DISCUSSION: The Importance of Early and Persistent Arts and Crafts Education for Future Scientists and Engineers


We are launching a series of discussions around Robert and Michele Root Bernstein’s White Paper for the SEAD White Paper Study

that has just been delivered to the US National Science Foundation.  The title of the White Paper is:

The Importance of Early and Persistent Arts and Crafts Education for Future Scientists and Engineers

and provides empirical evidence of why training in the arts and crafts (including the making and hacking movements) should be a key component

for the early training of future innovative scientists and engineers. The full white paper is available at



The topic was part of a workshop that was just held in Washington DC with representatives of the US National Science Teachers

Association, the US National Art Educators Association , the American Association for the Advancement of Science,

National Association for Gifted Children ,Association of Science and Technology Centers , Art of Science Learning ,

Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education , National Museum of Women in the Arts ,

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History , American Association for the Advancement of Science .

There were also observers from the US National Science Foundation, the US National Endowment for the Arts

and the US Congresssional STEAM caucus. We will be including questions and comments that arose during the workshop.

Much excitement arose in the workshop when we were informed that a Memorandum of Understanding between the

US National Science Foundation, the US National Endowment for the Arts and the US National Endowment for the Humanities

had just been signed to better coordinate and respond to transdisciplinary research and education arising between the

sciences.engineering, arts, design and humanities.


To join the discussion you can post on this blog or:

On the YASMIN list: http://estia.media.uoa.gr/mailman/listinfo/yasmin_discussions

(you can follow the discussion -but not comment- on the  http://yasminlist.blogspot.com/ )

The Discussion will be moderated by Lucinda Presley Executive Director, Institute where Creativity Empowers Education Success (ICEE)

http://sead.viz.tamu.edu/about/people/lucinda_presley.html and will include responses from Robert and Michele Root Bernstein. All interested

are invited to participate.

Roger Malina

Co Chair With Carol Strohecker, of the SEAD White Papers Working Group








Robert Root-Bernstein White Paper



The Importance of Early and Persistent Arts and Crafts Education for Future Scientists and Engineers

Robert Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology

Michele Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, College of Arts and Letters

Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA 48824




SEAD: White Papers

The Importance of Early and Persistent Arts and Crafts Education for Future Scientists and Engineers

Robert Root-Bernstein*, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology

Michele Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, College of Arts and Letters

Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA 48824

Like Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, modern-day innovators in science and engineering are usually artists and craftsmen as well. There are practical reasons that this is so, for theirs is the task of converting ethereal ideas and provisional theories into the material objects and machines that do work in the real world. Understanding the many ways in which arts and crafts make possible innovation in sciences and engineering will enable society to develop the full potential of students in those fields.

Arts and crafts teach skills of relevance to STEM education outcomes:

K-12 curricula in most school systems focus on mathematical and verbal skills, but the ability to succeed in science and engineering requires a broader range of skills that can be, and often are, taught through arts and crafts. Arts- and crafts-trainable skills that have proven to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) success in K-12 classrooms include the following “thinking tools”:

1) observing (Checkovich & Sterling, 2001; Stein, et al., 2001);

2)  imaging and visualization (Ferguson, 1977; Ferguson, 1992; Root-Bernstein, 1989; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2005; Root-Bernstein, et  al. 2008);

3) abstracting (Root-Bernstein, 1991; Bennedsen & Caspersen, 2008);

4) pattern recognition and pattern invention (Silvia, 1977; Burton, 1982; Hopkins, 1984; Pasnak, et al., 1987; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Harvard, 2008);

5) analogizing (Glynn, 1991; Treagust, et al., 1992; Harrison & Treagust, 1993, 1994; Thiele & Treagust, 1994; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Coll, et al., 2005);

6) dimensional thinking (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Dodick & Orion, 2003; Steiff, et al., 2005; Kastens & Ishikawa, 2006);

7) modeling (Welden, 1999; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Gilbert, et al., 2000; Ewing, et al., 2003; Steiff, Bateman &Uttal, 2005; Musante, 2006; Starfield & Salter, 2010);

8) body or kinesthetic thinking (Druyan, 1997; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2005; Robson, 2011);

9) manual dexterity (Wilson, 1982; Root-Bernstein, 1989);

10) familiarity with tools (Taylor, 1963; Root-Bernstein, et al., 1995; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013);

11)  transforming data into visual or graphical forms (Wilson, 1972; Root-Bernstein, 1989; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999);

12) converting theories into mechanical procedures (Wilson, 1972; Root-Bernstein, 1989; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999);

14)  and understanding data and experiments kinesthetically  and empathetically (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999; Dow, et al., 2007; Riess, et al., 2012; Chan, et al., 2012).

