Many creative projects in STEM classrooms are about their subjects; fewer include their subjects in the art. But Sarah Hatton, a visual artist and bee-keeper residing in Quebec, has incorporated her focal species into her work. She’s arranged dead honeybees in mathematical patterns such as a Fibonacci spiral to dizzying effect, a reminder of the damage caused by neonicotinoid pesticides on bee navigation (http://sarahhattonartist.com). A collection of thousands of dead bees all in one place is a sad and compelling reminder of the ever-expanding crisis facing our most valuable pollinators. For a recent article on her work see http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-11/21/bee-art
Warm breezes. White sand beaches. Rain forest. Tiny frogs that sing you to sleep.
All of this could be the setting for your adventures in collaborative research in art and science this January. The week-long visit to Puerto Rico is run by biologist Dr. Saúl Nava (http://saulnava.com) and visual artist Ms. Stephanie Dowdy-Nava (http://stephaniedowdynava.com), co-founders of the ART + BIO Collaborative (http://www.artbiocollaborative.com). How do you think travel influences art/science research?
In addition to their travel-study course, the Collaborative organizes art/bio events that often include a public education/science communication component. This organization interests me because its goals align quite nicely with my interests – they aim to build collaboration, develop art+science curricula, and promote a cross-disciplinary, holistic approach to discovery in settings as varied as research labs, studios and public spaces.
Let’s face it. Science has an image problem. Part of that problem arises out of a complicated history, but much of it can be attributed to the fact that scientists can have a hard time communicating science in a clear and compelling manner.
The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science (http://www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org) uses the art of acting (as well as other techniques) to improve science communication. Located in the Stony Brook University School of Journalism (https://journalism.cc.stonybrook.edu), faculty members include highy-respected theater professionals, journalists, writers, and filmmakers, as well as the extraordinary Mr. Alda (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000257/). Through summer institutes on-site and customizable workshops held at locations around the United States, the Center trains researchers, professors, health care practitioners, and graduate students to more effectively teach complex scientific ideas to a wide variety of audiences. Improvisation plays a central role in this training, helping participants to understand how they’re heard by people who lack the same expertise.
Could a collaboration with your university’s theater department improve teaching? What about student presentations?
Mr. Alda hosted PBS’ American Scientific Frontiers (http://www.pbs.org/saf/) for more than a decade and is deeply committed to public education in science. The actor, director, screen-writer and author is best known for his work on M*A*S*H and The West Wing.
(See also an earlier related post about Nancy Houfek, Head of Voice and Speech for the American Repertory Theatre: http://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/act-like-you-mean-it/)
When you think about music videos, you’re reminded of Orgo class, right? Dr. Neil Garg (http://www.chem.ucla.edu/dept/Faculty/garg/Garg_Group/Home.html) at UCLA has a very popular Organic Chemistry class that includes a very popular extra-credit music video assignment. Students create ringtones, too. Despite the reasonable final exam mean of 72% last semester, the class fills to capacity (http://www.chem.ucla.edu/14D-S13/Home.html).
Students are unable to get the catchy rhymes about reactions out of their heads, and they’re likely to remember these aspects of Organic for the rest of their lives. Lyrics are memorable because music is a multi-sensory stimulus that includes rhythm, rhyme, alliteration and melody. It also has emotional and personal components that reinforce long-term recall (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17105759). Students learn about teamwork – a workforce preparedness goal, animation, and audio and video editing. Hop over to YouTube and boogie to even more awesome chemistry tunes.
So, today I got up my nerve. After many months of encouragement from a friend, I flew. On the flying trapeze. In just one lesson they taught me to hang from my knees twenty-five feet in the air. I was even caught twice by the remarkable Rob Borroughs, who can apparently catch a novice no matter how many crazy things she does. I offer gratitude to Owner/Head Coach Don Dinh (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer) who patiently guided me through the steps of the tricks, and to Head Coach Lam Dinh (Computer Science) who encouraged me and held my belt as I leaned off the platform to grasp ahold of that swing that seemed to be so far out into the blue.
