How do you turn STEM into STEAM?  Add the Arts!

October 2007

By Joan Platz, Information and Research Director, Ohio Alliance for Arts Education


You may have noticed in the media the increased use of the acronym STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  There is a frenzy of activity at the national and state levels to increase student involvement and achievement in the STEM content areas. Educators, businessmen, economists, politicians, and pundits are driving these activities, because they believe that American students are not adequately prepared in science and mathematics to be competitive in the “global economy”.  Accordingly, in order for the U.S. to maintain and expand its economy, America’s schools must encourage more students to pursue careers in STEM, and better prepare all students in the STEM content areas.  (Atkinson, 2007)

Ohio lawmakers are also concerned about STEM preparation and participation. Included in the FY08-09 state budget (Am. Sub. HB 119-Dolan) are funds for institutions of higher education and school districts to provide incentives for students to pursue STEM careers, develop STEM schools, and improve teacher preparation and instruction in STEM content. 

The FY08-09 state budget also allows certain partnerships to create independent STEM public schools for any grades 6-12, and provides grants to support existing STEM programs in grades K-8.  A subcommittee of the Partnership for Continued Learning, which is chaired by Governor Strickland, will select the schools and award the grants based on a request for proposals (RFP) process. Eligibility to participate in the STEM grant program is limited to partnerships of public and private entities that consist of at least a school district or Joint Vocational School, institutions of higher education, and business organizations. The criteria for creating a STEM school also requires the school to offer “a rigorous, diverse, integrated, and project-based curriculum” that includes the arts and humanities.  (For more details on the requirements for STEM schools please see Ohio Revised Code Section 3326.01, which is on page 646 of HB 119.)

So...what is the role of music and arts education in STEM initiatives?

Music and the arts are essential educational components for all students to learn, including students who are pursuing careers in the STEM areas.  Educational opportunities in music and the arts first and foremost prepare students for competitive careers in the $316 billion communication, entertainment, and technology industries as musicians, artists, dancers, actors, directors, choreographers, videographers, graphic designers, architects, photographers, designers, film makers, arts administrators, and other professions.  The growth of the visual technologies alone, from computer graphics to digital video, has had a tremendous impact on our nation’s economy and the global economy.  According to “The Creative Industries Report”, published by Americans for the Arts, more than 548,000 businesses nationwide are related to the arts and employ 2.99 million people.  In Ohio there are 16,000 arts-related industries that employ 89,000 people.  Many of these arts-related jobs require employees to understand and apply higher order concepts in the STEM content areas in addition to having a preparation in the arts.

In addition, the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors students acquire from studying the arts have been identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and other organizations as the skills needed to be successful in the global economy.  These skills include creativity and innovation; critical thinking and problem solving; communication and collaboration; flexibility and adaptability; and social and cross cultural skills.  (Partnership:

According to a February 25, 2007 article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Kate Pielemeier called “Human resource experts say workers could benefit more from art than from math and science”, artists have unique ways of solving business problems, because they are not hindered by conventional business practices and rules.  (Post Gazette) The article also refers to Daniel Pink’s book, “A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”, in which the author argues that the master’s in fine arts is the new MBA. 

Researchers have also found a strong relationship between instruction in the arts and learning mathematical skills and improving student observational skills in science.  According to one study, students who studied music showed improved spatial temporal-reasoning skills, which helped them later learn math concepts.  (Graziano, Critical Links)  In another study researchers found that students who studied art were able to apply the observational skills that they had learned to critically view a painting to observing a science experiment.  (Tishman, Critical Links)

A meta-analysis of ten years of SAT scores has confirmed the relationship between the study of music and student performance on standardized mathematics tests.  And, another study has shown that students involved in orchestra and band through grade 12 performed better in math than peers not involved in music. (Catteral, Critical Links) 

Students who participate in the arts also consistently outperform non-arts peers on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, according to the 2006 SAT results published by the College Board. (2006 CollegeBoard)

There currently exist a number of STEM schools in Ohio and other states that also include a focus on the arts. 

