Full STEAM Ahead!

I don’t tend to jump on buzzwords in education, but after reading countless articles and blog posts and sitting in on a few conference sessions about STEAM education (that’s science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), I was hooked. What I like best about this concept of STEAM is that it is something all good arts educators already know how to do: arts integration! For years now our principals have asked us music, art, dance, and drama teachers to integrate with other subjects, but it tended to be only the social studies and writing teachers who approached us. With this new emphasis on including the arts into STEM education, it’s like we have finally received the green light to collaborate with the science and math teachers we’ve been longing to work alongside. Well, perhaps that’s just me, as I’ve always felt a greater inclination towards math, science, and technology. But regardless, any time the arts can be purposefully integrated into a lesson is a win in my planbook!

Yet, that leads me to the focus of what will be my further investigation into STEAM education. I am curious to know how the arts – music specifically – can be purposefully integrated into a STEM lesson. Arts should not be the icing on the proverbial cake in a STEM lesson; they should be part of the batter, folded into the STEM lesson plan with a gentle hand to ensure all subject areas are carefully blended together. Movement in dance is taught alongside the solar system. Rhythmic notation is taught alongside fractions. Improvisational acting is taught alongside atomic molecules. Song form is taught alongside audio recording technology. Thus I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the book “No Permission Required: Bringing STEAM to Life in K-12 Schools” by Susan M. Riley, which proposes a structure for a meaningful integration of arts and STEM so that all content areas are addressed, side by side, in the same lesson. Riley writes, “[STEAM] integration is the intentional act of finding, aligning, teaching and assessing two or more naturally-connected standards equitably with integrity to both content areas” (2014, p. 16). Riley then proceeds to outline a “STEAM Cycle” to help teachers prepare meaningful STEAM lessons in their own classrooms (which can be viewed at the EducationCloset’s website here.)

MakeyMakey kits
MakeyMakey kits received from DonorsChoose

In my own music classroom, I am only just beginning to explore this concept of purposefully integrating music with STEM learning. I received a huge jump start on this endeavor when a DonorsChoose plea for MakeyMakey invention kits was fulfilled in a matter of days this summer, providing me with some fun new toys to utilize with my students that connect technology, basic coding, and music. Plus I have four littleBits Synth Kits – purchased with a grant received from the Illinois Computing Educators –  that have also allowed me to connect the science of sound production with music composition in my classroom.

But this is only the beginning of my investigation into STEAM education, and I look forward to continuing my pursuit. And, of course, I am happy to share my learning along the way; I have already presented on STEAM at the Illinois Golden Apple’s Teachers for Tomorrow conference in September 2014 (view my presentation here) and have future presentations on STEAM and maker education in the music classroom at the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference on February 27, 2015 and at the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) conference on March 20, 2015. And, I’ll be posting much more about my journey into STEAM here on my blog in the coming months!


Riley, S. (2014). No permission required: Bringin S.T.E.A.M. to life in K-12 schools. Westminster, MD: Visionyst Press.