But, of course, the whole time I was really thinking about STEAM. As the Owner/Head Coach Ally Dihn of the Fearless Flyers Academy (http://www.fearlessflyersacademy.com) said to me today, “The trapeze is all physics.”
In fact, Alastair Pilgrim of Red Hands Flying Trapeze (http://www.red-hands.co.uk) has written a nice piece entitled, The Physics of Flying Trapeze (http://www.flying-trapeze.com/The-Physics-of-Flying-Trapeze/). He talks about kinetic and potential energy, calculating maximum speed, and time period of the swing. And that’s just the first chapter.
So, physics professors, check out a flying school near you. Fearless Flyers Academy is in Salem, Massachusetts for just eight more days this season – but also due back next August. There are flying academies all over the world. Find one in your neighborhood and expose your students to the exciting world of physics through trapeze!
The field of scientific visualization represents an authentic connection between the arts/design and the STEM disciplines. Daniel Keefe (http://www-users.cs.umn.edu/~keefe/dfk_iweb/Home.html) and David Laidlaw (http://cs.brown.edu/~dhl/) recently reported on what they’ve learned through the their teaching in the field of Virtual Reality (http://ivlab.cs.umn.edu/papers/Keefe-2013-VR-Design-for-STEAM.pdf). VR is advanced visualization technology that has broad appeal for undergraduates of all disciplines.
The authors discovered that when art and STEM students worked together on Virtual Reality data visualization projects, they each began to develop some expertise in the other’s discipline. This exploration improved cross-disciplinary communication, facilitating the collaboration.
The authors incorporated important elements of art classes into their teaching. For one, they used a critique-style discussion of work-in-progress. Scientists knowledgeable about the data joined in. They found these classroom critiques so useful that they brought this teaching/learning technique into other computer science courses. (I could see how art-style classroom critique could be useful in other STEM courses as well.) Both groups of students faced the additional challenge of effective communication with the scientists whose research they were representing. In life-after-university, this third party could represent a client or additional collaborator.
They also emphasized the importance of “sketching” prior to programming. Sketching took various forms including paper & pencil, a series of concept sketches using Adobe Illustrator, acting out possible user experiences, short films, sculptures, and prototyping in the CavePainting virtual reality system. Data display environments help to align sketches with the reality of the data.
This paper causes me to reflect on my own teaching and on the importance of reflection for learning. It’s important to slow down, develop lots of ideas, get lots of feedback, and learn how to understand each other.
The paper described here was published in the refereed proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality 2013 which was held as part of the 15th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction.
When I saw this poster, Science vs. Art (click on the image to expand), by Rosemary Mosco (http://www.rosemarymosco.com) I knew I needed to write about her work! Ms. Mosco is a field naturalist who creates charming, informative and funny comics, charts, posters and video games about nature.
Even if your students aren’t great artists like Ms. Mosco, they can probably make a comic, or illustrated poster or chart, about almost any STEM topic. Through the creative process, students will explore STEM ideas and concepts, in many cases work collaboratively, and express what they have learned. Their creations can also be shared with a general audience, advancing learning beyond the classroom. Ms. Mosco’s work can provide them with inspiration!
In an earlier post, I wrote about the use of sculpture to explore the sub-microscopic subject of protein folding (http://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/the-use-of-sculpture-to-teach-protein-folding/) . As you might imagine, sculpture can be used in the investigation of macro-scale subjects as well.
The artist Diana Beltrán Herrera (http://www.dianabeltranherrera.com) creates breathtaking, exquisitely-detailed paper sculptures of birds and other wildlife. The birds in her Disecciones series are partially transparent, allowing a view of the organs inside. Her sculptures demonstrate a detailed understanding of morphology, anatomy, and animal behavior. They also carry a message about appreciation of the natural world that surrounds us no matter where we live (http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/artscience/2013/09/diana-beltran-herreras-flock-of-paper-birds/).
Students who are asked to create sculptures of animals can learn about morphology, anatomy, and behavior, necessarily becoming experts on their subjects. Perhaps they will even come to care about the animals they sculpt! We can hope, right?
