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 – https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/act-like-you-mean-it/, Edward Tufte’s books – http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/).

Aside from scientific presentations, 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!

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Tropical STEAM

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?

Discover_Puerto_Rico_U.S.A.,_WPA_poster_-_park

Discover Puerto Rico U.S.A., WPA poster, ca. 1938

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.

Me too!

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-streamhttp://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.

The Genius Of Architecture Rewarding At Once The Science And The Practice Of The Art by William Brodie, located in the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh

The Genius Of Architecture Rewarding At Once The Science And The Practice Of The Art by William Brodie, located in the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh (Stefan Schäfer, Lich)

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!

Sunny Day!

Cookie Monster, a philosophical Muppet who now enjoys cookies in addition to a well-balanced diet, comes out to greet Marine families during a USO performance of Sesame Street Live aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, April 28. During the show, Cookie Monster gave advice to Marine families about moving away from friends.

Cookie Monster, a philosophical Muppet who now enjoys cookies in addition to a well-balanced diet, comes out to greet Marine families during a USO performance of Sesame Street Live aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River. During the show, Cookie Monster gave advice to Marine families about moving away from friends.

This year Sesame Street (http://www.sesamestreet.org), a long-running children’s television program grounded in education research, has followed a curriculum in STEAM!!

Okay, you may wonder, why should educators at the university level care?

Here’s why we should care:

  1. Universities prepare early childhood education teachers. If their university-level STEM training includes STEAM, early childhood teachers can build on the Sesame Street STEAM curriculum in their own classrooms.
  2. We do and will continue to have STEM majors who have experienced STEAM at the preK-12 level. We can take advantage of these funds of knowledge in STEAM that our students bring to the classroom.
  3. Pre-K and university efforts in STEAM bear remarkable similarities, as evidenced in the Sesame Street curriculum document that supported this year’s work (STEM+A Curricular Seminar Summary: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Art). In many passages one could simply swap the word student for the word child to produce something that looks like an argument for STEAM in higher ed. Quite a few of the examples of content (not included here) are also adaptable to the university level. Greater communication across all levels of teaching and learning will move us forward faster.

Check out these quotes from the document:

“We can also help make the connection between scientific and innovative thinking to clearly demonstrate that the Arts can be used to inspire learning and teach STEM concepts. These process skills enable children to formulate thoughts into investigable questions, solve problems, and allow for the learning of new concepts and “big ideas” to become apparent and meaningful.”

“We can also help make the connection between scientific and innovative thinking to clearly demonstrate that the Arts can be used to inspire learning and teach STEM concepts. These process skills enable children to formulate thoughts into investigable questions, solve problems, and allow for the learning of new concepts and “big ideas” to become apparent and meaningful.”

Articulation across all levels of education, including high quality children’s programming, is important as we work to improve STEM teaching and learning.

Plus, who doesn’t love Sesame Street? Tell me, who’s your favorite muppet??

[While Sesame Street is a driven by a whole-child curriculum, they revise their curriculum to highlight specific educational needs. To address these needs, they invite advisors (academics, researchers, teachers, parent engagement professionals, and others) to join them for a curriculum seminar in which they present their research and experience. Colleagues at Sesame Workshop were kind enough to share with me the confidential curriculum document that resulted from the Season 43 curricular seminar on STEAM. Thank you, Sesame Workshop!]

For Your Perusal

I’m excited to share with you an important addition to this blog – a bibliography constructed by Nancy Dennis, Science and Technology Librarian at Salem State University, and my collaborator in the research on the topic of STEAM. Nancy has collected and annotated a stimulating selection of articles on the topic of the intersection of the visual arts and the sciences, all with relevance to higher education. We’ll be adding to this bibliography over time, so be sure to check back occasionally. The bibliography can be found in the ‘Pages’ section: https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/science-visual-arts-bibliography/

Let me draw your attention to a couple of items of interest from the bibliography. First, please note this quote from a fascinating 1988 interview with Dr. Elliot Eisner, Professor Emeritus of Education and of Art.

Tattoo designed by Christian Cordova of Tattoo del Mono, Chile

Tattoo designed by Christian Cordova of Tattoo del Mono, Chile

“Learning in the arts is cognitively a very sophisticated operation. It requires the exercise of imagination. It requires the cultivation of human sensibility, the ability to pay attention to nuance, the ability to capitalize on the adventitious and on surprise in the course of working on a project or topic, the ability to know when to shift goals when working on something. It is the farthest thing from an algorithm. Much of the lack of development of critical thinking in American schools has been due to an emphasis on subject matter and on processes that do not cultivate human judgement and other forms of higher-level thinking.”

As scientists, we use most of the same elements of higher-level thinking in our own practice. In the same interview, Dr. Eisner voiced support for arts integration as long as it did not involve the sacrifice of formal art programs in schools.

Second, you may enjoy a 2012 article by Poli et al. that describes the use of topic of tattooing to explore world cultures, design, microbiology, immunology, chemistry, public health, medicine, physics, and engineering!