ASK AN EDUCATOR! “How do you teach Art and Design to science/engineering students?”

MauiJerry asks:

How do you teach Art and Design to science/engineering students?

We can rant about STEAM vs STEM and neglect of art/design, but that does not help the issue. STEAM is not about fine art that hangs in a gallery for people to puzzle over. It is (mostly) about getting engineers to think about aesthetics and the usability of their product (whether that be a research paper, industrial machine or consumer gadget).

IMNSHO, Some basic drawing classes would be useful for making readable napkin sketches, and illustrating how-tos. Maybe some tech drawing on top of that (where is the simple MacDraw app?!). Art History/Music Appreciation might give some basic background but students will laugh it off and ignore it without a tie-in to something practical (Where am I ever going to use this IRL?)

The Hawaii STEM Conference is coming up at the end of next month and I have the opportunity to teach a quick (2hr max) class. I was thinking of a simple soft-circuit class, but perhaps something that shows off the ART aspect of STEAM would be better. (

You are spot on with wanting to see more art and design in education. I can say first hand, as a Technology and Engineering teacher and someone who is an avid artist and musician, that understanding fundamental concepts of art in the design and creation of physical objects is imperative.

In most TechEd programs, design is tackled in two ways, physically and digitally. I spent a couple of years, including my student teaching, teaching courses in Basic Technical Drawing. The course teaches students to use manual drafting tools to visually represent their designs. It allows the students to convey their ideas and reflect on possible design changes, thus making their designs more feasible. With regards to digital design, we spend a good chunk of time in virtually all TechEd classes teaching the use of tools such as AutoCAD, Solidworks, and AutoDesk Inventor. These digital design tools allow the students to piece together their designs, make changes, then produce a prototype. It allows the students to make the connection between the virtual and physical worlds and gives them the opportunity to see how design affects someones ability to actually build something.

I remember distinctly, as an undergrad at Virginia Tech, sitting around a table in the library with a group of my TechEd classmates studying for an exam. A Mech.E. student came up to us and asked if we would share our opinions on a series of book shelve designs he had produced for one of his courses. We flipped through the designs, said they looked nice, then began to ask him “What material you using? How much weight will it hold? What kind of surface will it stand on? How much will it cost to manufacture? etc.” He was baffled. Now this certainly is not a reflection on undergrad Mech.E.s or really any number of people, but rather reflects on how important it is for someone who is going to spend their time designing, to understand how things are made.

So all in all, it really ends up on the quality of the program and the emphasis the individual teacher puts on the integration of Art into their curriculum. Art is incredibly important and more emphasis should be made in education to excite students about Art, Music, Dance, Theater, etc. The idea of STEM is to help increase excitement and interest in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Art, in my opinion, is a different issue all together.

I hope this helps to answer your question and good luck with your course!

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“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.

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