Sustainable Jersey: Helping NJ schools turn STEM to STEAM with art

Posted on by Heather McCall, Sustainable Jersey for Schools Program Director

STEAM SJ

I-STEAM Task Force hopes to spur next generation of innovators, educators, leaders and learners  

While the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) have been a focus of integrated learning systems in schools across New Jersey, there is a growing movement to add the “A” in “arts” to turn STEM into STEAM, acknowledging that art and science are better together than apart as drivers for innovation.

A notable group of New Jersey leaders has come together to serve on the Sustainable Jersey for Schools I-STEAM Task Force. The volunteer committee, with about 50 members, has experts from academia, the non-profit sector, the business community and state, local and federal government.

As the first step the I-STEAM Task Force is working on defining I-STEAM and will then develop new actions with best practices for the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification program.

The “I” in I-STEAM is for “integrative,” recognizing that STEAM education needs an integrative approach across the disciplines. The I-STEAM Task Force will recommend foundational action steps that need to be in place to provide a solid foundation for the integration of STEAM into classrooms and schools.

Kristin Wenger serves as the co-chair of the I-STEAM Task Force and is the co-director of the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership.

“[The NJ Arts Education Partnership] recognizes that an integrated approach to teaching and learning provides students with the knowledge and experiences needed to cultivate creative, thoughtful citizens,” Wenger said. “Including I-STEAM in Sustainable Jersey for Schools will help schools understand and implement action steps which are designed to deepen students’ understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. New Jersey has a long tradition of prioritizing the arts as an important component of student learning, which is critical to the implementation of I-STEAM in our schools.”

The New Jersey School Board Association has been training school board members and other school leaders in I-STEM/STEAM for the past four years and has hands-on experience in these areas. John Henry, an I-STEAM and Sustainable Schools Specialist and LEED Green Associate at NJSBA, is the co-chair of the Sustainable Jersey I-STEAM Task Force. John explained the importance of integrating I-STEAM, saying, “Increasing student achievement in STEAM education in New Jersey schools is critical in order to prepare them to enter the global workforce with the necessary skills to grow our economy. STEM/STEAM jobs in the United States are predicted to grow faster compared to other job sectors, thereby providing a variety of career pathways and opportunities. For our students to be successful in the technical and related fields, they must be exposed to learning environments that allow them to be creative and use design, critical

John Henry, an I-STEAM and sustainable schools specialist and LEED green associate at NJSBA, is the co-chair of the Sustainable Jersey I-STEAM Task Force. John explained the importance of integrating I-STEAM, saying, “Increasing student achievement in STEAM education in New Jersey schools is critical in order to prepare them to enter the global workforce with the necessary skills to grow our economy. STEM/STEAM jobs in the United States are predicted to grow faster compared to other job sectors, thereby providing a variety of career pathways and opportunities. For our students to be successful in the technical and related fields, they must be exposed to learning environments that allow them to be creative and use design, critical

“Increasing student achievement in STEAM education in New Jersey schools is critical in order to prepare them to enter the global workforce with the necessary skills to grow our economy,” Henry said. “STEM/STEAM jobs in the United States are predicted to grow faster compared to other job sectors, thereby providing a variety of career pathways and opportunities. For our students to be successful in the technical and related fields, they must be exposed to learning environments that allow them to be creative and use design, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills while incorporating innovative and entrepreneurial thinking.”

I-STEAM is often touted as a way for the United States to compete in a global economy that demands innovation.

Wendy Liscow, education program director at Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation said Dodge is proud to participate in the I-STEAM Task Force because “we believe wholeheartedly in the power of integrating arts into STEM teaching practices.”

“Studies have found that integrating arts instruction with other academic subjects increases student learning and achievement and helps teachers more effectively meet the needs of all students,” Liscow said. “In fact, researchers are discovering potential benefits to increasing long-term memory. As we prepare students for the 21st and 22nd century workforce we need students who are critical thinkers, creative and adaptable —all skills developed through arts practices. We need more students falling in love with STEM subjects and if we continue to teach the same way we have in the past, we will not be providing our children with the opportunities they deserve.”

Mary Reece is the director of special projects at Foundation for Educational Administration , which is the professional development division of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Associations. She is coordinating a program, funded by the Dodge Foundation, at Foundation for Educational Administration that provides professional development for “creative leadership teams” of principals, superintendents, supervisors, art specialists and other classroom teachers to collaboratively integrate the arts and the artistic process with New Jersey’s Student Learning Standards and other curricular areas.

“The schools that have incorporated arts integration in their lesson and unit planning have seen positive outcomes in student retention of content, student engagement, climate and culture and teacher practice. And, these benefits increase over time,” Reece said.

We know that when the I-STEAM Task Force creates actions that schools across New Jersey can implement, the end result will be students who are able to take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, apply learning to real-world situations and work through the creative (design) process. These kids will be the innovators, educators, leaders and learners of the 21st century and beyond.

If you are interested in learning more about the Sustainable Jersey I-STEAM Task Force, email us at Schools@sustainablejersey.com.

I-STEAM Task Force Members include representatives from:

  • The Barat Foundation
  • The Collaborative for Leadership, Education and Assessment Research (CLEAR)
  • The College of New Jersey, STEM Education Center
  • The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
  • Human Preservation Foundation/NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars
  • Livingston Public Schools, Technology & Business Education
  • Madison Board of Education
  • Middlesex County Workforce Investment Board
  • New Jersey Arts Education Partnership
  • New Jersey Business and Industry Association
  • New Jersey Department of Education, Division of Teaching and Learning
  • New Jersey Education Association
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology, Future Ready Schools
  • New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, Policy & Planning
  • New Jersey School Boards Association
  • New Jersey Technology and Engineering Educators Association
  • New Jersey Technology and Manufacturers Association
  • Northern Valley Regional High School, Supervisor of Technology
  • Piscataway Public Library, Emerging Technologies
  • Rider University
  • Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Center for Mathematics, Science, and Computer Education
  • United States Army
  • Woodrow Wilson Foundation
  • Young Audiences New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania

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