STEM professionals utilize the full range of these skills but textbooks fall short:

Our (unpublished) data on 235 mid-career scientists and engineers reveal widespread use of all the thinking tools listed above. They utilize imaging and visualization as often as logic, and rely on modeling, patterning, observing or analogizing as well as abstracting, playing, empathizing, kinesthetic thinking, manipulative skills, and other explicitly “artistic” and “craftsman-like” forms of thinking.

Despite actual science practice, we have additional unpublished data showing that science textbooks above the 8th grade level tend to teach only four of the above thinking skills besides logic: observing, analogizing, modeling, and patterning. Imaging and visualizing, abstracting, dimensional thinking, kinesthetic and empathetic thinking, as well as the ability to transform data or convert ideas into material procedures, go virtually untrained in science class.

STEM professionals acknowledge the arts and crafts for critical skill development:

In ongoing studies we have found that many scientists and engineers are explicitly aware that they developed critical skills through their arts and crafts training (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). More than 80% of these scientists and engineers affirm, in fact, that arts and crafts education should be required as part of STEM education (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013).

Indeed, the full range of thinking tools are best learned through arts and crafts experiences, whether these experiences are integrated into science instruction or not. Furthermore, there are specific associations between skill and art form, e.g., abstracting with abstract visual art; empathizing and playacting with theater arts; modeling with crafts and sculpture; crafts with manipulative skills, etc. (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999). Given the importance of abstracting, empathizing, modeling and more to STEM professionals, arts and crafts can provide STEM students valuable training in the skills, knowledge and methods they will require to succeed.

Arts and crafts experience is highly correlated with STEM Success:

In our ongoing studies of scientists and engineers we have found that significant arts and crafts experience is highly correlated with professional success in science and engineering as measured by outcomes such as major prizes and honors, patents, or the founding of new high tech companies (Root-Bernstein, et al., 1995; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2004; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2008; Lamore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013).

One of the most notable results of our research is that no particular art or craft confers advantage over any other: dance, music, drama, painting, sculpting, printmaking, photography, making and composing music, metal- and woodwork are all correlated with increased probability of success. The operant factor is not the type of art or craft, but the early introduction to arts and crafts in elementary and middle school years followed by persistent practice of that art or craft into adulthood.

We have also found that while exposure to arts and crafts can occur in a school setting, formal education is not a requirement for the observed correlation to success: arts and crafts classes in school are often supplemented or replaced by private lessons, informal mentoring at home or in community centers, or even by self-teaching.  Again, the key element is not how an art or craft is learned, but how long it is pursued. Skill and knowledge transfer to science and technology arenas is, in short, most likely to occur as a result of arts and crafts mastery.

Current arts exposure K-16 is inadequate to STEM needs:

Given that most states within the U.S. and most countries around the world marginalize arts and crafts education, providing students with no more than an hour of such education per week and with no more than one or two arts or crafts throughout their entire schooling, our findings have clear policy implications for a wide range of parties (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). Students interested in pursuing a science or engineering career must recognized that their formal K-12 schooling is unlikely to prepare them adequately in the range of skills they will need to reach the top of their field.

STEM students, their parents, and those providing STEM education opportunities need to understand the inadequacies of standard STEM education. Arts and crafts are necessary supplements to the standard K-12 STEM curriculum.  Educators and those setting educational policy must recognize that there is a robust literature linking success in science and engineering to skills such as observing, imaging and visualizing, abstracting, analogizing, empathizing, and modeling that are developed by arts and crafts training (reviewed above).  Arts and crafts are not, therefore dispensable frills that can be eliminated from curricula whenever budgets need to be cut, but essential elements of science and engineering education.

Finally, legislators need to understand the practical value that lies in the skills taught through arts and crafts so that they are willing to provide robust funding not only for formal K-12 arts and crafts curricula, but also for community centers, after-school programs associated with arts and crafts centers, museum- and concert hall-based educational programs, and other forms of informal arts and crafts education.


We therefore make the following suggested actions:

1) All stakeholders, including legislators, school boards, educators, parents and students, should be informed of the value of arts/crafts to STEM education.

The scientific and technological value of arts and crafts education must be made evident through educational initiatives directed at the voting public, legislatures, school boards, educators, schools of education, parents and students. Each of these stakeholders requires a different type of information delivered in an appropriate medium and formulation (PBS special; editorials; white papers; curriculum revisions; etc.)

