Gaining STEAM: Adding the Arts to STEM Helps Engage Learners


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For most parents, the growing prevalence of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs makes sense. After all, our economy is driven by high-tech companies, and these companies have a high demand on employees with backgrounds in engineering, programing, data analysis and other STEM-related disciplines. It makes sense that schools would respond by taking a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching children these disciplines, mirroring how they’re integrated within many job functions in the real world.

In recent years, parents may have noticed a twist to the STEM acronym: the addition of an “A” to create “STEAM.” The A stands for “arts.” Advocates of the STEAM framework say the arts, especially visual art and design, can enhance STEM programs in a number of ways, including making these disciplines more attractive to students who don’t think they’re strong science and math students. They also note that art — especially design — with its problem-solving approach, is just as integral to creating and running high-tech companies as is math and science. Think of Apple.

Making STEAM

But just how do STEAM programs or schools work, and how do they benefit children? Although STEAM programs are too few and too young to have produced much data, many education experts believe the concept has the potential to not only engage more children, but to help them become better critical thinkers and problem solvers — skills that companies prize.

“Children will learn based on the context in which information is presented,” says Paola Sztajn, associate dean for research and innovation at the North Carolina State University College of Education. “When the disciplines are presented separately, they may learn only one way to address a question, and they may not see the connections (among the disciplines).”

But if students are exposed to subject matter via popular STEM and STEAM approaches, such as problem- or project-based learning, Paola says they can make connections that enable them to answer questions or address challenges using math, computer code, design, engineering or a combination of disciplines.

“We want students to develop the ability to say, ‘I’m a doer, I’m a thinker, I can solve this problem,’” she says.

Several schools in the Triangle, from pre-K through middle school, offer STEAM programs or approaches — or plan to in the near future. The longest-running such program is offered at W.G. Pearson S.T.E.A.M. Elementary School, a gifted and talented magnet school in Durham.

“Our students obtain an understanding of all components of STEAM at higher levels and are exposed to knowledge that can even be applied to help enhance their career pathways, as opposed to the traditional methods of learning that you would find in a traditional elementary school,” says Principal Christy Boykin of the school, which evolved from STEM to STEAM during the 2012-13 school.

Boykin says the school supplements the state’s standard course of study — which, for elementary school, already includes art/music and science — through a combination of STEAM electives and special programs. For example, an engineering elective on robotics previously offered to students identified as academically and intellectually gifted in grades three through five will now be offered to all of the school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. A technology elective that teaches kids the basics of computer coding is also offered. And all students are given an iPad to help them work as engaged, connected learns.

The STEAM approach to education is paying off for W.G. Pearson S.T.E.A.M. Elementary School’s students. In addition to meeting growth targets on end-of-grade assessments, “We have seen so many students totally change their perspective and outlook toward school because of our S.T.E.A.M. program,” Boykin says.

Building STEAM

Meanwhile, on Durham’s Orange Factory Road, work continues on Discovery School, scheduled to open as a STEAM charter middle school in August 2018. The school, which will occupy five buildings on 60 acres, will revolve around four daily “blocks,” three of which will address the STEAM disciplines of humanities (social studies and English language arts), math and science, and arts and technology, according to Toni Shellady, the school’s founder and board vice chairman. The fourth block will be called Passion Hour, giving students 60 minutes each day to explore — on their own or with a small group — an activity, subject or discipline that sparks their interest, whether it’s yoga, knitting, chess — anything they can practice and master, Shellady notes.

Shellady was motivated to create the school after teaching for 10 years, most of those at Voyager Academy, a STEM charter school in Durham. Observing how technology served to engage students and drawing on her love of dance, Shellady felt a STEAM middle school would be appealing to a wide variety of students and parents. She, like other advocates of the arts and STEAM, points to a number of studies that show students who take four years of high school arts-related classes have higher grade point averages and higher SAT scores, including in math, than their peers who take one or fewer years of arts programming.

“Communication, collaboration and creativity — emphasizing these skills, as well as teaching kids how to think outside the box, will lead to improved student outcomes,” Shellady says. Such an approach will also prepare students for the multidisciplinary environment of the workforce, she says.

And in downtown Raleigh, a new school is providing a STEAM-focused approach to the youngest of learners, as well as older students who might otherwise be bored during their track-out periods. Little Makers Academy, which includes a preschool, pre-K program and track-out classes for kids up to age 12, is based on the “makerspace” movement, says Alice Nelson, the school’s owner and director.

Makerspaces provide individuals with access to tools and supplies to create, fabricate and produce crafts and goods that they wouldn’t have the resources or space to do on their own. At Little Makers, a large space filled with STEM-related toys, tools and games also features art supplies and flexible seating to encourage creativity, Nelson says. A former schoolteacher, Nelson was driven to create Little Makers in part to celebrate “the doodlers” — those students in her classes who, while often drawing in the margins rather than paying rapt attention, were her favorites.

Young urban parents — creative types and those working for high-tech, downtown-based companies such as Red Hat and Citrix — have been quick to embrace Little Makers, according to Nelson. “We’re emphasizing the same things that companies are: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication,” she says.


Suzanne Wood is a Raleigh-based freelance writer and mother of three.

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November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Kicks off the holiday season with local art, music, food, and family activities at various locations in Durham’s historic downtown district. Presented by the Durham Arts Council with support...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Celebrate the natural world and where favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Make a craft. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Search the preserve for hidden holiday-themed clues and learn about native wild turkeys. Make a turkey decoration. Ages 5 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course code...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
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Search for salamanders, owls and more. Ages 10-13. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in the District. This year’s event will take place the weekend of November 17th. Take the family to enjoy train rides, magical winter lights, live...

Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

Where:
Park West Village
3400 Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Telephone: 919-234-6710
Contact Name: Conner Dixon
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See ponies, hunters and jumpers compete in an event that benefits Duke Children's Hospital. Visit the website for hours and fees.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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Make crafts celebrating turkeys. All ages with adult. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. Registration not required. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Learn what it was like to be a kid at the first Thanksgiving. Play games and make a food collage. Choose either the 10:30-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. session. Ages 7 and older. Register online.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Explore the woods and shoreline for signs of nature and collect treasures to make a craft. Take a full water bottle, snack and a bag lunch. Ages 6-11. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. Advance...

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
Website »

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Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen for the sound of silver bells and climb aboard in your pajamas for a first-class journey on the Polar Express. Come early to meet Santa and enjoy kid-friendly activities and a traditional...

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Athletes improve their flexibility, balance, joint mobility, as well as body and breath awareness. Special attention will be paid to core strength and posture and its importance in performance and...

Cost: Call for fees

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-345-5873
Contact Name: Jen Bluestone
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

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Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Read the story by Karma Wilson and make a Thanksgiving-themed craft. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
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Fit & Able Productions presents the Turkey Chase trail festival at Umstead Park. Take part in a 5K, 10K or 20K. After the race, enjoy fruit, brownies and other...

Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir makes an appearance before its big Christmas concert.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 30-minute tour to view the main power drive and milling machinery. Tickets available inside the park's visitor center. Online registration encouraged.

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Show Less...
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