Grading Student Work

Ah, grading. Our favorite word, yes?

Elephant crossing the road in Kruger National Park, South Africa, 22 January 2007 (Entropy1963)

Elephant crossing the road in Kruger National Park, South Africa, 22 January 2007 (Entropy1963)

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?

The Art Museum as Collaborator

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.

"Orators, Rostrums, and Propaganda Stands: no3," by John Craig Freeman, augmented reality public art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.

“Orators, Rostrums, and Propaganda Stands: no3,” by John Craig Freeman, augmented reality public art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.

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.