One of the main challenges in teaching through STEAM is to find authentic connections between the science and the arts/design. The relationship between sculpture and protein folding is one of these authentic connections. At DePauw University, a collaboration between students and faculty members from the chemistry and sculpture departments involved the creation of sculptures that showed the folding of proteins. The result was true arts integration, a step beyond STEAM.
The project, led by Daniel Gurnon, Julian Voss-Andreae, and Jacob Stanley, combined an art class and a science class, and included the participation of a guest artist. The students collaborated, solved problems, were inspired to do additional research, raised important questions about the science, and developed metaphors to address the conceptual challenges related to physical and temporal scaling. They certainly spent more time thinking about protein folding than they would have otherwise, and time-on-task often equates with greater learning. The tactile experience of constructing the sculptures also likely contributed to learning. The resulting sculptures continue to inspire learning by both art and science students through questions that are raised by the works and the resulting discussions.
In your own STEM teaching, are there structures that are challenging for students to visualize? Could sculpture be a useful approach? Would it be useful to collaborate with an art class? Would it be helpful to have an artist visit your classroom?