STEAM with the silent A

Guest Blog

Guest Blog | Tuesday, January 21, 2020

STEAM with the silent A

Steam with the Silent A
Steam with the Silent A
Paul Gordon and Jesus Herta

This post is written by Paul Gordon and Jesus Huerta, fifth-grade teachers in Palm Springs and El Centro, California. Paul and Jesus host the #3dprintedu Twitter chat and have a website full of 3D printing resources at You can connect with them on Twitter at @TeachtheTech and @jesush1979,

More and more we see schools creating STEAM Labs and Makerspaces. Some people refer to them as STEM, while others call them Smart Labs. Whatever you want to call it, there is one thing that has been missing in most. 

The A.  

The A in STEAM stands for Arts. However, when you ask others you may hear them say Art. This lack of a plural does a huge disservice to the Arts, as there are so many different types of art. All three subsets, visual, performing, and literature are important to keep in mind when integrating STEAM into your classroom. 

So what does this look like and how do we get started?

Visual Arts in STEAM

The visual arts are the arts you think of when you consider that one teacher who teaches students how to paint, color, draw, and build. These skills are expressive, yet refined. They allow students to create their own view of the world. Students see things differently, and that is ok. Not all students will color the same or view a sculpture through the same lens.

3D printed stencils

Using hand drawn images, convert into proper file students 3D printed  their own stencils for art.

Use Virtual Reality to explore art.  Have students draw using the program Tilt Brush.

Students use virtual reality to explore art by drawing using the program Tilt Brush.

Another important component of the visual arts is architecture. The design of a building is so much more than functionality. It is about how people look at buildings, streets, and cities in general. As we say this, architecture can be in so many different components of STEAM. It is the engineering of building and designing, along with the mathematics of area and volume.

Performing Arts in STEAM

 3D printed reeds for woodwind instruments are useful when students loose/break theirs.

 3D printed reeds for woodwind instruments are useful when students lose/break theirs. 

The second portion of the arts is performing. The performing arts are all about dance, music, and theatre. These along with the visual arts are often seen being taught by one teacher. This is where we need to step in and say that music, dance, and theatre need to be taught in the classroom as a whole. You see these arts as specialties, something reserved for experts only, however, while I cannot conduct a band or choir, I can bring music and song into my daily routine.     

How can we get students to begin playing with music? 

Some districts may not have a band program or it may be limited by the number of students who will sign up. When this is the case, there is a digital option: Chrome Music Lab. This free resource allows students to begin to play, experiment and understand different characteristics of music. They will use over ten different apps via the site and they explore tone, range, rhythm, patterns and much more. This can then be parlayed into something more robust, such as Soundtrap EDU edition, which introduces various instruments and allows them to add layers, record themselves singing and more as they move towards creating their own song.

Literary Arts in STEAM

The last art is the one that is most forgotten in the STEAM movement. Literary arts is all about novels, words, and story. When a teacher says, “I don’t want to give up my novel studies to teach this STEAM stuff” it's important to remind them that literature is STEAM. The beauty of this is that you keep your old routines, but add depth and exposure. There is no question that literacy is the foundation of education, so why not incorporate the wonders of STEAM into it!

How can we get started with STEAM in our classroom?

Integrating STEAM, including the arts, into your instruction can become an incentive or “hook” for students. Take something that you already teach and look for ways to incorporate STEAM.

For example if you are reading Esperanza Rising you can use the novel as the foundation to add a STEAM extension.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Have students create the score to the upcoming film version of a book via Soundtrap.
  • Students can use Keva Planks to create what they believe the rancho the family lives in looks like. An extension to this could be for them to use the planks to design what the farm camp would look like, then compare and contrast the two. 
  • If 3D printers are available, students can design the rancho or the farm camp, or a program such as SculptGL can be used to create what they believe the main characters look like. This program gives the students a digital ball of clay that they can manipulate. Once completed, these 3D designs can be printed, painted and an exhibition for parents, other classes and admin can be held. You can find tons of 3D printing resources on our website

 Keva planks  to build 3D models.

Students create architecture with 3D printers.

Students recreate architecture with 3D printers

SculpGL example

Sculpt GL example.

Integrating STEAM into your classroom can be an exciting experience for you and your students. Just remember, it's not about changing your daily routine, it is about enhancing what you are already doing well.  

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