Dr. Gilmore's Blog

Images of the A in STEAM

Never Underestimate the Importance of the “A” in STEAM

  • In 2013, tech giant Google took a look at the algorithms they had used when hiring people and discovered that for Google’s top employees STEM expertise (science, technology, engineering, math) was “dead last.” Instead, the top seven characteristics of success were: “being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” They recently completed another internal study, dubbed Project Aristotle, analyzing their teams and found that the best teams also relied on soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. At the top of the list was emotional safety — ensuring that every member of the team felt respected and confident so they weren’t afraid to speak up or make mistakes. What they discovered was that STEM skills, while very valuable, weren’t enough on their own — in order to succeed, people need to excel in the soft skills that help them adapt, think on their feet, empathize and innovate.

    Are you surprised? I’m not. And if you asked our teachers, you’d probably discover they wouldn’t be surprised by these findings either.

    About a decade ago, we launched a district-wide STEM initiative that focused on providing students with an integrated curricula, equitable access to technology and talent development, and hands-on learning opportunities that prepared them for life, a career and post-secondary educational opportunities. Our goal was to ensure that our students developed 21st century skills critical to their success — collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity (the four Cs) — that would help them develop into lifelong learners with a broad skill set who could adapt and persevere in a rapidly changing job market. 

    But it soon became clear that something was missing. If we were promoting a culture in which science was given greater consideration than art, we were doing a disservice to our students. Thus, our STEM became STEAM (the A stands for Art/Design).

    Turns out, we’re not alone. Today, innovative educators across the globe have discovered the limitless potential of creating a culture in which science, technology, engineering, art/design and math are equally valued. And today, more than ever, employers are evaluating job candidates based on their curiosity, resilience and adaptability — looking for individuals with a broad skill set, who work well with others and can creatively solve problems. According to a recent article in Financial Review, employers are increasingly choosing candidates with a core degree supplemented by non-core classes in the arts.

    You might be thinking to yourself — how could an engineer/scientist/doctor/computer programmer benefit from performing in a play, taking an art class or reading classical literature?

    Today’s engineers/scientists/doctors/programmers don’t work endless hours in a laboratory alone. Thanks to digital technologies our innovators share ideas with one another around the world with a simple click of the mouse and work with highly diverse teams in open workspaces. An innovator must be able to share her ideas with others and help them visualize what her work is and why it matters — whether it’s to secure research funding or collaborate with subject matter experts across the globe. She must be open to new ideas and different perspectives so that she can improve upon and expand her ideas. She can’t be afraid to ask questions, indulge her curiosity or risk failure. She needs to be able to visualize solutions and then craft designs that are as functional as they are aesthetically pleasing and ethical. To succeed, she needs to demonstrate the value of her solution — making the science accessible, inclusive and easy for others to relate to. All of those skills are fueled by the arts. As Steve Jobs famously noted, “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

    By providing students with expansive opportunities to pursue the arts — drawing, design, music, theater, pottery, writing, literature, painting, speech — we are helping them develop skills that are critical to success in the 21st century. Research indicates that the arts:

    • Help students embrace their natural curiosity, ask questions and innovate
    • Empower students to take risks and learn from their mistakes
    • Challenge them to consider a variety of perspectives and develop the ability to empathize with others
    • Provide them with the opportunity to discover the power of collaboration
    • Teach them critical communication skills
    • Help them question and appreciate form and function

Instructor Guest Bloggers

  • We asked a number of instructors to share their thoughts on the importance of art/design and share examples of projects that integrate all aspects of STEAM. We’d like to thank these subject matter experts for giving each of us a behind-the-scenes look at these projects and the thought and effort behind them.

Out and About - Guest Bloggers

  • Art/Design as part of STEAM

    Posted by Karen Nerison on 3/7/2019

    We asked a number of instructors to share their thoughts on the importance of art/design and share examples of projects that integrate all aspects of STEAM. We’d like to thank these subject matter experts for giving each of us a behind-the-scenes look at these projects and the thought and effort behind them.

