The distinguished experts attending The Art of Science Learning Workshop in Washington in early April were onto something when they concluded that STEM learning—that is, education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—could well benefit from an infusion of art and design.
Adding an A for art to STEM would give our technical and scientific education “some steam,” said my MIT colleague John Maeda, now president of the Rhode Island School of Design, by “grounding the bits and bytes in the physical world before us.” Paola Antonelli, Senior Design Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, added another element to the mix: “Art and design,” said Antonelli, “when used correctly, can integrate innovation into people’s lives.” STEAM and Innovation: They are and ought to be at the heart of both Computer Science learning and STEM education.
Constructionist Learning theory (full disclosure: I helped birth this theory with Seymour Papert at the MIT Media Lab in the mid-80s) has long pushed for this approach of combining computer science and engineering with the sciences and the arts. We put it into practice at the Media Lab itself as well as in the innovative work we pursued in schools worldwide two decades ago. The program was intentionally named “MAS” for Media Technology Arts and Sciences, and being highly interdisciplinary in nature, it combined architecture, media technology, arts, sciences, computation, design, music, and more. In fact, Constructionist theory and the STEAM it can provide were the subject of my PhD thesis book, Children Designers, and underlie the philosophy of the products I’ve been developing since.
Most recently, my organization, the World Wide Workshop, has applied this learning theory in Globaloria, the social learning network for game-based educational innovation that has been actively changing students’ academics, lives and career futures in several states. By imagining, drawing and building original videogames, Globaloria students have been demonstrating dramatically how art and design and creative cognition can indeed ignite all kinds of STEM learning.
For example, Globaloria students throughout the state of West Virginia participated this year in the 2nd Annual Globaloria STEM Games Competition. Participants have research various STEM topics, blog about what they’ve learned, work in teams, produce video presentations, draw paper prototypes, design sample screens and graphics for game demos, and program webgames that teach others about science issues or mathematics concepts. This year, 411 students signed up for the competition, and the games they created illustrate the power of CS-STEAM learning. These students never programmed before. But this method of combining art and design with science and computer science generated impressive results.