Does the Art Have to Be Good, Revisited

So, I’ve been reflecting on my use of the arts to teach biology over the past two years.

My goal is for students to learn the science, not for them to become good artists of any sort. And I can’t teach the arts or design to them beyond the ways in which those arts or design are part of my own training.

"Max contrast Brain MRI 131058 rgbce" by Nevit Dilmen (talk) - Own work.

“Max contrast Brain MRI 131058 rgbce” by Nevit Dilmen (talk) – Own work.

I like the use of the arts in learning. The art that’s created doesn’t have to be good art because it isn’t ever presented. For example, students can act out transport through xylem and phloem (the vascular tissue of plants), bring props, include music that’s meaningful to them, and use movement and each other to embody a process that is normally challenging to understand. New, smart scientific questions get asked and answered through experimentation using movement. There’s joy in this learning. And rigor. Shouldn’t these two always go together? If a dance or theatre professor co-taught this exercise, it might be presentable, but otherwise it’s not. Other examples of this type of learning include having students write haikus to gain experience expressing Newtonian physics in their own words, or scientific illustration to encourage close observation.

When the art is integral to the presentation of science, such as the theatre and design aspects of conference-style presentations or scientific presentations to a general audience, student presentations can be greatly improved with the help of some outside resources (acting for science videos - http://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/act-like-you-mean-it/, Edward Tufte’s books – http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/).

On the other hand, I’m not so sure that I like the use of creative projects as a way to express science learning or communicate science when some of the students lack an arts/design background. The students with formal artistic training can produce really great things, pieces that show rigor from both a scientific and artistic perspective. Those who don’t have that background tend to create pieces that are weak in both fields, suggesting that the science hasn’t been learned or explored sufficiently. Perhaps that’s because the challenge of creating real art is too great and therefore distracting. Creative assignments for those students may do them a real disservice. They could have spent that effort building science skills instead.

Those are my musings for today. Let me know if you think I should change my mind!

 

Getting the Word Out

Here’s a link to a short article by the Engine Institute, Inc. that mentions my presentation at the New England Faculty Development Conference: http://theengineinstitute.org/moving-from-stem-to-steam

"Eupatorium cannabinum Sturm4" by Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) - Figure from Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen at http://www.biolib.de. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eupatorium_cannabinum_Sturm4.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Eupatorium_cannabinum_Sturm4.jpg.

“Eupatorium cannabinum Sturm4″ by Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) – Figure from Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen at http://www.biolib.de

I strongly encourage you to check out the work of the Engine Institute, which aims to foster cross-fertilization of art and science in some pretty innovative ways. Their Executive Director is the fabulous China Blue Wong (http://www.chinablueart.com). I hope to feature her here soon.

 

A little more press

Check out page 10 for an article on STEAM in Higher Ed by yours truly: http://www.facultymatters.com/spring14/moving-from-stem-to-steam/

Yes, this blog has taken a bit of an unexpected hiatus. I was tapped to develop a new graduate program and that sucked up all of my blogging time, but I’m back and will start writing regular posts again. Plus, I have sweet STEAM sabbatical coming up in the fall, sure to result in lots of juicy ideas. So, stop by about once a week to see what’s new!

"Chondrus crispus Crouan" by Pierre-Louis Crouan (1798-1871) & Hippolyte-Marie Crouan (1802-1871) - Alguier des frères Crouan, Université de Bourgogne. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chondrus_crispus_Crouan.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Chondrus_crispus_Crouan.jpg.

“Chondrus crispus Crouan” by Pierre-Louis Crouan (1798-1871) & Hippolyte-Marie Crouan (1802-1871) – Alguier des frères Crouan, Université de Bourgogne.

A little press

It’s gratifying to see that work in STEAM continues to draw interest. Recently, a University of Phoenix publication featured this blog and the work of several other higher ed folks interested in STEAM including Alan Liu (http://liu.english.ucsb.edu) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Michele (http://theatre.msu.edu/index.php/people/faculty/michele-root/) and Robert (https://www.msu.edu/~rootbern/rootbern/Welcome.html) Root-Bernstein of Michigan State University.

See the article here: http://www.facultymatters.com/spring14/moving-from-stem-to-steam/

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Koenig%27s_steam_press_-_1814.png

Koenig’s 1814 steam-powered printing press (Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1998. (p 132))

Artistic Bacteria

Welcome to my first guest post!  Today we’re hearing from Dr. Amy Sprenkle (https://www.salemstate.edu/academics/schools/1046.php?id=736) from my home institution, Salem State University (https://www.salemstate.edu).

 

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Created with Nokia Smart Cam
The annual Darwin Festival (http://w3.salemstate.edu/~pkelly/darwin/) coincides with Valentine’s day each year, and I usually invite my microbiology students to create ‘valentines’ by using bacterial cultures that have a macroscopic appearance that is opaque and colorful after growing on an agar plate. This year we shared them at the Darwin Festival.

“But why did you do it?” asked Lisa.

I could come up with many scientific reasons why allowing the students to ‘paint’ with bacteria is a good idea; reminders of the aspects of good aseptic technique, or the study of the interaction of the different cultures as they grow on the plate are just two, but I think the most important reason is that it helps to demystify bacteria, and perhaps break down some ‘germophobe’ walls that have been built in some individuals since childhood. As a microbiologist, I consider germophobes to have a certain lack of intellectual curiosity, and a lack of openness to new ideas, especially in microbiology! Created with Nokia Smart Cam

 

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Thinking of bacteria as a medium of art, rather than germs to be feared and removed at all costs, makes manipulating them a lot less scary. Not being assessed on the success of the project also makes it more fun and less threatening

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

(but many students don’t bother to do the valentine because it’s not required). The best thing in being released from the fear of manipulating bacteria is that it gets one thinking about the ways in which we use microbes to our benefit; in food production and agriculture, bioremediation, biotechnology, and most importantly as a part of our resident microbiota that is so crucial to our health.

