Ann Arbor Schools Change STEM To STEAM

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) stays true to a mission, formally adopted two years ago, by creating a different kind of integrated curriculum.

“Feedback from the district parent community indicated that there was a desire for another K-8 building option in addition to Ann Arbor Open,” said Joan Fitzgibbon, Principal of A2 Steam at Northside. “The district made the decision not only to open a second K-8 building but also to offer a different type of programming– STEAM focused and project-based learning.”

STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. For years, schools have been pushing “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in the curriculum. The “art” discipline was added to the acronym (and the curriculum) to foster more creative and critical thinking.

Supporting Creativity

“It is great to have a broad foundation in math and science,” said Charles B. Centivany Jr., a technology teacher, who works at Forsythe Middle School and Skyline High School. “Adding the ‘A’- Art, to our program, allows us to explore material in the classroom with vigorous creativity. We encourage students to generate wild, nonlinear, ideas; we encourage students to observe the world around them through the lens of the artist/designer—identify design elements, and ask ‘why did the designers choose to do it this way?’ Fostering this creativity in our students, results in projects where the students have claimed an identity, and therefore, a lasting learning moment.”

The push to emphasize art is also helping students, who might traditionally not go into technology and science, take a second look at this field.

“One of my most pleasant surprises of starting to teach at the middle school level, has been working with middle school girls,” said Centivany. “There have been many studies that suggest that girls, in particular, lose interest in math and science in late elementary school or in middle school. I find that most of my female students are excited about STEAM, eager to come to class, and excel at the work.”

Principal Fitzgibbon also described how STEAM has expanded throughout the district in the past year.

“This year, the district is furthering their support of STEAM learning. Students can participate in STEAM focused after-school clubs such as Robotics and Rec & Ed offerings. Very recently, the first district-wide STEAM Expo was held. A2 STEAM was represented by our Vex 1Q Robotics team, our third graders’ art and technology collaborative clay and 3D printing project, and our sixth grade team with their Fibonacci books.”

Subject integration

According to Fitzgibbon, much of current STEAM pedagogy is philosophical in nature.

“The impetus behind the STEAM education trend, which is more accurately an educational philosophy rather than a program, is the understanding that students need to be prepared for a future in which employers will be looking for people who possess Success Skills: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking,” said Fitzgibbon. “Content knowledge is interwoven, layered and sophisticated, not experienced in isolation. STEAM education engages students to be problem-solvers, innovators, inventors, and creative, logical thinkers.”   

By creating well-rounded students, and eliminating the lines between subjects, the Ann Arbor School District hopes to create more agile minds, ready to confront and thrive when presented with challenges. This culminates in what they call the STEAM Expo, an exposition that features students’ projects, covering subjects from across the STEAM spectrum.Fitzgibbon described the projects presented this past school year at her school’s  first STEAM Expo.

“At the first EXPO, students presented projects around the importance of weather, healthy eating, states of matter, and weather patterns and natural disasters.”

Thanks to the approach of Ann Arbor Public Schools, kids can now begin to approach, master, and hopefully solve the problems facing the world today.

To find out more about the STEAM philosophy at
Ann Arbor Public Schools, visit

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