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'STEM To STEAM' Uses Art To Teach Science Skills

The halls of Quatama Elementary.

The halls of Quatama Elementary.

Rob Manning/OPB

One of the catchiest phrases in education today is “STEM.” It’s a handy abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

But those hard science disciplines aren’t popular with every student. Rob Manning tagged along on a tour of a school in Hillsboro that’s putting art into science.

Fourth graders in Krista Geffre’s class at Quatama Elementary are getting creative with their erosion lessons. They’re looking at little worms – and learning how fast they can be.

“… and Natalie’s is escaping – go ahead and put it back on that damp paper towel.” 

Nearby, teacher Wendy Peterson’s 4th graders are taking turns acting out geology concepts and guessing what their classmates are doing.

“And my last group, three beats to start…” click-click-click

“Ideas of what that group is…”

Teacher: “Are you the canyon?”


Yet another class is drawing posters with vocabulary words tying geology and ceramic arts together: erosion, clay, and firing.

Kids draw at Quatama Elementary.

Kids draw at Quatama Elementary.

Rob Manning/OPB

4th grader Jasmine Cleveland explains the connection. “Erosion happens, it bundles up into clay. People collect it, sometimes they make bowls…” 

Quatama Elementary is working with the Right Brain Initiative to integrate arts into science and math lessons.

Principal Janis Hill says using art provides a critical link for many students.

“Kids say, ‘oh, math class’ – but then, if they’re trying to figure out how much of this we can plant into this area, and how we can make it look good, or build some structure and it has to fit together, and the pieces have to be congruent, and all those geometry words and whatever, then they’re engaged, because it just makes sense.”

Students are also learning directly from artists. They can explain how important science can be to making good art.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici

Rob Manning/OPB

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici toured Quatama Elementary to explore the crossroads of art and science. She says art education is important to industry.

“Creative thinkers are going to be the next generation of innovators, and arts education really furthers that, and makes sure that we have the next generation of entrepreneurs, of creative thinkers and inventors,” Bonamici said.

Bonamici is a new member of the House Education Committee. She’s hoping to gain support for a caucus she’s creating called “STEM to STEAM” – by adding an “A” for Art to the combination of science, technology, engineering, and math.