The Importance of Early and Persistent Arts and Crafts Education for Future Scientists and Engineers
Robert Root-Bernstein*, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology
Michele Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, College of Arts and Letters
Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA 48824
Like Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, modern-day innovators in science and engineering are usually artists and craftsmen as well. There are practical reasons that this is so, for theirs is the task of converting ethereal ideas and provisional theories into the material objects and machines that do work in the real world. Understanding the many ways in which arts and crafts make possible innovation in sciences and engineering will enable society to develop the full potential of students in those fields.
Arts and crafts teach skills of relevance to STEM education outcomes:
K-12 curricula in most school systems focus on mathematical and verbal skills, but the ability to succeed in science and engineering requires a broader range of skills that can be, and often are, taught through arts and crafts. Arts- and crafts-trainable skills that have proven to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) success in K-12 classrooms include the following “thinking tools”:
1) observing (Checkovich & Sterling, 2001; Stein, et al., 2001);
2) imaging and visualization (Ferguson, 1977; Ferguson, 1992; Root-Bernstein, 1989; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2005; Root-Bernstein, et al. 2008);
3) abstracting (Root-Bernstein, 1991; Bennedsen & Caspersen, 2008);
4) pattern recognition and pattern invention (Silvia, 1977; Burton, 1982; Hopkins, 1984; Pasnak, et al., 1987; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Harvard, 2008);
5) analogizing (Glynn, 1991; Treagust, et al., 1992; Harrison & Treagust, 1993, 1994; Thiele & Treagust, 1994; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Coll, et al., 2005);
6) dimensional thinking (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Dodick & Orion, 2003; Steiff, et al., 2005; Kastens & Ishikawa, 2006);
7) modeling (Welden, 1999; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Gilbert, et al., 2000; Ewing, et al., 2003; Steiff, Bateman &Uttal, 2005; Musante, 2006; Starfield & Salter, 2010);
8) body or kinesthetic thinking (Druyan, 1997; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2005; Robson, 2011);
9) manual dexterity (Wilson, 1982; Root-Bernstein, 1989);
10) familiarity with tools (Taylor, 1963; Root-Bernstein, et al., 1995; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013);
11) transforming data into visual or graphical forms (Wilson, 1972; Root-Bernstein, 1989; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999);
12) converting theories into mechanical procedures (Wilson, 1972; Root-Bernstein, 1989; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999);
14) and understanding data and experiments kinesthetically and empathetically (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Dow, et al., 2007; Riess, et al., 2012; Chan, et al., 2012).
STEM professionals utilize the full range of these skills but textbooks fall short:
Our (unpublished) data on 235 mid-career scientists and engineers reveal widespread use of all the thinking tools listed above. They utilize imaging and visualization as often as logic, and rely on modeling, patterning, observing or analogizing as well as abstracting, playing, empathizing, kinesthetic thinking, manipulative skills, and other explicitly “artistic” and “craftsman-like” forms of thinking.
Despite actual science practice, we have additional unpublished data showing that science textbooks above the 8th grade level tend to teach only four of the above thinking skills besides logic: observing, analogizing, modeling, and patterning. Imaging and visualizing, abstracting, dimensional thinking, kinesthetic and empathetic thinking, as well as the ability to transform data or convert ideas into material procedures, go virtually untrained in science class.
STEM professionals acknowledge the arts and crafts for critical skill development:
In ongoing studies we have found that many scientists and engineers are explicitly aware that they developed critical skills through their arts and crafts training (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). More than 80% of these scientists and engineers affirm, in fact, that arts and crafts education should be required as part of STEM education (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013).
Indeed, the full range of thinking tools are best learned through arts and crafts experiences, whether these experiences are integrated into science instruction or not. Furthermore, there are specific associations between skill and art form, e.g., abstracting with abstract visual art; empathizing and playacting with theater arts; modeling with crafts and sculpture; crafts with manipulative skills, etc. (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999). Given the importance of abstracting, empathizing, modeling and more to STEM professionals, arts and crafts can provide STEM students valuable training in the skills, knowledge and methods they will require to succeed.
Arts and crafts experience is highly correlated with STEM Success:
In our ongoing studies of scientists and engineers we have found that significant arts and crafts experience is highly correlated with professional success in science and engineering as measured by outcomes such as major prizes and honors, patents, or the founding of new high tech companies (Root-Bernstein, et al., 1995; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2004; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2008; Lamore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013).
One of the most notable results of our research is that no particular art or craft confers advantage over any other: dance, music, drama, painting, sculpting, printmaking, photography, making and composing music, metal- and woodwork are all correlated with increased probability of success. The operant factor is not the type of art or craft, but the early introduction to arts and crafts in elementary and middle school years followed by persistent practice of that art or craft into adulthood.
We have also found that while exposure to arts and crafts can occur in a school setting, formal education is not a requirement for the observed correlation to success: arts and crafts classes in school are often supplemented or replaced by private lessons, informal mentoring at home or in community centers, or even by self-teaching. Again, the key element is not how an art or craft is learned, but how long it is pursued. Skill and knowledge transfer to science and technology arenas is, in short, most likely to occur as a result of arts and crafts mastery.