Career-Technical schools in Ohio connect technology with the arts through the career field of “Arts and Communication”, which includes programs for students to pursue careers in journalism, broadcasting, graphics, performing arts and visual arts technologies. 

Approximately one hundred math and science high schools have been established across the nation enrolling approximately 47,000 students.  These schools provide motivated students with intense college level instruction in the STEM areas usually in grades eleven and twelve.   In addition to a focus on math and science, several of these schools also include a focus on the arts.  Highly recognized STEAM schools include the Louisiana School for Mathematics, Science, and the Arts; the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts; Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities; the Macomb Academy of Arts and Science (Michigan); and the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology (Virginia).  (National Association of Schools of Math and Science:

There are also a number of studies and resources available that provide examples of how the arts and STEM can be integrated throughout the curriculum of any school.  Teachers in Ohio have developed lesson plans that integrate the arts with technology, math, science, social studies, and language arts.  Samples of these integrated lessons, based on Ohio’s academic content standards, are available through Ohio’s Instructional Management System.  Integrated lessons are also available through ArtsEdge, the National Arts and Education Network.  ArtsEdge is a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and a partner of MarcoPolo, a consortium of national arts education organizations, state education agencies, and the MarcoPolo Education Foundation.  (ArtsEdge:

The Arts Education Partnership has recently made available a publication called “Arts Integration Frameworks, Research & Practice:  A Literature Review.”  This review provides information about research, theories, methods and practices pertaining to arts integration between 1995 and 2007.  (Arts Education Partnership:

AND....there are hundreds of examples of community based initiatives and partnerships that provide schools with ways to integrate music and the arts with STEM.  For example, the Art Institute in Chicago has worked with the Chicago Public Schools for several years on a project called Science, Art, and Technology, which provides science teachers and students with information about ways to use the resources of the museum to augment and enrich sciences classes.  (The Art Institute:

There are also examples of individual and organized initiatives that have increased communication and collaborations among those working in the arts and sciences.  The Bridges Corporation is a nonprofit organization that hosts an annual conference called Bridges:  Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science.  The objective of the conference is to exhibit innovative and integrative techniques that promote interdisciplinary work in the fields of mathematics and the arts.  According to a Bridges publication, “The field of mathematics and art is healthy and growing, as evidenced by a series of major conferences in the past few years...”  An offshoot of the Bridges Conference is the continuing work of artists, educators, scientists, and mathematicians to develop innovative artistic or educational tools and software to disseminate information about the connections between the arts and mathematics and sciences. (Bridges:

Institutions of higher education are also looking at the arts to stimulate creative thinking and innovative ideas.  A major initiative to integrate arts education into all areas of learning was recently begun at Stanford University.  In January 2006 a new cross-disciplinary institute was created called the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA).  Another initiative, Arts, Sciences and Technologies, links the arts with fields such as engineering and natural sciences using design thinking to help students use multiple perspectives to solve problems.  According to Stanford President John L. Hennessy in a speech made on April 26, 2006, “In the last several years, we have asked how Stanford’s research and educational programs can contribute to addressing the great challenges of this century.  In that same way, the university is beginning to look to the arts, not only as a key part of our cultural lives, but also as an integral component in the university’s educational mission.”  (Hennessy:  2006)

Next Steps

Next Steps - Advocate for STEAM Schools!

This overview of STEM plus the arts just touches the surface of what is already happening nationally to connect the STEM areas with music and the arts.  Please use the sources listed below to find more information about this topic.

Over the next few months more information will be available from the Partnership for Continued Learning about the STEM RFP process.  Now is the time for music and arts education advocates to find out what STEM initiatives are being planned in your school district, assess the interest to transform STEM into STEAM schools by adding the arts, and plan with your own arts network ways to support student learning in music and the arts in all schools. 

For example, your school district or school may be working already on plans to create partnerships with higher education institutions and businesses in your community to open a STEM school.

You can help turn STEM into STEAM by sharing with these planners the academic, economic, social, and personal advantages of including high quality music and arts education programs in STEM schools.