2) An organization should be established to lobby for arts/crafts in STEM education.

An organization that can act as a lobbyist for the scientific and technological value of arts and crafts can educate and influence legislators, school boards, etc. This organization must produce clear position statements embodied in appropriate educational literature and supported by adequate research.

The following specific points must be made in order to influence stakeholders and harness the innovative potential of arts and crafts for transforming science and technology:


3) Arts and crafts education must begin early and progress well beyond introductory levels if it is to promote STEM learning.

The best correlate we have of positive impact on science and engineering innovation in later life is an early introduction to arts and crafts. Those people who do not receive early and intensive arts and crafts education are very unlikely to take up an art or craft later in life  (LaMore, et al, 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). Moreover, those people who transfer their arts and crafts skills to science and engineering problem-solving are not those with a smattering of instruction, but those who have advanced in an art or craft over many years.

4) Arts and crafts education must be continuous and sustained from childhood through maturity if it is to have an impact STEM achievement.

Our data show that individuals with sustained participation in arts and crafts with some degree of mastery are much more likely to become innovative scientists and engineers than those who participate in an art or craft for only a few years, presumably at introductory levels (LaMore, et al., 2012; Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013).

5) Arts and crafts education must be widely available and easily accessible across the socio-economic board if it is to open STEM training and practice to historically disadvantaged groups such as women and minorities (Lownds, et al., 2010).

Our data (Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013) and that of Catterall (2010) suggest that arts-and-crafts training levels the playing field for individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds, making them much more likely to succeed in science and engineering professions and to return the investment society makes in them by inventing patents and founding new companies.

6) Arts and crafts education designed to promote STEM education must be supported not only in schools but also through community programs, formal and informal mentoring, arts-related business initiatives and the out-reach programs of museums, symphonies and other public arts institutions.

Our data show that arts and crafts education occurs as frequently outside of school systems as in them and therefore must be viewed as a synergistic system. Such a system of mutually supportive organizations can provide exposure to a variety of arts in a variety of venues as well as access to training, materials, exhibition and performance spaces at near-professional levels for those sustaining avocational arts interests and practice (Root-Bernstein, et al., 2013). Everyone from business people to arts and crafts entrepreneurs and independent music and performance teachers have a stake in this system.

7) Arts and crafts must be placed on a par with language skills, mathematics and sciences in school and university curricula because the arts train equally important skills and convey equally important knowledge (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999 and references provided above).

Everyone desiring to improve our student’s capacity for creativity and innovation is a stakeholder in this change.

8) Arts and crafts teachers must be granted the same status as language, mathematics and science teachers, and equivalent amounts of time in the school day to work with their students (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

Teachers are the main stakeholders in this suggested action. Without this change in the system, the changes in the curriculum necessary to promote arts-assisted STEM innovations cannot be implemented.

In order to achieve the last six goals listed above, arts and crafts education should emphasize elements of creative education often ignored by other disciplines (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999) including, but not limited to the following:

9) Arts and crafts education should emphasize the universal processes of invention in addition to the acquisition of specific disciplinary knowledge (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

Creative thinking partakes of both domain general and domain specific processes involving, respectively, generative and compositional stages of thought and action (Sternberg, et al., 2004).

10) Arts and crafts education should emphasize the intuitive and imaginative skills necessary to foster invention.

The current education system tends to confuse the means by which we communicate (languages, mathematics, pictures, sounds, movements) with the ways in which we think and create. Creative thinking actually begins for people in all disciplines with pre-verbal sensations, emotions, visions, body feelings and tensions that are explored and exploited by artists and craftspeople of all sorts (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).  We must teach our students how to use these emotions, feelings and sensations if we wish to nurture their creative capacities.

11) Arts and crafts education should be integrated into the general curriculum by using a common descriptive language for creative and innovative processes.

The 13 “tools for thinking” as described by Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein (1999) provide a basic vocabulary that can be used by students, teachers and parents in an integrated and mutually reinforcing manner.

