If you have been engaged in the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), you have probably also been aware of the emerging insistence that STEM becomes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the ARTS, and Mathematics). For those of us who have been inveterate supporters of the arts (and the humanities), this inclusion is both highly welcome, and, we believe, incredibly necessary.
Recently, while reading in the educational section of TheConversation.com (Academic Rigor, Journalistic Flair), I came across this article, STEAM, Not STEM: Why Scientists Need Arts Training, which gave me more food for thought on this issue. In this article, Richard Lachman, associate professor at Ryerson University, details the schism that often exists between the sciences and the arts in the academic world. He further points out that modern-day populism (with its often attendant anti-intellectualism) may also be contributing to this schism, and that this could cause difficult problems in the future, and may have caused unintended problems in the past and present. He stresses the need for a marriage between the arts and the sciences, especially at the university level with these words, “I am a computer scientist who studies digital culture. I try my best to bridge the divides, but constantly ask the question: How can universities train our scientists, technologists and engineers to engage with society, rather than perform simply as cogs in the engine of economic development? I believe we need our educational system to engage students with issues of ethics and responsibility in science and technology. We should treat required arts and humanities courses not as some vague attempt to “broaden minds” but rather as a necessary discussion of morals, values, ethics and responsibility.”
In today’s world, scientists, technology specialists, engineers, and mathematicians are dedicated to inventing, creating, and solving problems that have the potential to help humankind, or, conversely, to cause irreparable harm. I vividly remember a conversation with a highly gifted fifth grader who realized this and asked the simple, yet profound question, “So...just because we CAN do some things, does that mean we SHOULD do these things?” Think of the myriad of possibilities that her question could affect.
The arts and the humanities demand that we ask ourselves this very question at every juncture of the creation process. The question is grounded in ethics - in morality and responsibility. The arts and humanities can often best help us question, illuminate, and debate. So how do we do this?
In the words of Lachman, “We need to make sure STEM graduates working in these fields are able to engage with the toughest questions of our time: What, where and how should our new inventions be engaged?
I would like to see university curricula in STEM subjects expanded — to discuss whether we should develop certain technologies at all, with ethical concerns a common thread throughout our studies. The risks to society of anything else seem paramount.”
I would submit that we need to stress the marriage of STEM and STEAM at a much earlier age -- to children, as they wrestle with the problems of the world that need solving. Imagine a child hearing Britten’s War Requiem or Kurt Bestor’s The Prayer of the Children, or viewing a collection of photos from the Jewish graves in Prague following the Holocaust, or the photos depicting Hiroshima, or wrestling with Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken as he experience science and social studies curricula. Imagine all children, (and eventually all adults) asking the question, “Just because we CAN do some things, does that mean we SHOULD do these things?”
All of us, and especially those of us who ponder deep questions, and sometimes feel that we are alone, deserve the probing guidance and solace of the arts and humanities as we make sense of our world.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Together we grow.
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
A number of years ago, I had the great fortune to attend the World Gifted Conference at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. If my memory serves me correctly, there were about 900 attendees, representing over 90 countries. I was astonished to find that about 100 attendees were from Singapore, and even more astonished to find these attendees packing all of the workshops on curiosity and creativity. Naturally curious, I asked many of them why they sent so many participants, and what attracted them especially to the innovation-type workshops. Their answer was, essentially, “We lead the world in preparing our youth in academic pursuits as evidenced on global measures. What we lack is creative students. We need to learn how to find and nurture creativity to remain highly competitive in the 21st century.”
As we continue to forge our way into the 21st century, I often think about that conference, and those encounters. Much of the work of 21st century educational leaders, such as Sir Ken Robinson. Tony Wagner, Ken Kay, and Wisconsin’s own Jim Rickabaugh, has also highlighted the need for nurturing curiosity, creativity, and following personalized passion in our students. America has long been known for its emphasis on individualism, creativity, and innovation, and increasingly other nations are following in our footsteps.
Therefore it did not surprise me to come across this article in Forbes Magazine this past May, Japanese Teachers On Curiosity: 'All This Time, They Have Kept It Inside. Now It Is Pouring Out.' According to Peg Tyre, the author, Japanese teachers are under great pressure to teach in new and different ways. “The government, which determines what knowledge and skills are taught, is changing the national curriculum to stress creativity, critical thinking, and self-expression. That's on top of detailed subject knowledge of history, Japanese, science, math, and English. Next year, the all-important college entrance exam (the "Center Test") will be changing, too. The goal? To spark a new generation of Japanese innovators.”