If your community is not planning a STEM school at this time, then step up to the plate!  Open up a dialogue with your colleagues, school district, higher education, arts organizations, and businesses in your community to explore the creation of a STEAM school in your area.  Build on the arts network in your community to link like-minded individuals and organizations together to discuss what a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math school could look like in your community.  Including the arts in a STEM school proposal through the state’s RFP process, could be the innovative component that sets your proposal apart from the rest, and helps your proposal to be selected for the grant award.

Advocates for music and arts education cannot sit back and let STEM schools be developed without input from arts education advocates!  It is up to us to promote quality music and arts education programs for STEM schools and for all students in Ohio.  This is a wonderful opportunity to educate your colleagues and community about how an education in the arts prepares students for citizenship, continuing their education, work, and living in the 21st Century, and how music and the arts can be an integral component of a successful STEM school.



Americans for the Arts, “The Creative Industries Report”.  Web site:

Ariniello, Leah. Brain Briefing. “Music Training and the Brain,” Society for Neuroscience, March 15, 2006.

ArtsEdge, the National Arts and Education Network.  Web site:

Arts Education Partnership, “Arts Integration Frameworks, Research & Practice:  A Literature Review.”  Web site:

Atkinson, Robert D., and Janet Hugo, Dennis Lundgren, Martin J. Shapiro, and Jerald Thomas, “Addressing the STEM Challenge by Expanding Specialty Math and Science High Schools”, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, March 2007.  Web site:

Bridges Corporation, Bridges:  Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science.  Web site:

Catteral, James S. “Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary School”. In R. Deasy (Ed.), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Arts Education Partnership, Washington, D.C., June 2002.

Catteral, James S. “The Arts and the Transfer of Learning”. In R. Deasy (Ed.), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Arts Education Partnership, Washington, D.C., June 2002.

Champions of Change, The Impact of the Arts on Learning, Arts Education Partnership, 1999.

CollegeBoard, 2006 SAT, “Academic Information.  Students who complete courses in the arts.”  Tables 11,16, and 19.  Web site:

Gaining the Arts Advantage: Lessons From School Districts that Value Arts Education, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and Arts Education Partnership, 1999.

Graziano, Amy B, Matthew Peterson, and Gordon L Shaw, “Enhanced Learning of Proportional Math Through Music Training and Spatial-Temporal Training”, In R. Deasy (Ed.), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Arts Education Partnership, Washington, D.C., June 2002.

Hennessy, John L. “The Role of the Creativity and the Arts in a 21st Century Education.”  The Stanford Report, April 26, 2006.  Web site:

Minton, Sandra “Assessment of High School Students Creative Thinking Skills: A Comparison of the Effects of Dance and Non Dance Class.” In R. Deasy (Ed.), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Arts Education Partnership, Washington, D.C., June 2002.

National Association of Schools of Math and Science   Web sites: and

North Central Regional Education Laboratory, EnGauge 21st Century Skills:  Literacy in the Digital Age - Creativity, 2003 Web site:

Ohio’s Instructional Management System  Web site:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Overview of Framework. Web site:

Pielemeier, Kate, “Human resource experts say workers could benefit more from art than from math and science”. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 25, 2007.  Web site:

Pink, Daniel, “A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”, Riverhead Books, 2006.

Society for Neuroscience News Release, “New studies show factors responsible for enhanced response to music; effects of growing up in a musical environment; and how music may be used as therapy.” November 9, 2005.

Sturrock, Carrie. “Playing Music Can be Good for Your Brain”, SF Chronicle, November 17, 2005.

The Art Institute, Science Art and Technology, Web site:

The Arts Beyond the School Day: Extending the Power, Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network, 2000.

Tishman, Shari, Dorothy MacGillivray, and Patricia Palmer. “Investigating the Educational Impact and Potential of the Museum of Modern Art’s Visual Thinking Curriculum: Final Report”. In R. Deasy (Ed.), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Arts Education Partnership, Washington, D.C., June 2002.

Vaughn, Kathryn “Music and Mathematics: Modest Support for the Oft-Claimed Relationship.” In R. Deasy (Ed.), Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Arts Education Partnership, Washington, D.C., June 2002.