12) Arts and crafts education, while developing necessary disciplinary skills and knowledge, should emphasize the trans-disciplinary nature of those skills and knowledge in order to promote skill and knowledge transfer to science and engineering practices (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

It is a well-established pedagogical principle that knowledge transfer is promoted by teaching students that their knowledge CAN be transferred. Observing, for instance, can be taught in an art or dance class and explicitly transferred for use in a biology class. Patterning can be developed in a painting or music class and applied in a math class. In this way arts and crafts education can be integrated into existing educational curricula, improving them and making them more efficient (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

13) Arts and crafts education should focus on the experiences of individuals and institutions notably bridging disciplines as exemplars of the trans-disciplinary nature of innovation (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

Providing explicit examples of how polymathic individuals such as Leonardo da Vinci have managed skill and knowledge transfer is likely to be particularly effective.

Finally, new forms of research need to be funded and undertaken in order to provide the data-driven arguments necessary to convince legislators, school boards, educators and parents that arts education will boost STEM skills and knowledge:

14) Further research is necessary to establish that the hands-on practice of arts and crafts improves STEM education outcomes such as improved standardized test scores, graduation rates, enrollment in STEM majors in college, etc.

The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as private philanthropic foundations, should be encouraged to fund such research.

15) Further research is necessary to establish that the value of arts and crafts for STEM education resides in the development and exercise of tools for thinking that encompass observing, imaging, abstracting, patterning, analogizing, empathizing, modeling, playing, dimensional thinking, etc. (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

While some studies exist in some STEM subjects for select age groups for each of these thinking tools, the generality of the findings has not been established across all STEM subjects or age groups, nor has the impact of training in more than one thinking tool at a time been investigated. Once again, the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as private philanthropic foundations, should be encouraged to fund such research.

16) Finally, there appears to be no information about the arts and crafts experiences of legislators, school board members, or education faculty, yet this information is necessary if we are to address effectively the prejudices these groups currently have against arts and crafts in education.

The National Endowment for the Arts and private foundations supporting arts education should be encouraged to establish research programs in this area. Informed outreach to these groups in ways that address their particular concerns may prove critical to the effective promotion of arts and crafts education, not only for the sake of the arts, but for the sake of science, technology, engineering and math—and the future of our society.













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  1. here is an initial discussion



    In ongoing studies, Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein have found that
    more than 80% of scientists and engineers surveyed say that arts and
    crafts education should be a required aspect of STEM education. The
    authors point out it is arts and crafts experiences that gave these
    scientists and engineers the thinking skills that led to their
    success. These skills include: ?observing, imaging and visualization,
    abstracting, pattern recognition and pattern invention, analogizing,
    dimensional thinking, modeling, body or kinesthetic thinking, manual
    dexterity, familiarity with tools, transforming data into visual or
    graphical forms, converting theories into mechanical procedures, and
    understanding data and experiments kinesthetically and
    empathetically?. These thinking skills can be fostered in formal and
    informal experiences, the authors point out. The most potent effect
    comes, they say, in extended and persistent exposure to the art or
    craft over a period of years.

    They add, however, that research shows that only the following skills
    were included in science textbooks above the 8th grade level:
    observing, analogizing, modeling, and patterning. Many of the other
    skills are not included in the traditional STEM textbooks at all.

    Their suggestions include: informing all stakeholders of the
    importance of arts and crafts education to STEM education; providing
    continuous arts and crafts education from ?childhood to maturity?;
    making these experiences available across the socio-economic spectrum
    in both formal and informal settings; emphasizing imagination,
    knowledge transfer, and the inventing process in arts and crafts
    education; and providing further research into these areas.

    Based on the findings of this study and the national need for these
    vital innovation thinking skills, what suggestions do you have to
    begin an introduction of these skills into your realm?

    Lucinda Presley, Robert and Michele Root Bernstein

  2. Jennifer

    yes its a fact that the growth of the art science technology field is occurring
    in a context where the arts and humanities are in general under budgetary
    attack- your unesco news is part of a growing trend

    in our own university at the same time that our art and technology
    program and emerging media program are growing with new student enrollment,
    there is declining enrollment in arts and humanities- i know in england the
    effect of the new evaluation metrics has steadily reduced investment
    in humanities-
    and i remember seeing a university in canada closed down a humanities department
    based on an inadequate student/faculty ratio- the idea of a ‘liberal’
    arts and sciences
    foundation is disappearing

    Sundar Sarukkai in his two SEAD white papers (links below) discusses
    at length the situation in India
    where the recent rapid growth of science and technology universities
    with little serious effort to include
    the arts and humanities – a ‘polytechnic’ approach that is common in
    some other countries- it will be
    interesting to see the path taken by higher education in india

    HUMANITIES EDUCATION IN KARNATAKA (A draft note prepared for the
    Karnataka Knowledge Commission, Government of Karnataka)




    One of the interesting things about robert and michele root
    bernstein’s work on the impact of early arts and crafts
    education on future scientists and engineers is their strong claim
    that it can be demonstrated using quantitative
    evidence that if you want to train innovators-then the arts and
    sciences have to be joined in the cultural imagination
    at a very early age.