    Nicole Lunk— Art Instructor, DC Everest Middle School

    STEAM education allows us to apply creative thinking to STEM projects, igniting students’ imagination and creativity through the arts. Studying art contributes to the development of essential skills like collaboration, communication, problem solving and critical thinking. It also enhances a student’s flexibility, adaptability, productivity, responsibility and innovation. These skills are applicable for a successful career in any field of study.

    I incorporate STEAM skills and lessons in almost all of the projects in my art classes. The best way to illustrate this is with a few examples from my classroom.

    An impactful way to connect art, science and health are lessons that focus on human anatomy and how artists use this information to draw the human body. By learning what is inside the body, student artists can better draw the “outside” of the body. In class, we study the human skeleton and talk about how joints move and how the body functions. One of our lessons focuses on studying the bones in hands and then recreating that complexity in a drawing.

    Circuitry and lighting.
    I have created a lesson in which students build a circuit for a battery powered light switch. First, they design a new type of vehicle (it could be a normal car or any creative means of travel) that has to include headlights. After designing their vehicle, students attach their headlights and use copper tape wire to create the circuit that powers the light when the battery is connected. Students learn about how electricity works and discuss what they feel are the most important design factors for most vehicles. They are challenged to be creative —by inventing their own vehicle — and to incorporate design and the functionality for each part of their vehicle.

    Cardboard Arcade: On another project, I collaborated with a science teacher to create a cardboard arcade lesson in which students had to design a game that utilized a pully or lever system. They sketched their designs and then created the game out of cardboard. As part of the project, students had to use their creative and imaginative skills to make the game aesthetically pleasing so that it would attract players. Some students even crafted advertisements for their games, such as posters or short videos.

    Pour Painting: One of the student’s favorite lessons incorporates chemistry. Students research how chemicals react with paint then conduct small experiments while documenting and photographing their findings. Students record their data noting the chemicals used, the amounts utilized and the reaction. Afterward, students compare notes and share what they learned with one another. Students then create a final painting using their favorite chemical combinations.

    Environmental Studies: Often, when we recreate a piece of art that includes an animal I have my students study that animal. We talk about the animal’s habits and physical features in order to learn more about the creatures we create in our art. As an example, one of the projects involved the creation of clay toucans. Before we began constructing the toucans, we studied these exotic birds, their habitat and other rainforest animals. After we created the birds, students were challenged to create an environment for their birds to live in. We talked about all the materials these animals would need to survive and students collaborated with one another to create habitats for their clay toucans. The students LOVED to create the environments for their exotic birds and they loved thinking about and discussing what their birds needed to survive.


    pieces of art  

    Measuring and Perspective: Measurement is a key part of art, so students become adept at using rulers and other tools in our classroom. One unit that challenges students’ ability to measure and think beyond a 2D plan is our perspective unit where students study architecture and the means by which artists draw realistic buildings. Math plays a key role in this unit — students learn the mathematical equation used to to create realistic perspective drawings and use rulers to measure and draw the buildings.


    pieces of art


    History and Culture: Throughout the year, we explore history and cultures from around the world. Art history is a critical part of all world/cultural history — providing students another means of studying a culture…through its art. Once we’ve delved into the history, students then recreate artwork from that era and add their own personal style. 

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  • The Importance of the Arts

    Posted by Karen Nerison on 1/11/2019

    We asked a number of instructors to share their thoughts on the importance of art/design and share examples of projects that integrate all aspects of STEAM. We’d like to thank these subject matter experts for giving each of us a behind-the-scenes look at these projects and the thought and effort behind them.

    Wendy Vesper — Special Education Teacher, Junior & Senior Level Musical Director, Assistant Varsity Dance Coach

    Arts education can play a valuable role in helping prepare students for the future. I have witnessed firsthand how students can evolve on the stage. One of my goals has been to merge arts and athletics in order to provide students — who might never have considered getting involved in the performing arts — with an opportunity to challenge them selves in a new way. While integrating athletes during their season takes some creative scheduling, the end result has been astonishing.

