STEM and Creativity

I put “need for STEM education” into Google, and I got all of these sites. One of them was this page from the US Department of Education, which makes a couple of interesting points:

  • “Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.”
  • “The United States has become a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers and innovators. Yet today, that position is threatened as comparatively few American students pursue expertise in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)—and by an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects.”

They even put this diagram on the page to show the need for young experts in the STEM fields.


Source: US Department of Education

I bet if you were to ask kids why they aren’t interested in going into careers in these fields, they would say, “It’s too hard! All that math and science and stuff…” And, granted, kids have to have a good foundation in sciences and math before they can hope to understand the material being discussed. But they need something more.

Remember this that I put up on Wednesday?

See, people involved in the STEM areas are just as creative and intuitive as artists and writers. Engineering isn’t just an area where people work with numbers and logic; engineers also dream and design. Same with mathematicians: I was a math major in a previous life, and got into areas of mathematics that don’t deal with numbers or computation. We worked with number systems that don’t involve anything resembling the numbers we use every day. (That’s when I got out.) You could make similar arguments for scientists and technologists. All of the STEM areas are arts as much as sciences.

If we want more mathematicians, engineers, technologists, and scientists, we need to make sure that kids are seeing both sides of the picture. We know that both sides of the brain work together, each side doing what it’s best at and drawing connections between the world of fact and the world of fantasy. I realize that’s an oversimplification, but if a kid’s education doesn’t provide as much focus on creativity and idea formation as it does on math and grammar, what good does it do?

Then again, I could be wrong… What do you think?

4 thoughts on “STEM and Creativity

  1. I think it’s all about balance. Some people lean one way or the other, but it’s not good to put everyone in little boxes. As an accounting manager, I work with numbers all the time, but I write fiction, too. I also used to make ornaments from eggshells. 🙂

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  2. My husband has a degree in electrical engineering and is a software developer. He is one of the most creative people I know! I agree, we need to encourage young people to consider these professions, and showcasing their creative element could be a great way to do just that.

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    1. The STEM fields are as much creative arts as they are math and science. It’s really a chicken-egg thing. A friend of mine is an electrical engineer; he’s also a talented pianist, photographer and writer. Was he interested in the arts because he was good at the sciences, or was he interested in the sciences because he was good in the arts? Or did both sort of grow together? Regardless, both need to be nurtured.

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      1. As that friend, I can tell you why I needed the piano and live performance. When you begin designing chips for your average semiconductor company, you quickly discover the relentless pressure going along with the creativity. I no longer wanted to do electronics for fun at home when I was doing it at work 40-60 hours a week. The piano / keyboards and live performance were for my sanity, an element of balance in an otherwise unbalanced life, growing out of the piano lessons I loved when I was a kid.

        Perhaps the other reason is curiosity. I always followed my nose into cool things that interested me – the piano, improvising and writing music, a Leica camera in the basement, a camera store job, electronic circuits. I wanted to tell others what it was like to be me, so I started writing. That also drove my photography – sharing places and visual experiences.

        It took me a long time to realize the most rewarding thing is the people you discover when you’re curious. That’s how I met John Holton, and other folks I treasure. He and I used to play music and do other crazy things together in high school.

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