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December 12, 2019

Teaching & Education

Why STEAM curriculum is the new STEM.

A letter collage spelling out the word "STEAM."

The field of architecture scored a big win in 2018 when the United States House of Representatives passed bipartisan bill H.R. 2353, allowing states to use federal money to pay for and rejuvenate career and technical education (CTE) curriculum. While federal funds have been approved for this use before, states can now use federal funds to create their own versions of CTE and STEM education—STEM being science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—to meet the demands of the job market. It also included language that recognized architecture—along with such subjects as coding and computer science—as a STEM field. For many states and schools, this opened up the possibility of adding architecture to their STEM curricula.

Traditionally, obtaining a STEM education has been viewed as the key to a successful career with great earning potential. Many even consider STEM fields more important to the job market than the arts and the humanities. But with architecture's inclusion in STEM, educators can combine science with art to create educational and career advancement opportunities for their students.

Architecture's barriers to STEM.

Architecture had faced significant barriers to STEM inclusion. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that public investment in K–12 education has been slashed in many states over the past decade. Without funding, many school districts have discontinued or limited instruction in the arts and humanities.

Additionally, 42 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core State Standards, which map out the skills students should learn in each grade level. Common Core benchmarks are designed to test student's abilities, but meeting these benchmarks consumes considerable time and classroom resources. In many cases, there simply isn't enough time left over for electives, such as architecture, which includes a strong focus on the arts.

Adding the "A" to STEM.

Despite these barriers, educators and architects have led discussions about whether to consider architecture a STEM field for years. With the passage of H.R. 2353, schools around the nation are expanding STEM to STEAM, including an "A" for architecture in their course offerings. The decision has to do, in part, with the over $1 billion in technical and career education grants now available to states.

But beyond that, school districts are adopting STEAM curriculum to help boost numbers of architects around the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs for architects will grow approximately 8 percent by 2028. This growth reflects increased demand for architects with a knowledge of green, or sustainable, design. Other factors, such as the aging population of the U.S., means there will be more need for updated healthcare facilities. And as the construction industry continues to rebound from the 2008 recession, the increased demand for homes, offices, and other structures will continue. As part of STEAM education, architecture teaches both creative and practical principles that are necessary for a changing culture.

The benefits of STEAM.

STEM education is important. It answers fundamental questions about life and helps us understand how and why the world around us works. But unlike other STEM subjects, architecture combines the arts and sciences. At its very core, architecture requires ingenuity and problem-solving skills in addition to a thorough understanding of mathematics, science, and technology. Without these skills, our world wouldn't exist as it does today.

Nearly everything we come in contact with is designed, whether it's the clothes we wear or the communities we live in. Architecture connects students to the real world and the job market through imagination and curiosity, allowing students to apply their ingenuity to hypothetical situations. This is how the real world functions—instead of relying solely on the sciences, most jobs require a mix of creativity and technical knowledge.

It took years for architecture to become part of STEAM curriculum, but now that it's here, numerous opportunities could open to students who are interested in architecture. Increased funding for STEAM courses will also help draw more students to architecture, and ultimately, help fill the labor gaps in the architecture field.

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