    There is a fun discussion on linked in right now on naked Math as the
    Root of All Evil !!

    Naked Math is the Root of All Evil

    Dr. Diana S. PerdueMathematics Educator & Entrepreneur

    Mathematics should have meaning… that requires context. As such, the
    latest post on the Solver Blog makes the case that Naked Math (i.e.
    math without context) is the root of all (educational) evil. Read more

    That’s the mission of Rimwe Educational Resources LLC.

    It really is that simple. Math is the language of science,
    technology, engineering, art, music, nature, and the universe. As
    such, it is critical that people, all people, as inhabitors of this
    world, understand mathematics. It is the structure behind everything
    we build, create, invent, and aspire to do. Sadly, the way we’ve
    taught math in the past has been as a disjoint, disconnected set of
    rules to memorize and “do” rather than understand. But fear not,
    there is hope! There IS a better way: Rimwe (“rim-way”)!

    dont know how we work on the UNESCO problem-but sounds like
    mobilisation is needed

    roger malina

    On Mon, Oct 7, 2013 at 4:32 AM, Jennifer Kanary Nikolov(a)
    > HI All,
    > Just wanted to point out this new petition about creativity in education in danger of being eliminated from UNESCO, very relevant to this discussion I would say:
    > “UNESCO has been busy analyzing and ranking the areas of their work by
    > priority, with those areas that receive the lowest ranking being marked
    > for elimination. The Creativity programme, within which arts education
    > falls, was ranked at the very bottom of UNESCO’s 48 priority areas and
    > is at risk of elimination. If this happens, UNESCO’s invaluable work in
    > this area, including the Road Map for Arts Education, the World
    > Conferences for Arts Education, the International Arts Education week,
    > and all the other projects related to both arts education and creativity
    > in the broadest sense, will be terminated and will no longer receive
    > support. An additional consequence will be to give our governments yet
    > another excuse to de-prioritise Arts Education and to deny both
    > promotion of and access to the arts for children and young people”
    > https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Ensure_Creativity_remains_a_UNESCO_priority/?sTqfFfb
    > Regards,
    > Jennifer

  3. I never imagine that my referring to the web site
    on the need to contextual mathematics would launch
    this discussion on the root of all evil but paul and simon’s
    responses have focused the discussion on the basic argument
    that the root bernstein’s are making about the evidence that
    scientists and engineers work as better as scientists and
    engineers if they are also involve in arts and crafts in
    their early education

    this is the basic argument in the stem to steam argument

    the way we have organised education we put art and
    science in separate streams as if they were not
    fundamentally linked in human curiosity and imagination

    anecdote: in a discussion with someone responsible
    for programming in Marseille as the european city
    of culture- i got a response that ” science is not part
    of culture’


    what he meant was that the minister of culture in france
    which was the lead ministry for the city of culture did
    not fund ” science outreach or education”

    science is part of culture and children dont care
    which agency is funding what

    paul : of course there is a rational for
    pure math= but thats not the issue here=the
    issue is how in primary and secondary education
    we create a context=driven by student interest
    and imagination- we teaching in a way that motivates
    and captures the motivation of young children

    anecdote: in my undergraduate education i had
    the pleasure of taking a class on statistics and
    probability from the celebrated mathematician

    we certainly learned pure math -but what i remember
    is that all the math was continously contextualised
    in social contexts and applications ( gambling at las
    vegas. sociology. politics etc) i did great in that course
    but the next semester i took a course in mathematical
    logic and i got the first C grade as a student- it just
    didnt connect

    the arts and crafts are one way to powerfully
    contextualise science and mathematics and
    motivate students= and in addition the evidence
    that root bernsteins show is that the children that
    learn that way make better scientists and engineers


    The term “naked math” refers to mathematics without context. Mathematics
    > “within a context” usually refers to mathematical modeling — that the
    > mathematics models or represents something in the real world. My point
    > was simply to rephrase this in terms of something that the Yasmin group
    > might find equally appalling (or not?): what is the art analogy of naked
    > math? It would probably fall into the general area of abstract art — something
    > performed and executed that is not representational of the world, and so
    > is equally as “naked”.

    Roger F Malina

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