Putting 3D printers in schools is taking steps forward to bring the arts back in the curriculum in a new found way by combining technology with creativity to generate new ways for students to learn basic educational components such as math, history, and geography. Tom and Tracy advocate why the “A” should be added to traditional STEM programs and curriculum to develop critical thinking as it relates to 3D print design.
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Critical Thinking is Taught Through Art, not Sciences
We have a good one today that started partially from a question from a listener, but also delves into another subject we have wanted to talk about for a while. It’s obvious from it being “WTFFF?!” that we are very comfortable throwing out acronyms here. We forget sometimes that we have newbies in the audience or international audiences who don’t always understand the terms that we are using.
One of them came to us from outside of the country and asked what STEM and STEAM are. That’s a valid question, and shame on us for not defining it sooner. A lot of people in the U.S. know what it means, particularly those in the education field where we have a lot of teachers and students listening. We are going to address it quickly and then move onto a bigger picture subject related to this.
STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM is Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, so we add the Arts in there. If you have listened to the podcast, you know we are big proponents of adding the A and making it STEAM so that we are adding the arts.
Our reason for STEAM instead of STEM isn’t just because we have the perspective of coming from art school, but it also comes from growing up. My dad was a liberal arts major and went into the engineering world; he worked for a big engineering corporation and was really upset that I didn’t want to become an engineer, but rather an artist instead. However, what it really was was that he was a liberal arts major and believed in literature; it was always in our house. Critical thinking comes more from the arts than through the sciences, technology, and math. That is a bit controversial, so I’m going to need to explain it a bit more to get to the meat behind that.
Technology and science and math would not progress if someone didn’t critically think about ways to violate the rules. There are rules in math and science, and your job is to prove those rules. You have a hypothesis and prove it out in science. You start with a proof in math and go through the formula of what that is. That is the essence and basis of those things. There is nothing wrong with that. But at some point you have to critically think to violate that, to do something innovative, to do something disruptive, to do something that is outside the normal connection of that straight mathematical process.
When you do that, learning that critical thinking process comes from the arts, humanities, literature, people being critical, criticizing, and getting your mind to think in that way, getting your mind not to accept the rules. I am a big proponent of continuing to make sure that all of our science, technology, engineering, and math has a component that forces the critical thinking through it, that forces the creativity into it. Otherwise, you’re just teaching someone how to use a 3D printer. You are not teaching someone how to create using a 3D printer, how to do something else with a 3D printer, to make it their own.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a process by which this works. You have to learn how the machine runs. You have to learn these technical things. But that is not the goal of education. That is the means to an end. That’s why I want to keep arts in there because it forces that into the process. It makes that happen. Our schools are set up in a way to try to eliminate deviation, to cut its conformity, so whenever possible, we try to build in opportunity for essays in our English classes so it’s not just a question and answer thing. It’s not cut and dry. That’s what we want everybody to come out of school with: the ability to critically think because that is how we are going to move things along.
In these communities, schools, and universities, the old term we see people use to describe classes and curriculums and pursuits go after involving 3D printing were just STEM. That was the first real term that they used. They left out the arts. We see over time that they are including the A, and more of them are calling it STEAM rather than STEM. It’s really sad to me, especially in the United States, and hopefully not in the other countries some of you may be in, but the arts really got left behind with school budgets.
We had art in our schools growing up, but then our kids have a traveling art teacher they maybe see once a month in our public schools. I had that here in the Irvine Unified School District here in California. In the 80’s you had that. That’s terrible. Yes, we had a teacher who came every six weeks. That’s horrible. We had it in our schools throughout our schooling in the Northeast. It really has been cut back so much.
One of the great things that 3D printing is helping to do is bring the arts back into the schools. It forces that creativity into the curriculum again in the classes where it might not have been as logical, but I think that really what it is doing, and you and I believe this strongly because we believe that our design process is a process of thinking. We can innovatively think our way to solutions for any problem that arises. We also feel comfortable doing it every day in our artistic endeavors. It’s a comfort level with that critical thinking. It’s a comfort level with that problem-solving. We don’t feel uncomfortable when the answer isn’t cut-and-dry, yes-no, ABCD. We are comfortable in that world.
I always have appreciated that my college education taught me how to think more than anything else. Yes, there were actual techniques I had to learn of many different things, but really what our art school taught us was how to think. Whenever we approach a project, it’s always a thought process first, and then how we are going to execute that. Then you have rules and limitations and use tools.
Final Thoughts on Critical Thinking is Taught Through Arts, Not Science
Coming up, we are going to have an interview with STEAM Maker Workshop, which is out of San Diego, the one that our Teacher of the Year Cindi Schulze referred us to as to who hired her. They put the A in their STEAM Maker Workshop for a reason because they want to encourage innovation and not invention. They believe strongly that innovation comes from that arts and critical thinking. I love the idea of that.
We hope this explains why we use the terms STEM and STEAM and why we feel so strongly that the arts belong with our science, technology, engineering, and math. Those basic questions are why we are here, so if we are not defining something, send us a message. Please let us know. We’re sorry we overlooked that.
Just a last tidbit on that. He even asked a follow-up question as to what an acronym means because that is a very English thing as well. An acronym is a word that is created from the first letter of a bunch of other words to shorten something that you’re talking about. It’s a new word that is created from the first letter of a bunch of other words. FFF is Fused Filament Fabrication. WTFFF is What The FFF. It is all an acronym. It happens when you get within an industry that you start throwing around terms. We write 3DP all the time, which is 3D Printing.
We get focused and forget we have new people who don’t know what we are talking about, and we just make it more difficult for them by the mere fact that we forget to define them at least some point in the process. We are going to try to be better about that. Never be afraid to reach out to us and ask us a simple question like that. That’s an easy one for us to answer, and we do answer them. Serve ‘em up.
- Teaching Kids 3D Printing and Developing STEAM Education with John Bolka
- STEAM Maker Workshop Interview with Victor Ciccarreli
- Studies in 3D Print Curriculum with Cindi Schulze
- Engaging Girls in STEAM Education with Suz Somersall
- Ask Tom and Tracy Anything – Submit a Question
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