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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Learning by Design--Common Sense, Common Core, and Tools for a STEM to STEAM Approach

By Victor Rivero - Posted May 1, 2014
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The ancient Greeks seemed to have left our 21st-century Western world with a rusty key in a day and age of teaching to the test, standardization, and education of the masses. “Techne” (pronounced tek’ nee) is an interesting and useful word that potentially unlocks quite a bit of quality in the education sector.

From the Greek for “crafts-manship,” “craft,” or more generally, “art,” the word describes making or doing something versus what more philosophical definitions of art or knowledge might imply. Mechanic arts, or how to do something in a craftlike way, is another way to define the word “techne.” Craftsmanship implies several things: someone skilled; a focused approach; a product imbued with a whole lot of quality, you could say.

It’s no surprise that Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), a place that knows and exudes techne, is a staunch advocate and leader in what it calls a STEM to STEAM movement. Of course, STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, an education movement devised and promoted recently to encourage more American students to pursue those areas of study.

Add in an “A” for the “Arts,” an embarrassingly oft-neglected and even sidelined sector not traditionally regarded as a core subject, and you have an acronym that is picking up, well, momentum—even if it puffs a picture of a 19th-century mode of getting somewhere, or the sci-fi alternative history subgenre made popular through movies such as Wild Wild West (1999).

Nonetheless, with increasingly widespread adoption and integration of Common Core’s Next Generation Science Standards and Visual and Performing Art Standards (have a look at Contra Costa County Office of Education’s STEAM News and Events for one example:, and with educators seeking solutions to combine the best features in a cross-discipline approach to science and the arts, the time to move from STEM to STEAM has come. Here we present a list of tools, resources, and good reads in this area of Common Core and STEM to STEAM:

STEM TO STEAM. This is a movement championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations, and individuals. Its objective is to transform research and policy to put art and design at the center of STEM, encourage it in K–20 education, and influence employers to hire artists and designers in driving innovation. Find out more at its website:

ARTS INTEGRATION AND COMMON CORE. Among the treasure trove of insightful articles on Edutopia, Susan Riley’s take on the use of arts integration to enhance Common Core, is a gem worth looking at. Science and the arts are both processes with shared features; Riley shares tips and tricks on implementation strategies and offers up further resources on artful thinking science:

MAKER MOVEMENT. The tech-influenced do-it-yourself (DIY) community that has come to be identified as the Maker Movement is alive and well in the Bay Area, among other places across the country. From microcontrollers to 3D printing for innovation in manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, technology and education—hobbyists, enthusiasts, educators, students, and others are making a party out of it, and it looks like fun:

ROBOTS FOR EDUCATION. At the most recent South by Southwest festival, RobotsLAB came out a real winner. Teaching Math and Science Using Robots is a complete educational kit in a box. There is something artful about having your students build their own mobile robots and silencing all those students who might ask what they will ever need all these equations for anyway. Quadratic equations? Build a quadcopter. Precalculus? Build a robot that demonstrates such a core concept:

STRING THEORY SCHOOLS. Jason Corosanite, chief operating officer for the Philadelphia-based charter school management organization, has put together a unique and expanding approach to school. His vision includes iPad initiatives, orchestras, and a science curriculum that places a high value on STEAM, on techne, and on a quality “classical contemporary” education experience. Have a look at this video that captures some of the exhilaration:

RADIX ENDEAVOR. With this artfully done massively multiplayer online game, middle and high school students get their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a familiar and aesthetic format, a product of MIT’s Education Arcade and Scheller Teacher Education Program, delivering an immersive (and addicting) virtual learning experience that any student would reach for:

SCOOT & DOODLE. Educators can get students creating and collaborating in virtual teams, where they can brainstorm, proto-type, and problem-solve together. Teachers upload their own educational content such as math, science, and storytelling. A great tool for science, art, and science and art together:

STATE OF CREATE. In this global benchmark study on attitudes and beliefs about creativity at work, school, and home, Adobe presents how creativity is the key to driving economic growth, the relationship between productivity and creativity, and which country in the world is seen as the most creative (feel free to disagree):

GETTING SMART. This fascinating and popular blog about education technology, leadership, and learning is big on innovations that customize and motivate learning and extend access for all students, hence it features Walter Bracken STEAM Academy in Las Vegas. The beauty, interest, and positive energy is palpable as the school moves forward in setting an example of the value of STEAM in education:

MORE STEAM ACADEMIES. While you’re at it, have a look at a few other great STEAM Academies elsewhere:

STEAM EDU. A framework for teaching across the disciplines, this worthwhile site provides a slew of resources and does well to describe how inter-relationships of STEAM subjects relate to real life. The resources emphasize FUNctionality, as it’s called, and demonstrate how fun and easy STEAM is to actually implement in your schools and classrooms. Check out a great introductory video on STEAM on its home-page:

We hope we have inspired you to see what some of the ancient Greeks may have seen when they built a civilization we still admire today, one that we can take to a higher level with our current state of technology. All we need to do is learn to develop a techne approach to teaching, learning, and education as we all move full STEAM ahead.

Contact Victor at

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