented in many states in America. Technology that lets young people sign on to a tutorial when they want, from where they want, helps too. But will these measures alone assure that young people have the "new thinking skills" the workplace demands?

No, probably not until we put the "A" into STEM or take seriously the concept of Art-based learning of STEM, an experiment now underway in Chicago, San Diego and Worcester, Massachusetts funded by the National Science Foundation. Unless we recognize the value of an arts education, and marry art and science in a truly interdisciplinary curriculum, we will be forever in search of a solution to our growing joblessness.

While Business in America knows well that we have entered the Age of Innovation as Randy Cohen of the Americans for the Arts has argued and as The Conference Board, and studies by IBM have found--"the arts build the 21st Century workforce." We still need to show how it is done, how it works.

At the California State University at San Marcos, Professor Merryl Goldberg tried to do just that thanks to a generous grant from the U.S. Department of Education. She is showing that art and art integration work.

Called the DREAM project for Developing Reading Education with Arts Methods, Merrl and her team worked with the San Diego County Office of Education and the North County Professional Development Federation to identify schools, teachers and curricula to try arts methods and make reading fun, memorable and engaging.

A one-week summer DREAM Institute nurtured the art integration idea and empowered teachers. Those teachers who attended and then continued to collaborate with an artist in the classroom, were able to attain student scores of 87% as opposed to students in the same 3rd and 4th grades whose scores also increased, but only by 25%.

The U.S. Department is looking at DREAM 2 to try art methods in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math). Not unlike the National Science Foundation's interest in developing incubators using art-based learning of STEM, CSU San Marcos and a few other schools around the country are looking at ways of integrating the arts into all the disciplines and thereby, enhance learning.

The Right Brain Initiative out of Portland Oregon, probably one of the largest "art integration" efforts in North America, is a collaboration among artists, arts organizations, school districts, governments, businesses and donors who are working to integrate arts education experiences into the standard curriculum of every K-8 classroom across the region's school districts. They too, are reporting great progress.

Their approach is not more classes, more arts or music, more anything. That would be nice but, frankly, there is not money for doing anything more, only doing things differently. Again, the secret is using the arts as a catalyst for teaching across the curriculum.

The Common Core, also known as the "state standards initiative", is one of the more intriguing methods to spark new ways of teaching. It is now being adopted across the country and offers unique opportunities to purse new methods of using the arts as the vehicle for transforming the curriculum.

The common core "toolkit" for example, "proposes that educators engage students in inquiry and exploration of real world problems and interdisciplinary performance tasks", and opens the door to integrating all the disciplines, merging art and science, and fashioning an interdisciplinary curriculum that enhances the thinking skills young people most need.

Blogging for the Americans for the Arts, Richard Kessler, Dean of Mannes College, at The New School for Music, said:

"Get ready folks, the key to unlocking the real potential for (the common core) is ultimately through an arts integration approach. (I feel your pain!). For all those who think arts integration doesn't work, try again. For all those who think it demeans the arts, try again. For all those who think that the arts in on their own are going to transfer to what students need to know and be able to do in the Common Core State Standards, try again."

Maybe, just maybe, more parents, politicians, and policymakers will see that art IS the answer. But business in particular, wants to hear more.

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