Teachers in Japan say they need to learn new ways to teach in order to meet the new standards. They are looking to America’s project or problem-based learning model (also known as challenge-based learning, or personalized learning) to guide them. According to Sato Fujiwara, who runs innovation workshops for Japanese teachers, “The big idea is that humans acquire knowledge better, faster and more deeply when they are interested and connected to the material... This kind of teaching/learning is perceived as less teacher-driven, less top-down, less about memorizing atomized facts and more about integrated knowledge.”
The changeover in teaching and learning in Japan has been difficult for teachers and students. One teacher summed it up this way, "In the beginning, it was very difficult," says Minote Shogo. "I would ask a question, and they would stop and couldn't respond. But now they are getting accustomed to it. Gradually, they are speaking about their ideas. And I see that all this time, they have kept this inside, and now it is pouring out."
We in gifted education have known and celebrated creativity as one of our five identified areas of giftedness. We know that kids have this deep desire within to question, to wonder, to create, to hypothesize and experiment, to build, draw, perform, design...and the list goes on and on. We know that the building blocks of creativity include fluency with ideas, flexibility with those ideas, originality, and elaboration. And we also know that our youngest children express creativity most freely. It is, I believe, our duty to protect the creative spirit in our children, and to keep it burning brightly as they age - in spite of often rigid and narrowed curriculums, frequent testing, and standardized learning outcomes that can stifle creative kids and teachers. As other nations are moving toward more creative teaching and learning, we in America need to fight to preserve it.
My greatest hope is that the entire world embraces and nurtures the creative spirit in all of us, and harnesses it to solve the many problems facing our existence.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
As an educator, and like all of you, I have always been keenly interested in learning. Over the years I have attended countless classes, workshops, and conferences, and often thought of these opportunities as “booster shots,” a way to keep me engaged, up-to-date, immunized against complacency and mediocrity, and strengthening me to continually grow professionally.
As WATG begins to heavily promote our annual fall conference, “Revolutionizing the Basics: Making Education WORK for Gifted Students,” at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells on October 3 and 4th, I decided to google “why attend conferences,” and to share some ideas with you, ideas from others, and some of my own.
Whether you are a student, one of our teen conference participants, a parent, an educator, an administrator, or part of the business world, and community, these reasons will get you thinking about why conferences get great minds joining together in the pursuit of knowledge.
First of all, we gain inspiration and refreshment at a conference. October is the perfect time of year to rejuvenate our thinking, to try new ideas, to meet new people, to engage in thoughtful conversation, and to renew old acquaintances and make new ones. Each year I look forward to catching up with my “tribe” of fellow gifted educators, community leaders, teens, and parents, and to meet new people and hear their stories and ideas. This networking provides valuable contacts, and opens new pathways to think about our passion for gifted kids, their families, and their education.
A second reason I am so passionate about conferences is that I get to meet my role models in person. I often joke about my two main “professional crushes,” Dr. Joyce Van-Tassel-Baska in gifted education, and Rick Wormeli in middle school education, general education, and gifted education. I have had the great fortune of working with each of them, and attending workshops and conferences where they have been keynote speakers. It is so exhilarating to be able to “pick the brain” (in real time) of someone whose work you so greatly admire. Who are your “professional crushes”? Who would you like to converse with, or ask questions and share ideas with? Perhaps this person/these people will be at our WATG conference! There is an excellent chance that you will meet someone/s who will expand your thinking, or will be a future contact to share personal or professional information. Every year, long-lasting personal and professional friendships are made and renewed at the WATG conference.
Two other great reasons to attend conferences include attending workshops that stretch your thinking, or presenting workshops to stretch the thinking of others. Our lineup of presenters and topics this year is rich and varied, and we are very proud of the people who have come forth to share their knowledge and expertise. I challenge each of you to explore some area that expands your horizons at our conference this year, and to choose to attend something like the mini-conference/cocktail hour, where you can bounce your ideas off of others.
Finally, attending a conference is an investment in your future, and the future of your children and our children. I often use the analogy that “a mind, like a rubber band, is elastic, and when it stretches, it never goes back to its exact shape.” So it is with our field of gifted education -- when we stretch ourselves by attending conferences, we will never go back to where we were -- educationally, professionally, or personally.
I look forward to touching base with all of you at our fall annual conference in October. Let’s REVOLUTIONIZE our thinking and reignite our passion and commitment!
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President and Board Advisor
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think