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!

 

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Art Science Movers and Shakers at an Arts University

Portrait of Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Photographer, Playwright, and Aeronautical Scientist.

Portrait of Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Photographer, Playwright, and Aeronautical Scientist.

Whoa. Why did it take me so long to come across ArtSTEM?? ArtSTEM (http://www.artstem.org) is a project led by science faculty member, Dr. Janna Levin (http://www.uncsa.edu/academicprograms/faculty27.htm), and a history faculty member, Michael Wakeford (http://faculty.uncsa.edu/generalstudies/wakefordm/), at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (http://www.uncsa.edu). It’s alway a pleasure to find a STEAM-related project that is led by both a scientist and someone from the humanities. Without both of those perspectives in the leadership, sometimes the approach is too one-sided and the project’s efforts fail to effectively communicate clearly across disciplines.

ArtSTEM faculty projects involve arts high school and university students in a great variety of projects including plays about the process  of science, food science and food presentation, the intersection of anatomy & physiology with dance, the intersection of judo with physics, short films on science that use animation and puppetry, the art and technology of sound, the sonification of solar data, and the aesthetics of regulation in architecture.

ArtSTEM is even offering what looks like a very interesting course this coming semester. I encourage you to read the course description!  http://www.artstem.org/2013/04/22/artstem-course-planned-for-spring-2014/

With the Greatest of Ease!

Flying Trapeze (Courtesy of Fearless Flyers Academy)

Flying Trapeze (Courtesy of Fearless Flyers Academy)

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!

Origami Origami

Origami authentically merges art and design with mathematical theory, algorithms, and technology. Math is central to learning in STEM, and is a language shared by STEM, art and design (http://cjvrose.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/stem-to-steam-report.pdf).

Origami artist Dr. Robert J. Lang of Alamo, California, also a physicist and engineer with expertise in R&D, has written and spoken extensively on these ideas (http://www.langorigami.com/science/science.php). Paper folding artist Michael LaFosse of Origamido Studio (http://origamido.com) in Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a biologist by training and uses organisms as subjects for his art.

There are even conferences about this type of work. The Sixth International Conference on Origami in Science, Mathematics, and Education (6OSME) (http://www.origami.gr.jp/6osme/) will take place at lovely Yayoi Auditorium on the Hongo campus of The University of Tokyo (http://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/) in August 2014. The conference is currently taking submissions from “art, design, mathematics, science, computer science, engineering, liberal arts, history, education, and other fields and their intersections.” 

Paper cranes, folded as prayers for peace. Peace Park, Hiroshima, Japan. (Fg2)

Paper cranes, folded as prayers for peace. Peace Park, Hiroshima, Japan. (Fg2)

Paper folding is something that interests undergraduates, as evidenced by the origami club at MIT, OrigaMIT (http://origamit.scripts.mit.edu/index.php), so it may suggest a new type of active learning for incorporation into university courses, especially those in math and engineering.

Maker Faire as a Venue for Student Work

Maker Faires showcase D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) work often with a technology slant. Makers present work that ranges from Arduino projects (http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Projects/) to 3-D printers to biotech projects to textile arts to robots, and the faires take place around the world.

The World Maker Faire (http://makerfaire.com) will be at the New York Hall of Science (http://www.nysci.org) in Queens, NY, this September. The Call for Entries (http://makerfaire.com/newyork-2013-call-for-makers/) closes July 28. Interestingly, student projects top the list of the type of topics they’d like to see included.

For folks in the Boston area, there will be a Mini Maker Faire in Somerville, Massachusetts in October.

Clothing created by a 3D Printer

Clothing created by a 3D Printer

Dunk Tank Flambé

Ferris Wheel at Night (Tfioreze)

Ferris Wheel at Night

Okay, computer science  and engineering professors. Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman of Two Bit Circus have proposed a Carnival of the Future with robots, a dunk tank flambé, a laser maze, a ring toss with ignition, even a motion-capture mechanical bull. The development and making of these high tech games require computer science, art and design, engineering, and math. Then the community gets to learn about STEM through interaction with the games. Check out the work of Two Bit Circus at: http://twobitcircus.com

Is their form of artisanal engineering adaptable to the undergraduate or graduate classroom?

If you’d like to support their vision, and I encourage you to do so, visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/twobitcircus/steam-carnival-0