    Watching kids leave their comfort zones to enter an arena where they are not “the star” has been life changing for many. They learn that students in the theatre spend as many hours fine tuning their skills as athletes do. They learn to collaborate with others, to better themselves. And they learn how to communicate their needs to their coaches and directors — and bear personal responsibility for coordinating their schedules — so as to be able to maintain their level of play on the field as well as meet the expectations of the musical director.

    Students involved in both athletics and the arts gain a broader perspective and develop respect for a different extracurricular activity. While some of the athletes may have initially been “conned” into joining by their friends, they quickly fully commit themselves. By the final performance, they are asking what musical will be done next year and whether they can be involved. The musical this year was Mamma Mia. We had athletes from the girls tennis team, the cross country team, the boys soccer team and the dance team. At first everyone was referring to the various groups, but by the end of the theatrical season they were all just “the cast of Mamma Mia.” It’s wonderful to see that evolution — from being segregated to being unified. It’s a lesson they can carry over when they go to college or future jobs.

    Another benefit of this process is listening to the athletes talk to their teammates about the theater department. In the past they may not have been skeptical, but once they get involved they stand up and defend how difficult it is to put on a musical. They take pride in being involved and support all who are. They also develop a love for the arts and appreciation for others’ talents. You don’t expect to hear a soccer player say, about the lead in the play, “I could just listen to her sing all day! She is that good!” It’s also nice to hear the theatre kids say, “Let’s go to the soccer game to cheer on the boys.”

    I am thankful that the administration and our coaches support the collaboration between sports and theater. I think it is a win-win situation for all those involved.
    Pullout quotes from students:

    Emily Vesper — DC Everest Salutatorian, Varsity Dance Team Captain- Class of 2016. Emily is currently a junior at UW-Madison majoring in Industrial and Systems Engineering, Vice President of the Society of Women Engineers and a Badger Volunteer Team Leader.

    I started drama in first grade. Thank goodness I did. I was incredibly shy as a child. Being involved in plays and musicals helped me feel comfortable in front of a group of students. I learned how to have good diction, pace myself when speaking and learned how to deliver conversation in a way to keep people interested. I think one of my strengths as a college student and at my internship this past summer is feeling confident when I give a presentation in front of a group of people.

    With musical practice, voice lessons, dance lessons and dance team practice, I had to learn to balance a very busy schedule while in high school. Being so busy, I also had to learn how to balance my schoolwork and extracurriculars. Sometimes, that caused me to be very stressed, but it also taught me valuable life lessons. I learned that I could balance being involved at school and getting good grades. When I started to feel overwhelmed, I learned early on that I couldn’t always do everything I wanted too. I’m glad I learned to balance that schedule early on, as now that I am in college I know how much I can handle and I can still get involved but not overwhelm myself.

    I learned how to communicate with my teachers, coaches and directors. Sometimes practices would conflict with rehearsals, and I would have to reschedule. Sometimes I would get overwhelmed with homework, and I would have to schedule time to get extra help from my teachers. My parents always made me do the communicating with teachers, directors and coaches. I’m glad they did, because as a college student, I know how to effectively communicate with bosses, teachers, advisors, etc.

    One of the best and most important lessons I learned from dance, voice and theater is that it is okay to take risks. Sometimes you try out for something and you don’t make it. I had to learn not to give up on myself, that not getting a part was okay, and to not be afraid to try again. I’m glad I got to practice that in high school, as now as a junior in college, I’m applying for internships and sometimes you get hired and sometimes you don’t. I’m lucky to have gone to a school where I could participate on a varsity level team and be involved in the theater arts. It would have been hard to choose one or the other, as I had friends in both areas.

    Andrew Marquardt — DCE Senior, Captain of the DCE Varsity Soccer Team.

    Last year I kind of got involved by accident. I just came into the theater to wait for a friend to give him a ride after musical practice. They were short a person and asked if I wanted to give it a try. After learning the dance, and goofing around with my friends, I decided to join the cast of Suessical. I had so much fun last year that this year I wanted to audition for the show.