Current arts exposure K-16 is inadequate to STEM needs:
Given that most states within the U.S. and most countries around the world marginalize arts and crafts education, providing students with no more than an hour of such education per week and with no more than one or two arts or crafts throughout their entire schooling, our findings have clear policy implications for a wide range of parties (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). Students interested in pursuing a science or engineering career must recognized that their formal K-12 schooling is unlikely to prepare them adequately in the range of skills they will need to reach the top of their field.
STEM students, their parents, and those providing STEM education opportunities need to understand the inadequacies of standard STEM education. Arts and crafts are necessary supplements to the standard K-12 STEM curriculum. Educators and those setting educational policy must recognize that there is a robust literature linking success in science and engineering to skills such as observing, imaging and visualizing, abstracting, analogizing, empathizing, and modeling that are developed by arts and crafts training (reviewed above). Arts and crafts are not, therefore dispensable frills that can be eliminated from curricula whenever budgets need to be cut, but essential elements of science and engineering education.
Finally, legislators need to understand the practical value that lies in the skills taught through arts and crafts so that they are willing to provide robust funding not only for formal K-12 arts and crafts curricula, but also for community centers, after-school programs associated with arts and crafts centers, museum- and concert hall-based educational programs, and other forms of informal arts and crafts education.
We therefore make the following suggested actions:
1) All stakeholders, including legislators, school boards, educators, parents and students, should be informed of the value of arts/crafts to STEM education.
The scientific and technological value of arts and crafts education must be made evident through educational initiatives directed at the voting public, legislatures, school boards, educators, schools of education, parents and students. Each of these stakeholders requires a different type of information delivered in an appropriate medium and formulation (PBS special; editorials; white papers; curriculum revisions; etc.)
2) An organization should be established to lobby for arts/crafts in STEM education.
An organization that can act as a lobbyist for the scientific and technological value of arts and crafts can educate and influence legislators, school boards, etc. This organization must produce clear position statements embodied in appropriate educational literature and supported by adequate research.
The following specific points must be made in order to influence stakeholders and harness the innovative potential of arts and crafts for transforming science and technology:
3) Arts and crafts education must begin early and progress well beyond introductory levels if it is to promote STEM learning.
The best correlate we have of positive impact on science and engineering innovation in later life is an early introduction to arts and crafts. Those people who do not receive early and intensive arts and crafts education are very unlikely to take up an art or craft later in life (LaMore, et al, 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). Moreover, those people who transfer their arts and crafts skills to science and engineering problem-solving are not those with a smattering of instruction, but those who have advanced in an art or craft over many years.
4) Arts and crafts education must be continuous and sustained from childhood through maturity if it is to have an impact STEM achievement.
Our data show that individuals with sustained participation in arts and crafts with some degree of mastery are much more likely to become innovative scientists and engineers than those who participate in an art or craft for only a few years, presumably at introductory levels (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013).
5) Arts and crafts education must be widely available and easily accessible across the socio-economic board if it is to open STEM training and practice to historically disadvantaged groups such as women and minorities (Lownds, et al., 2010).
Our data (Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013) and that of Catterall (2010) suggest that arts-and-crafts training levels the playing field for individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds, making them much more likely to succeed in science and engineering professions and to return the investment society makes in them by inventing patents and founding new companies.
6) Arts and crafts education designed to promote STEM education must be supported not only in schools but also through community programs, formal and informal mentoring, arts-related business initiatives and the out-reach programs of museums, symphonies and other public arts institutions.
Our data show that arts and crafts education occurs as frequently outside of school systems as in them and therefore must be viewed as a synergistic system. Such a system of mutually supportive organizations can provide exposure to a variety of arts in a variety of venues as well as access to training, materials, exhibition and performance spaces at near-professional levels for those sustaining avocational arts interests and practice (Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). Everyone from business people to arts and crafts entrepreneurs and independent music and performance teachers have a stake in this system.
7) Arts and crafts must be placed on a par with language skills, mathematics and sciences in school and university curricula because the arts train equally important skills and convey equally important knowledge (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999 and references provided above).
Everyone desiring to improve our student’s capacity for creativity and innovation is a stakeholder in this change.
8) Arts and crafts teachers must be granted the same status as language, mathematics and science teachers, and equivalent amounts of time in the school day to work with their students (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).
Teachers are the main stakeholders in this suggested action. Without this change in the system, the changes in the curriculum necessary to promote arts-assisted STEM innovations cannot be implemented.
In order to achieve the last six goals listed above, arts and crafts education should emphasize elements of creative education often ignored by other disciplines (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999) including, but not limited to the following:
9) Arts and crafts education should emphasize the universal processes of invention in addition to the acquisition of specific disciplinary knowledge (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).
