Just like our economy ebbs and flows, we also hear a lot about shifting emphasis in the education world. Schools will focus for a time on the basics of reading, writing, and math. Then for several years schools focus on subjects such as art, science, and social studies, expecting that students will “just learn” the basics through these highly engaging activities.
The task of curriculum director in our district is to find the right emphasis where we can prepare all our students to be reflective, highly engaged, flexible learners who have all the tools necessary to be engaged citizens who contribute positively to their community and become productive contributors to our economy. In Juneau, our economic development efforts include emphasis on developing the capacity to innovate, primarily through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) enrichment activities. We maintain this focus because innovation is the principal driver of economic growth and competitiveness.
During National Arts in Education Week, let’s remember that STEM and the Arts both play critical roles in developing our young talent and that STEM and the Arts do not need to live in a separate place from reading, writing, and math. Math, obviously, is already a part of STEM. However, the teaching of math is not always connected to the application activities that STEM and the Arts provide. Students will often learn reading and writing within STEM and Arts activities — but not all do, and many do not become proficient at those skills without ongoing explicit skill instruction. Students often learn how to think creatively, flexibly. But not all learn it as well without the practice that comes through the productive struggle of creating art or struggling with phenomena in science. There is a place for learning how words work together, just as there is a place for learning how to choreograph a class play, or to conduct a study of a local ecosystem.
How do we bring these needs together through integrated and place-based instruction? How do we keep our eyes fixed on ensuring all students graduate from our system proficient readers, writers, and mathematicians? How do we graduate students who are deep and reflective thinkers and lifelong learners? How do we ensure our graduates have the creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills the workplace expects of them?
We know that we can integrate the Arts and STEM into the reading, writing, and math curriculum. It takes time and a ton of communitywide collaboration to establish a truly effective curriculum that can be guaranteed for every student, no matter their school or teacher placement. This is work worth doing.
• This is a monthly column about Science Technology Engineering and Math in Juneau, written by a rotating group of Juneau STEM Coalition members. Brian Holst is the executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council. Ted Wilson is the director of teaching and learning support for the Juneau School District.