National

STEAM: How art can help maths students

A Sydney school has appointed the nation's first science, technology, engineering, art and maths director to help students integrate art with maths and science in an effort turnaround Australia's deepening STEM crisis. 

Last month, Australia's former chief scientist Ian Chubb urged the Turnbull government to think creatively about how to solve Australia's STEM shortage. 

Maxim Adams and Zelda Winestock with Cindy Lawrence (centre) and some of the students' art pieces.
Maxim Adams and Zelda Winestock with Cindy Lawrence (centre) and some of the students' art pieces. Photo: Janie Barrett

"It isn't a question of just doing the same things differently. It means doing different things," he said in his farewell address.

A report from PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that Australia could lose $57.4 billion in future GDP revenue if future jobs aren't shifted into STEM focused roles.   

Maxim and Zelda Winestock with some of the students' art pieces at the International Grammar School in Ultimo, Sydney.
Maxim and Zelda Winestock with some of the students' art pieces at the International Grammar School in Ultimo, Sydney.  Photo: Janie Barrett

At the International Grammar School in Sydney's inner west, teachers are already echoing Mr Chubb's philosophy by thinking outside the box and integrating maths with art and design.

"I think it needs to be embedded from a very early age," said the school's STEAM director, Melissa Silk​. "When I'm teaching design, I'll try to bring in a mathematical element. It's worth students trying to make those connections without having to find it arbitrarily later in life."

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Year 12 student Maxim Adams said that despite appearances, maths and art weren't so different.

"The big point of it is that maths is really not about formulas, it's about finding patterns in things, and how they influence people. And that's a big part of art," he said.

Executives from New York's National Museum of Mathematics – or MoMath – visited the International Grammar School on Wednesday morning to see the school's new STEAM program in action.

MoMath's executive director, Cindy Lawrence, said that engaging young people to make them interested in maths and other STEM subjects was crucially important.

"In our museum, we actually have an art gallery. That's how closely we think art and math are related," she said.

"Most mathematicians, if you ask them why they went into maths they don't talk about solving hard calculus problems. They talk about elegance and beauty and posing a question and trying to find a more beautiful way to answer it."

While maths and science have traditionally been the preserve of boys throughout school years, Year 12 student Zelda Winestock believes the trend may be gradually reversing, with more girls becoming interested in pursuing STEM subjects for the HSC and beyond.

She said institutional barriers could discourage girls from pursuing maths and science subjects in high school, and she was confident the STEAM program would help narrow the gap.

"As it breaks down the barriers, it also breaks down barriers of social expectations between studying maths and studying art," she said.