See You in the Funny Pages!

Could you use graphic non-fiction to teach a STEM subject? Well, science cartoonist and Professor of Biology at Juniata College, Dr. Jay Hosler has done just that.  Check out his blog at:

Example of a style of cartoon character by Drawerofshadows

The front page of his blog currently features some great student work from his Animal Behavior course. Almost any STEM story could be told through this art form, which can take a tone that ranges from whimsical to dark. Also, comics would be well-suited for group work as the conceptualization could be cooperative, and the drawing, inking, coloring, and writing could be delegated to different students.

As with other forms of STEAM, this work is certain to form right brain/left brain connections, and will surely result in more time-on-task. Be sure to check out Dr. Hosler’s own science comics and graphic novels on topics as varies as evolution and the history of science :


Does the Science Move You?

Movement/Dance is being used to teach STEM processes, especially those that take place at less accessible physical and temporal scales. Dance/movement can be used in undergraduate classrooms to teach, among other topics,

  • the action of ATP synthase
  • the movement of blood through the human body
  • the workings of an electron transport chain
  • the role of wave action in marine habitats
  • transport within the vascular systems of plants
  • the evolution of locomotion in vertebrate lineages
Tosy DiscoRobo is a dancing robot. The Best of Toyfair 2012 (Popular Science).

Tosy DiscoRobo, the Dancing Robot

When movement is used in STEM teaching, students encounter a novel way to learn the physical, chemical, and energetic components of systems. Students given full responsibility for developing a dance must ask questions about the science and have a rigorous understanding of their topic.  Dance allows students to explore ‘what if’ scenarios, to test hypotheses that would be difficult or impossible to test otherwise. Movement/dance allows students to express themselves creatively and as individuals, building connections to their core identities. Through this work, they are required to analyze and use the science, and are able to do so even when typical research facilities are lacking. If turned into a performance, dance/movement allows students to share what they have learned in a novel and engaging way. The importance of joy in learning can’t be understated!

Want to get involved right now? This Thursday, become part of a human DNA strand at MIT!

Dance is also used at the graduate and professional levels (more on that later) of science. The Dance Your Ph.D. Contest, sponsored by Science Magazine and AAAS, exhorts scientists to express themselves through dance, saying, “You’re a scientist. With your superpowers comes the responsibility to communicate the thrill of science to the public. Yes, sometimes in dance form. So dance like you mean it.”

Check out Dance Your Ph.D.:

It’s good enough for scores of Ph.D. scientists. Is it good enough for your students?

If you aren’t convinced yet, then watch this amazing Ted Talk by John Bohannon of Harvard University, the founder of Dance Your Ph.D.:

Now off to practice my jazz hands…

What Can Be Learned from Double Majors

A recent Curb Center report by Dr. Richard Pitt and Dr. Steven Tepper of Vanderbilt University addresses the rise of double-majoring among university students in the United States:

While this report does not address STEAM specifically, it does produce conclusions that have implications for STEAM at the undergraduate level.

For a student to experience durable learning in a STEM subject, it may be useful for him or her to draw connections between the STEM subject and his or her core identity. The authors demonstrate that core identities can often lie in the humanities, including the arts.

"Berlin to New York in less than One Hour!" written by Hugo Gernsback and illustrated by Frank R Paul in the November 1931 issue of ''Everyday Science and Mechanics''. (Volume 2, Number 12.)

“Double majors seem aware of the ‘status’ and ‘prestige’ of their majors. Science and economics stand out as the highest status majors (as rated, in aggregate form, by the students themselves); humanities are lower status majors. Interestingly, when double majoring students present themselves and their educational interests to parents and potential employers, they focus on their high status major. When they think about their own ‘core identity,’ they are more likely to focus on their lower status major.”

Moreover, there is the potential for greater creativity and risk-taking in STEM coursework, but this creativity is much more likely to occur for students who double-major.

“Eight percent of biology single majors report that their coursework allows them to express their creativity; but when biology is their second major 43% report that their biology coursework allows them to express their creativity. When it comes to taking risks, one percent of single chemistry majors report that they can take risks with their assignments, whereas 38% of students who take chemistry as their second major report being able to take risks with their chemistry assignments. For math majors, only one percent report that they can take assignments in multiple directions when math is their only major; when it is their second major nineteen percent report that this happens regularly in their math classes.”

This difference may be more likely in students who are more inclined to double-major because they take a variety of approaches to problem-solving, but double-majoring itself seemed to be the cause of creative ‘spill-over’  into relatively low-creativity coursework. Structured support in fields that employ greater creativity supports student creative work in STEM subjects.  A STEAM approach to teaching may have a similar effect.

I encourage you to read the entire report as their findings have multiple implications for major trends in university-level education.