P.S. To see another form of visual art that addresses similar STEM topics click through to extraordinary textile art at http://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/a-yarn-about-anatomy-2/
P.P. S. Also notable, paper is the material of choice for the costumes and sculptures used by Isabella Roselli in her series for the Sundance Channel. She and Andy Byers, her costume designer, selected paper for its low cost and relative ease of use, among other artistic considerations (http://www.bradfordshellhammer.com/interviews/2010/01/andy_byers.html; http://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/oh-isabella/). Maybe these folks have identified a good material for our use in STEM teaching through the arts.
The idea of STEAM has broad appeal. So broad, in fact, that lots of other disciplines seem to want in too.
Check out this list of acronyms. Why does the field of education have so many acronyms?!
STREAM brings in Language Arts in form of ”wRiting” or Reading (http://smartregion.org/2011/04/from-stem-to-stream/, http://www.journal-advocate.com/ci_23625741/stem-at-center-stem-steam-and-stream, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/imagine/201103/stem-steam-stream-writing-essential-component-science-education). But weren’t reading and writing essential components of the practice of science anyway? Perhaps they aren’t always included in K12 STEM, but they certainly should be.
Then there’s ST2REAM. ST2REAM includes reading/language arts again, plus thematic instruction (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/10/24/09wesson.h32.html). I kind of like the idea of thematic instruction, but I’m concerned that if we add any more angles the science will get diluted. Thematic courses may be a good fit for Interdisciplinary Studies departments.
STEAMIE incorporates “Include Everyone” (http://www.iste.org/store/product?ID=2119). Inclusion is good.
STEMM specifies medicine (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2013/05/20/tips-for-hiring-stemm-talent-into-government/). Lots of K12 school districts across the United States have STEMM programs, and the federal government seems to be using this term in some cases.
In STEMSS the second (or first?) S stands for Social Studies (http://www.uwlax.edu/conted/stem/stemssprograms.html). Did you know that there’s a society for the social studies of science? http://www.4sonline.org Interesting stuff, and a somewhat novel combination of disciplines.
Let’s not forget STEAM where A=Architecture (http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/ready_setwait_stem_or_is_it_steam) or SEA, which now stands for Science, Economics, and Arts (http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrydoss/2013/09/17/the-innovation-curriculum-stem-steam-or-sea/).
I’ve also seen STEAME where the E stand for Entertainment, but for the life of me I can’t find a reference for it.
This variety of attempts to join other disciplines with STEM reflects a genuine interest in the zeitgeist in the re-integration of knowledge. I suspect that it also reflects the fact that research funds are extremely tight all over – if funding isn’t available in your own discipline, maybe you can find it in someone else’s!
The Australian Council of Learned Academies, in an effort to build Australia’s STEM workforce and increase international competitiveness, recently commissioned reports on similar efforts in 24 countries, including the Republic of Korea (aka South Korea or Korea) (http://www.acola.org.au/index.php/stem-consultants-reports – a great resource if you are asked to consider the future of STEM in your own region). This particular report (www.acola.org.au/ACOLA/PDF/SAF02Consultants/Consultant%20Report%20-%20Korea.pdf) was authored by Jae-Eun Jon, Korea University (http://www.korea.edu) and Hae-In Chung, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (http://www1.umn.edu/twincities/index.html).
Therein they describe the efforts of the Republic of Korea in the area of STEAM. While Korean students have excelled in math and science, and the country has a need for increased numbers of STEM-capable graduates, interest in the STEM disciplines is weak. To remedy this problem and foster creativity, beginning in August 2011 the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology restructured the entire Korean STEM curriculum around the idea of STEAM. The amount of math content was reduced by 20% to allow time for STEAM. There have been many opportunities for associated professional development, and two new STEAM schools for the gifted and talented crowd are scheduled to open by 2016. Additional schools have been selected at STEAM Leader Schools to pilot the full STEAM curriculum, and teacher study groups have been formed. Universities and Colleges of Education are expected to develop curricula that will train future teachers in STEAM and to carry out STEAM research.