The ‘A’ in STEAM

What is STEAM?

The ‘A’ in STEAM

Dr. Fawzia Mai Tung, ISLA Board Member

Islamic schools tend to be good at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). But when an ‘A’ was added to the acronym– making it STEAM— many schools either shied away from it or limited it to crafts and Islamic calligraphy. Here is a tested method of how to build a successful art curriculum and implement it in your school, regardless of its developmental stage. You may even get away from hiring a specialized art teacher and only utilize your current staff.


Art and Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century. On the national level, Art is the key to building a strong economy. On the school level, Art experience boosts academic gains.

STEAM is an initiative developed and implemented by Georgette Yakman in 2007 in middle and high schools. It basically promotes a project-based curriculum with the incorporation of the arts: Fine Arts, Music, Performance Arts, Language Arts and Social Studies.

However, this is not always practicable in established Islamic schools, since we have less resources and an already fixed and overloaded curriculum. The alternative is a good art program and a well-planned art curriculum.

A successful art program should achieve the goals you have set and integrate with and broaden the instruction of other subjects. As you set your goals, consider whether you want to include Arabic calligraphy, or history of Islamic art/ architecture in your curriculum; and whether your focus will be on art history or the development of artistic skills.

Next, review your resources. These would include:

art supplies
  1. Space: a dedicated art classroom. Sink and water supply is a flexible factor.
  2. Supplies: it is more practical for the school to purchase them though cheaper for the students to bring them.
  3. Staff: Depending on your budget, either hire an Art Education specialist or contract one to train your existing teachers.

Designing your art curriculum:

  1. Spell out your achievement bar for your graduating grade level.
  2. Determine your curriculum content. The following the four areas will be applied to the four quarters at all grade levels.
    1. Basic skill: (recommended) drawing
    2. One medium to master: (suggested) watercolor
    3. Exploration of other media
    4. Exposure to great art and study of art history

The Tung Principles of Teaching Art are as follows:

  • Principle #1: In a given quarter, teach a subset of skills in each lesson,
  • Principle #2: leading to a culminating project by the end of the quarter that utilizes these skills.
  • Principle #3: Assign homework so the students will practice the skills learned.
  • Principle #4: Keep an art journal to practice doodling and save ideas.
  • Principle #5: Students need to practice exposure and nurture critical thinking.
  • Principle #6: Students need to study art history and be able to identify great works of art.

In the implementation of your art program, plan your field trips and guest speakers ahead of time.

student art

You will also need an art fair or exhibition with preferably a juried competition at the end of the year to celebrate the students’ achievement. It is a good idea to identify various contests and enter your students so your stakeholders recognize the students’ talents and skills.

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