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Researchers evaluate effects of arts studies on STEM education

Researchers evaluate effects of arts studies on STEM education

FEBRUARY 3, 2020 — Three researchers from the College of Education and Human Development are helping two local organizations fuse the elements of science, technology, engineering, art and math to investigate the benefits it has on elementary-aged students.

Belinda Bustos Flores, professor and associate dean of professional preparation and partnership; Becky Huang, associate professor; and Yangting “Tina” Wang, research assistant and a doctoral student in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies, are working with Musical Bridges Around the World and UT Health San Antonio on a three-year study on an educational program called Musical Sprouts.

Musical Sprouts merges fine arts and STEM by bringing three culturally specific concerts and 15 STEAM lessons per school year to third- to fifth-graders at elementary schools within the San Antonio area.


“The program can have an impact on the teachers, around the community, and on the school district.”

YANGTING WANG, Research Assistant and Doctoral Student



This specific study, which started in fall 2019, will follow a cohort of about 580 third-graders for three years until their fifth-grade year to look at the impact the program has on the students’ cultural awareness, mental health and STEM learning outcomes.

“There are many different aspects of this program, but we’re focusing on the students,” Huang said. “The program can have an impact on the teachers, around the community, and on the school district, but our current focus is on the students. Our research questions are mainly about the students’ outcome, engagement with the STEM subjects and then their performance on the STEAM assessment that we developed.”

Flores added that the group is also looking at how Musical Sprouts impacts the students’ cultural understandings and emotional development.

The current study is being conducted at four treatment and two control schools. Those at the treatment schools are receiving a pretest, posttest, presurvey, postsurvey, concerts and STEAM lessons while those at the control schools receive everything except the five one-hour STEAM lessons.

“We want to see if there is a difference between the kids who get just the concerts versus the ones that get the full-fledged program,” Flores said.

With the data collected from the surveys, the researchers will be able to look at the effects the program has had on the students.

Each year the students are exposed to different countries through the different musicians brought in from around the world to perform. Following the concerts, the students engage in hands-on lessons and activities that correlate with the country of focus.


Learn more about COEHD’s work with Musical Bridges Around the World.


“The students really like it. The whole program is very creative and Musical Bridges Around the Word is trying to impact more people,” Wang said.

While the study focuses only on six schools, the goal is for more campuses to join in the future, Wang said.

“We have a huge list of about 160 schools that want to participate in this program because it’s all free,” Wang said. “When we had a presentation about the program for people to sign up, all the school principals signed up to be part of it. That was such a moving moment for me to see them want to make an impact on their kids.”

Musical Bridges Around the World recently received a $100,000 grant from Impact SA that will further help with enhancing the Musical Sprouts program, said Caleb Gonzalez, educational outreach director for Musical Bridges Around the World.

“We are going to use the money to enhance our data collection, provide training to the cooperating teachers and provide learning opportunities to other grade levels and schools,” Gonzalez said. “The grant is going to allow us to upgrade our systems so that we can better serve our partners in the educational field.”

For the past three years Musical Bridges Around the World and UT Health San Antonio piloted their own project involving Musical Sprouts before bringing in the UTSA researchers.

“Musical Sprouts is a program that was started to enhance our programming and provide a meaningful contribution to our students we serve,” Gonzalez said. “As a team of educators, it is very important that what we do has meaning and will impact the students we serve. Our partnership with UTSA will help ensure that we are on the right track and can help guide us to our goal of making an impact with the resources that are provided to us. UTSA is synonymous with educational leadership in our area, so it was important to lean on them for guidance."

As researchers, Flores said, it’s important to help community organizations achieve their goals.

“We should be sharing our knowledge with the community, and especially when it’s an activity that will help children in the long run,” she said. “We know what they’re doing benefits children and benefits the teachers. It’s going to create a life change for those children, so that is a reward in itself.”

“It expands their view of the world,” Flores said.

We also want them to get their appreciation of arts and culture because these students in Title One schools may not have the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures or be able to travel.

Valerie Bustamante


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