Creative thinking partakes of both domain general and domain specific processes involving, respectively, generative and compositional stages of thought and action (Sternberg, et al., 2004).
10) Arts and crafts education should emphasize the intuitive and imaginative skills necessary to foster invention.
The current education system tends to confuse the means by which we communicate (languages, mathematics, pictures, sounds, movements) with the ways in which we think and create. Creative thinking actually begins for people in all disciplines with pre-verbal sensations, emotions, visions, body feelings and tensions that are explored and exploited by artists and craftspeople of all sorts (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999). We must teach our students how to use these emotions, feelings and sensations if we wish to nurture their creative capacities.
11) Arts and crafts education should be integrated into the general curriculum by using a common descriptive language for creative and innovative processes.
The 13 “tools for thinking” as described by Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein (1999) provide a basic vocabulary that can be used by students, teachers and parents in an integrated and mutually reinforcing manner.
12) Arts and crafts education, while developing necessary disciplinary skills and knowledge, should emphasize the trans-disciplinary nature of those skills and knowledge in order to promote skill and knowledge transfer to science and engineering practices (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).
It is a well-established pedagogical principle that knowledge transfer is promoted by teaching students that their knowledge CAN be transferred. Observing, for instance, can be taught in an art or dance class and explicitly transferred for use in a biology class. Patterning can be developed in a painting or music class and applied in a math class. In this way arts and crafts education can be integrated into existing educational curricula, improving them and making them more efficient (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).
13) Arts and crafts education should focus on the experiences of individuals and institutions notably bridging disciplines as exemplars of the trans-disciplinary nature of innovation (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).
Providing explicit examples of how polymathic individuals such as Leonardo da Vinci have managed skill and knowledge transfer is likely to be particularly effective.
Finally, new forms of research need to be funded and undertaken in order to provide the data-driven arguments necessary to convince legislators, school boards, educators and parents that arts education will boost STEM skills and knowledge:
14) Further research is necessary to establish that the hands-on practice of arts and crafts improves STEM education outcomes such as improved standardized test scores, graduation rates, enrollment in STEM majors in college, etc.
The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as private philanthropic foundations, should be encouraged to fund such research.
15) Further research is necessary to establish that the value of arts and crafts for STEM education resides in the development and exercise of tools for thinking that encompass observing, imaging, abstracting, patterning, analogizing, empathizing, modeling, playing, dimensional thinking, etc. (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).
While some studies exist in some STEM subjects for select age groups for each of these thinking tools, the generality of the findings has not been established across all STEM subjects or age groups, nor has the impact of training in more than one thinking tool at a time been investigated. Once again, the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as private philanthropic foundations, should be encouraged to fund such research.
16) Finally, there appears to be no information about the arts and crafts experiences of legislators, school board members, or education faculty, yet this information is necessary if we are to address effectively the prejudices these groups currently have against arts and crafts in education.
The National Endowment for the Arts and private foundations supporting arts education should be encouraged to establish research programs in this area. Informed outreach to these groups in ways that address their particular concerns may prove critical to the effective promotion of arts and crafts education, not only for the sake of the arts, but for the sake of science, technology, engineering and math—and the future of our society.
In a recent study by Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein, 80% of scientists and engineers surveyed affirmed the importance of integrating arts and crafts and STEM education. The study also found that the experiences could be in formal and/or informal settings, and that they occurred over an extended period of time. This exposure to these experiences generated important thinking skills that helped fuel their success. These thinking skills include: observing, analogizing, modeling, and patterning, Imaging and visualizing, abstracting, dimensional thinking, kinesthetic and empathetic thinking, the ability to transform data or convert ideas into material procedures.
However, research also showed that only the following skills were included in science textbooks above the 8th grade level: observing, analogizing, modeling, and patterning. Many of the other skills are not include in the traditional STEM textbooks.
Based on the findings of this study and the national need for these vital innovation thinking skills, what suggestions do you have to begin an introduction of these skills into your realm.
How could these thinking skills and arts experiences be aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards or your local standards?
What could you do in your school or classroom to integrate an arts experience and some of the thinking skills defined in the research?
How could you partner with an arts specialist?
Do you have an example of lesson that you consider a best practice at this intersection? Do you have data to substantiate its success?
How could you promote these thinking skills in your classroom practice?
What could you do to find shared skills and vocabulary between your practice and that of a science, math, engineering, or technology classroom/
How could you partner with a classroom teacher or STEM specialist to make these skills available in a science, math, engineering, or technology classroom?
Do you have an example of lesson that you consider a best practice at this intersection? Do you have data to substantiate its success?
How could you promote these thinking skills in your students’ museum experiences?
How could you make these thinking skills available to classroom experiences?
How could you partner with formal education to develop the important intersection between STEM and arts experiences that integrate formal and informal experiences?
Do you have an example of lesson that you consider a best practice at this intersection? Do you have data to substantiate its success?
What could you do to facilitate the integration of arts and STEM experiences? Think in terms of Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3.
Who would be an important partner in this process?
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