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).
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!
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
(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.
Finally, 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/
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.
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!
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…
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.
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/
I went back and forth on whether to write this post at this point in time. You can see that I have two recent posts on collaboration, but then I left the subject to write about grading. I hesitated to write on this topic because I haven’t actually collaborated with a professional artist outside of academia yet. However, I have stuck my toe in the water and it feels nice, so this post is mainly forward-looking.
So far, I’ve considered this type of collaboration for a professional development program supporting K12 teachers. As part of some very preliminary planning, I decided to take an informal poll of several of my artist friends and acquaintances to see if they might have an interest in helping to lead teacher-training workshops. I asked two dancers, a writer, a writer/actor/director, a cinematographer, a singer/guitarist/song-writer, and graphic designer their thoughts. To my great shock and surprise, every one of them expressed an interest!
So, the main challenge here is probably not recruiting interested artists. Rather, the challenge is likely to be in paying them properly. For each of these people, time is money and any commitment outside of their art must, understandably, make economic sense.
In K12 schools, there are many Artist in Residence programs. The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts (http://www.wolftrap.org/Education/Institute_Professional_Development.aspx) supports residencies for artists in early-childhood classrooms with a focus on STEM education in particular. As I mentioned in an earlier post (http://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/sunny-days/) there are some reasons to see these early childhood models as relevant to higher education. I can see an artist leading a workshop or a series of workshops for faculty professional development at my university sometime in the near future.
Well, that’s all I have to say on that subject for now. Maybe you have something to contribute?
P.S. I should mention that many professional artists could use assistants. You may want to send some of your STEM students their way.
Ah, grading. Our favorite word, yes?
So, how does a STEM professor go about grading student work with artistic content? We’re professional educators with years of experience, so we should be able to figure this out, maybe.
If you’re planning a STEAM course that will be co-taught with an artist, you’re probably all set, but few people do these fully integrated courses.
I’ve used two separate approaches to grading STEAM work. One focuses solely on STEM content and the other incorporates an assessment of the art.
Grading STEM Content Only I did this in my Botany course in which students, as a class, used acting/movement to demonstrate and explore the movement of water, mineral nutrients and sugars through the vascular system of a plant. Their learning was tested through an essay question on an exam. These answers were the best I’d ever seen in 15 years of teaching this course.
Grading the Art and the STEM Content I’ve used this approach in three different courses. In my biology majors intro course, student give scientific presentations, which necessarily include performance skills. I use a detailed rubric to assess both the content and the performance. I’ve also taken this approach in an upper-level conservation biology course and a non-majors intro course. Students did creative projects about endangered species or current issues in biology, depending on the course. In both cases, the creative aspect had to be both clear and compelling to earn points, in addition to including enough biology content and correct biology content. I engaged all of the students in studio-style critiques and in evaluation of the work. This approach made sense to the students.
I’m sure that there are many ways to do this, and that my own approaches will change over time. What will you do in your own classes?
Have you considered going outside of your own academic institution to find an artistic collaborator? A STEM faculty member may be greeted with quite a lot of interest by an arts institution.
Many art museums, for example, display art that involves STEM in its creation or as it subject. Consider the chemistry in painting, math in fashion design, or computer science in augmented reality art. And then there are botanical prints, art derived from mathematical patterns, and landscapes that show changes in land-use over time, just to name a few. However, the museum may not have much contact with scientists, mathematicians, or engineers who could provide a different perspective on the work or connect with the visitors through scientific and mathematical ideas.
Education is an important part of the mission of museums, as is collaboration with educational institutions. You may find museum staff members to be intrigued by the idea of collaboration with higher ed instead of K-12 for a change. They may even be interested in leading a workshop for your colleagues to take place at the museum or at your university.
An art museum may be interested in participating in the dialog around STEM education that takes place at academic meetings, but may be seen as out of place at a scientific or faculty professional development conference. A collaboration with a STEM faculty member may help others to recognize the legitimacy of a museum’s voice in these settings.
And don’t forget that art and art/science museums can be great resources for your STEM classes. At a museum a student can improve his or her ability to observe details, interpret artwork in the context of conservation biology, or learn about the science of making art.
So, you’ve gotten interest in STEAM, and maybe you’re a STEM faculty member (like me) looking for collaborators in the arts. How does one go about it?
Well, there are several routes that you can try. This post will address collaborations within your institution.
1. Use Existing Professional Connections If you’ve been engaged in university-wide, or Arts & Sciences-wide committees or activities, you may know faculty members in departments that include the literary, visual, or performing arts. If you approach them, they may have an interest in collaboration. This route didn’t pan out for me – none of the people I already knew seemed to be intrigued by this type of work. They were each engaged in their own projects and didn’t have an interest in the sciences. STEM can be a tough sell with some artists. Also, I started with few contacts in the arts at my institution.
2. Connect Through Chairpersons Try to connect to a wider group through department chairpersons. I sent an email about a STEAM workshop to the chairs of departments that engage in the literary, visual, and performing arts. While I got great attendance from the STEM departments, plus a fabulous science librarian and an adjunct professor from the School of Education, I didn’t get a single person from those arts-related departments. It was never clear to me whether the announcement reached or went past the chairs. Maybe your experience has been different?
3. Go Higher Up the Administrative Ladder Deans, provosts and presidents have a bird’s-eye view of their charges. When I spoke to my provost, she directed me to a professor in the Theatre Department. She and I had a great chat and are discussing collaborative possibilities!
4. Take a Detour Keep in mind the possibility that the arts professors in your school may be better connected to arts institutions than they are to anyone you know. I found a great collaborator in my university’s Art Department through collaborators at the Peabody Essex Museum (www.pem.org). I wonder if I’d find more through the local theater company or a writers’ collective.