Created with Nokia Smart CamFinally, the delayed gratification that comes with making light ‘brush strokes’ with a sterile toothpick to place microscopic cells on the growth medium, and then to come in the next day and see that your sketch idea has bloomed into color and completion is one that applies to laboratory science and experimentation in general. Just finding out if you like the fine motor manipulation, the suspense of the wait, and the excitement and surprise of the result is a good thing to learn early in career exploration, no? You can find much more of the same on the web here: http://www.microbialart.com/more/

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

 

 

 

BioMusic

Male_Bonobo_Lola_ya_Bonobo_2008

Male bonobo (Pan paniscus) at Lola ya Bonobo, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008

The term BioMusic seems to have many different meanings. At least a couple of them represent an authentic connection between art and science, and lend themselves to teaching and research at the university level. The research in this area seems to bring together biologists or doctors, musicians, and computer scientists.

One relates to the evolution of a musical sense as recently exemplified in research on bonobos (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/15/us-science-animals-rythym-idUSBREA1E0ZL20140215) by Dr. Patricia Gray (https://performingarts.uncg.edu/mri/research-areas/biomusic) at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (http://www.uncg.edu). This research involved an undergraduate research assistant. Other studies relate to whales songs and bird songs, and rhythmic abilities in parrots (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17065-dancing-parrots-could-help-explain-evolution-of-rhythm.html#.UwJ7TRayfzI) and sea lions (http://news.ucsc.edu/2013/04/sea-lion-beat.html).

The other meaning relates to the sonification of human biological data including heartbeat, brainwaves, respiration rate, or protein patterns or genetic traits. There’s even an ap for that : http://biobeats.com/our-story/. These topics related to health and biofeedback, as well as biological diversity.

Serious Space Games

Mrs. Muriel Riester, Librarian at the International Space University (http://www.isunet.edu)  has assembled an interesting list of space-related scientific Serious Games (http://isulibrary.isunet.edu/opac/doc_num.php?explnum_id=616). Video games integrate technology, the visual arts, design, and story-telling, and can center on STEM content. Students can learn about STEM disciplines through playing these games, and can learn even more by developing them!

Screenshot from the open-source space simulator Vegastrike.

Screenshot from the open-source space simulator Vegastrike.

More Me Too

Just a short post to add to my earlier post on the me-too nature of STEAM. I came across a very nice set of slides on STEAM in K12 from a group of educators in Hawai’i (http://standardstoolkit.k12.hi.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/steamwebinar_pdmaterials_203.pdf). They mention one other version of STEAM: STEAM GLASS. The GLASS part of this term refers to Geography, Language Arts, Social Studies.

So, that makes this acronym the second to refer to Social Studies and the third to refer to Language Arts! I present these acronyms so that you might consider other types of integration to create holistic learning experiences at the university level. And it reminds me that I need to write a post about glass blowing…

Glass blowing at the Spanish village art center (Jon Sullivan)

Glass blowing at a Spanish village art center (Jon Sullivan)

STEAM Meeting in New England

Fern Specimens, Chromolithograph, L. Prang & Co., Print Department, Boston Public Library

Fern Specimens, Chromolithograph, L. Prang & Co., Print Department, Boston Public Library, 1861-1897 (approximate)

This fall, Gavin Andrews (of the Peabody Essex Museum) and I gave a presentation on STEAM at the New England Faculty Development Conference.  Coincidentally, this June the NEFDC conference will be on the topic of Moving from STEM to STEAM: What Really Works (http://www.nefdc.org/spring2014conf.html).

The keynote speaker is Tom Pilecki, who was the director of the Center for Creative Education for twelve years, and is the co-author of the book “From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts” with David Sousa (http://www.corwin.com/books/Book239445). Interestingly, he was founder and principal of the St. Augustine School for the Arts, which was the focus of the 1993 documentary entitled “Something  Within Me”, a film that won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, Filmmakers Trophy, Special Jury Prize (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108183/?ref_=nm_flmg_slf_1).

The conference will take place at Roger Williams University (http://rwu.edu) in Rhode Island, and the call for proposals ends February 23. The tiny coastal state of Rhode Island is also home to RISD (http://www.risd.edu), a great champion of STEAM, so perhaps some RISD folks will attend the meeting?

Hope to see you there.

Art Science Movers and Shakers at an Arts University

Portrait of Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Photographer, Playwright, and Aeronautical Scientist.

Portrait of Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Photographer, Playwright, and Aeronautical Scientist.

Whoa. Why did it take me so long to come across ArtSTEM?? ArtSTEM (http://www.artstem.org) is a project led by science faculty member, Dr. Janna Levin (http://www.uncsa.edu/academicprograms/faculty27.htm), and a history faculty member, Michael Wakeford (http://faculty.uncsa.edu/generalstudies/wakefordm/), at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (http://www.uncsa.edu). It’s alway a pleasure to find a STEAM-related project that is led by both a scientist and someone from the humanities. Without both of those perspectives in the leadership, sometimes the approach is too one-sided and the project’s efforts fail to effectively communicate clearly across disciplines.

ArtSTEM faculty projects involve arts high school and university students in a great variety of projects including plays about the process  of science, food science and food presentation, the intersection of anatomy & physiology with dance, the intersection of judo with physics, short films on science that use animation and puppetry, the art and technology of sound, the sonification of solar data, and the aesthetics of regulation in architecture.

ArtSTEM is even offering what looks like a very interesting course this coming semester. I encourage you to read the course description!  http://www.artstem.org/2013/04/22/artstem-course-planned-for-spring-2014/