    At first I was really uncomfortable around the kids who had been doing theater for many years. I had never sung or danced. I had never been on stage. I learned to adapt. With encouragement and support from others, I began to fit in. It was different from soccer, where I felt comfortable on the field. On the stage, I was not the best. It is a good life skill that I can remember when going to college or a new job. You’re not always going to fit in, but now I know if I give it time, I will. The first musical I ever went to was High School Musical at DC Everest. I remember watching a bunch of the varsity football players on stage, singing and dancing. I thought, “Wow…how did they find the time to do that and are they having fun?” Well, now I know and I’m thankful that I do. You have to learn to balance your time, and while it can get a bit crazy and tiring with all the practices, it’s totally worth it!

    TJ Knutsen — DCE Junior, 1st Team All Conference, All State Team Soccer Player.
    I have always enjoyed singing and being in choir. I did my first musical last year. I really liked it. It was fun to be able to express myself on stage. I like to sing and dance. I liked hanging out with a different group of people, rather than my athlete friends. I’ve made some new friends, and that is great!

    Matt Schafer — DCE Junior, Designated Captain for the 2019 Varsity Soccer Team
    I have been involved in theatre since 6th grade. I wasn’t going to be in the shows when I started varsity sports. However, one of the lead guys quit and they asked me to fill in at the last minute my 10th grade year. I’m glad they did, because after that I decided that I couldn’t leave my drama family.

    I have a creative side that I can’t always express on the sports field. I like the freedom to do what I like to do and not be ashamed or judged. I think having athletes participate in the musical allows us to be looked at differently, rather than just as a bunch of soccer players. We have other talents too.

    I’ve been able to make new friends, outside my fellow soccer players. I have practiced my leadership skills, as I was often the communicator/organizer between the director and the boys from the soccer team that were involved in the show. I think that while the two activities are very different, there are many similarities. Both athletes and theater arts students work hard to achieve a common goal. It takes many hours of practice to become skilled in both areas. Games are like performances, where you get to apply those skills in front of an audience.


    mia mia production images


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  • Jeanne Archiquette — Art Instructor

    Posted by Admin on 11/26/2018

    illustration of hand

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”― Albert Einstein

    This quote from Albert Einstein is the epitome of the importance and involvement of the Arts in STEAM. While industries and corporations are looking for STEM skills in the work place, many are now investigating and valuing the importance and addition of the Arts to enhance their innovation strategies. 

    In our art classes, we are constantly encouraging our students to think in innovative ways, to go beyond what is presented to them in a given project, to solve problems using their developmental skills and critical thinking. We challenge our students to develop creative and independent thoughts and their own expression to complete the final product, whether it be in the visual arts, music, drama, or dance. We cultivate their background knowledge and encourage them to continuously put theory into practice.

    A recent example of this was a simple drawing assignment for my 7thgrade art. It began with lessons on technical skills — using lines and shading values to create a three-dimensional image of a hand. Once that was complete the students were given options, and here is where the innovation began. I challenged them to think about what really goes into the use of our hands. How do we use them in our daily lives? What if that were changed or altered?

    We researched how the medical field had to do some problem solving and critical thinking to help veterans, cancer survivors and accident victims adjust to the loss of a hand and use a prosthesis. We asked: what goes into the research and development of a prosthesis? In doing so, we opened their eyes to the possibilities of engineering design as an art career and they could see first hand how Art fits into STEAM.

    We examined more connections between the visual arts in industry and engineering by watching videos from the Veteran’s Administration on prostheses engineering. They studied how their own hand moved and how to create movement in the wrists or knuckles by viewing videos where the human hand was mechanically altered to illustrate movement. All of these lessons were incorporated into variations of their hand sketches using critical thinking skills and creative innovation.

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  • Please check back for more guest blog posts!

These student-created models of skin are as creative as they are instructive. By incorporating design into this project, stud
  • These student-created models of skin are as creative as they are instructive. By incorporating design into this project, students were challenged to visualize what they had learned and create a construct.

In this example, art, design, creativity and communication are combined.  Students created narrative drawings using a random
  • In this example, art, design, creativity and communication are combined.  Students created narrative drawings using a random object selected by the teacher and then adding other objects to create a composition that tells a story. At the end of the project, they developed a written story based on their drawing.