I Wrote a Children’s Play About Integrating the Arts into STEM Fields – Here’s What I Learned About Encouraging Creative, Interdisciplinary Thinking

Science and art are often described as completely different things. That narrative can start from the beginning, encouraging children to pursue a STEM education (short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that may or may not include an arts education.

As an acting teacher, I had never given much thought to STEM fields until I received a grant to integrate the arts into STEM educational models. I took the opportunity to write and direct a play for elementary students that showed how the arts can enhance and expand work in STEM fields when properly integrated, but it was not an easy process.


It remains a debate whether STEM should be expanded to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) with the addition of the arts.

The origins of STEM education date back to the Morrill Act of 1862, which promoted agricultural sciences and later engineering at land-grant universities. In 2001, the National Science Foundation pushed a focus on STEM education to make the United States more globally competitive.

A Biden-Harris initiative launched in December 2022 called You Belong in STEM offers more than $120 billion in support for K-12 STEM education through 2025. But, as of 2012, the U.S. Research Council The United States has explored the idea of ​​a STEAM Education.

Researchers have found that when integrated into STEM education, the arts leave room for curiosity and innovation. So what is the reason for the lack of agreement and consistency on whether it should be STEM or STEAM?

The bias toward emphasizing a STEM education could be driven by the higher future salaries of STEM careers or significant funding that is more related to STEM-based research and grants than the arts. A STEAM education requires more time and is more complex than a traditional STEM educational model.

Or it could simply be that many academics in STEM fields lack the incentive for interdisciplinary work that incorporates the arts, and vice versa. In fact, that was exactly the position I found myself in when an arts researcher asked me to create something about STEM disciplines I knew very little about.

Putting the work

It took me several tries and a lot of research to get the script for my STEAM-focused play into its current form.

At first I made basic discoveries. I learned that there is a debate about whether the arts should be included in STEM education. I learned that “soft sciences” like psychology are not included in many STEM educational models. I lacked experience in most of the disciplines included in STEM. And I struggled to find a project that inspired me.

But eventually I started working on five one-act plays, called “The STEAM Plays: Using the Arts to Talk About STEM.” Each focused on a category of STEAM education. I wrote the first draft of the program resentfully, trying to prove that the arts really belonged in STEM education.

The tone was defensive and provocative, and not entirely appropriate for the elementary age group I was focusing on.

The new revised version that toured Michigan elementary schools in the fall of 2023 contains 20 short comedic scenes and songs that dramatize how the arts are integral to many STEM fields. These include how engineering skills are used to design a celebrity’s evening dress, how bakers need to know some basic chemistry, and how TikTok’s mathematical algorithms find new videos for each user.

In each of the scenes, students can see how artistic imagination and creative thinking expand STEM education.

'The STEAM Plays' in action.  Artists, from left: Alex Spevetz, Marcus Pennington, Zoe Dorst, Cassidy Williams and Olivia Hagar.  Rob Roznowski

‘The STEAM Plays’ in action. Artists, from left: Alex Spevetz, Marcus Pennington, Zoe Dorst, Cassidy Williams and Olivia Hagar. Rob Roznowski

Beyond the stage

These themes arise from a broader academic understanding that STEM is not done in a creativity vacuum, and stimulating students’ artistic thinking will help them both in the science classroom and in the art studio.

One plot point of the show involves an evil genius who views the arts as less important and tries to keep them out of STEM. He swaps the bodies of a scientist and an actor, as well as an engineer and a creative writer. In each body swap, the STEM professional and the artist recognize how similar their works are. In the final scene, the evil genie attempts to switch the bodies of Pythagoras and Taylor Swift, only to realize that music has to do with mathematics.

This article is part of Art & Science Collide.a series that examines the intersections between art and science.

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Many teachers have provided glowing reviews. “The works did an excellent job of highlighting the importance and value of the arts in our educational system,” noted one. “Students walked away enjoying themselves and having a deeper understanding of how all the different aspects of STEAM were able to work together collaboratively.

A STEAM education in which students learn social skills such as empathy, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and creativity through the arts helps prepare students for the workforce. And these discussions are not just limited to K-12 education: many research grants encourage interdisciplinary work.

My understanding of the STEM and STEAM debate and my experience writing, producing, and watching how people respond to my show have helped me understand how the arts are necessary for every student’s education. I learned that without artistic imagination, STEM students’ global thinking skills can be stifled.

I just needed to write a play for children to get it.

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit news organization bringing you data and analysis to help you understand our complex world.

It was written by: Rob Roznowski, michigan state university.

Read more:

Rob Roznowski received funding from Michigan State University from two places. As part of the STEAMpower https://grad.msu.edu/news/steampower-facultystaff-fellows $10,000 scholarship and the Humanities and Arts grant proposal system. https://research.msu.edu/humanities-and-arts-research-program The first fellowship covered writing and research. The HARP was awarded for the tour and the design of the work. $7000

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