CUSD is a STEAM District: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics

CUSD and STEAM…Why are we a STEAM District?

“Half a Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

CUSD and STEAM

There are many STEAM opportunities are available for students in 2014-15. Thank you, CSF! CUSD is fortunate to have financial support specifically earmarked for STEAM via Coronado School’s Foundation Frances Harpst legacy donation. 

Click here for CUSD's Visual and Performing Arts Strategic Plan, which is a 5 year plan outlining discreet and integrated arts education for all students. CUSD is an ArtsEmpower school district in San Diego County. 


First, let’s start with STEM…

What is STEM Literacy?

STEM literacy is the ability to identify, apply and integrate concepts from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to understand complex problems and to innovate to solve them. To understand and address the challenge of achieving STEM literacy for all students begins with understanding and defining its component parts and the relationships between them:

Scientific literacy is the ability to use knowledge in physics, chemistry, biology, and earth/space science to understand the natural world and to participate in decisions that affect it.

Technological literacy is the ability to use new technologies, understand how new technologies are developed, and have skills to analyze how new technologies affect us, our nation, and the world.

Engineering literacy is the ability to use the systematic and creative application of scientific and mathematic principles to practical ends, such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems.

Mathematical literacy is the ability to analyze, reason, and communicate ideas effectively through posing, formulating, solving, and interpreting solutions to mathematical problems in a variety of situations.


STEM School Design Principles

STEM schools employ a specific set of design principles that distinguish them from other schools.

  1. STEM embraces a comprehensive education philosophy, based on student inquiry and experience. Teaching Institute for Essential Science (TIES), Attributes of STEM Education, 2006
  2. STEM schools thrive in a connected P-16 education continuum, where students cultivate a passion for mathematics and science in the early grades and earn college credit and work experiences in the later grades. Seek-16, Workforce and School, Janice S. Morrison, February 2005
  3. STEM schools educate the “whole” child, incorporating the arts, languages and humanities into student curricula. STEM schools reflect an interdisciplinary approach, offering students the opportunity to make sense of the world around them, rather than learn isolated bits and pieces of subjects in separate forums. TIES, Attributes of STEM Education, Janice S. Morrison, 2006
  4. STEM schools engage students in the “technological design process,” using technology to meet the challenges of life. Learning Science Through Design, David L. Haury, October 2002
  5. STEM schools are collaborative and innovative, built on strong partnerships among K-12 education, higher education and business. They might be co-located on a college campus or a corporate center

So, what about STEAM?

The Arts as the Leading Edge of Education: STEAM

The focus on STEM education has been around since the 60s when the US invested in NASA programs, with a more recent re-interest to ensure US students have the skills to compete in the global economy. However, many researchers, businesses, schools, and visionaries have taken STEM one step further, and emphasized that without creativity via the arts, STEM is only part of the story, as shown in the following quote, from Harvey White, founder of Qualcomm:

Arts education is a key to creativity, and Creativity is an essential component of, and spurs innovation, and Innovation is, agreed to be necessary to create new industries in the future, and New industries, with their jobs, are the basis of our future economic wellbeing. A win-win situation – low cost – job growth and insuring the future. If we do not connect these dots, arts education will continue to be virtually extinct in our schools - and the US's economic future will be damaged.

STEAM is the inclusion of Arts with Science, Technology, Engineering, Math [STEM]. The foundation of STEAM is based on the use of both sides of the brain where convergent and divergent thinking are able to occur:

Convergent thinking is a term coined by Joy Paul Guilford as the opposite of divergent thinking. It generally means the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity, for instance in most tasks in school and on standardized multiple-choice tests for intelligence.

Divergent thinking is the essential capacity for creativity to develop original ideas that have value. The method used to generate  creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Divergent thinking is often used in conjunction with convergent thinking, which follows a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution, which in some cases is a “correct” solution. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that many ideas are generated in a random, unorganized fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn. Divergent thinking is lateral as opposed to linear. After the process of divergent thinking has been completed, ideas and information are  organized and structured using convergent thinking.

Creativity and divergent thinking are not the same. Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as the “process of having original ideas with value. Divergent thinking is the capacity for creativity.

Innovation comes from the Latin innovationem, noun of action from innovare. The Etymology Dictionary further explains innovare as dating back to 1540 and stemming from the Latin innovatus, pp. of innovare “to renew or change,” from in- “into” + novus “new”.

In order to be more “whole-brained” in their orientation, schools need to give equal weight to the arts, creativity, and the skills of imagination and synthesis. To foster a more whole-brained scholastic experience, teachers can use instruction techniques that connect with both sides of the brain. They can increase their classroom’s rightbrain learning activities by incorporating more patterning, metaphors, analogies, role playing, visuals, and movement into their reading, calculation, and analytical activities.

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan released a letter in August 2009 to School and Education Community Leaders reiterating that the arts are a core subject area and should be part of every child’s education. A narrow focus on STEM curriculum will crowd out other key curricular areas – including the arts, social studies, languages. A call for a balanced curriculum that educates the whole child brings about high achievement in all areas and offers the broadest preparation for citizenship, higher education and participation in a global economy and rapidly changing world should be the goal.