Artistic Bacteria

Welcome to my first guest post!  Today we’re hearing from Dr. Amy Sprenkle (https://www.salemstate.edu/academics/schools/1046.php?id=736) from my home institution, Salem State University (https://www.salemstate.edu).

 

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The annual Darwin Festival (http://w3.salemstate.edu/~pkelly/darwin/) coincides with Valentine’s day each year, and I usually invite my microbiology students to create ‘valentines’ by using bacterial cultures that have a macroscopic appearance that is opaque and colorful after growing on an agar plate. This year we shared them at the Darwin Festival.

“But why did you do it?” asked Lisa.

I could come up with many scientific reasons why allowing the students to ‘paint’ with bacteria is a good idea; reminders of the aspects of good aseptic technique, or the study of the interaction of the different cultures as they grow on the plate are just two, but I think the most important reason is that it helps to demystify bacteria, and perhaps break down some ‘germophobe’ walls that have been built in some individuals since childhood. As a microbiologist, I consider germophobes to have a certain lack of intellectual curiosity, and a lack of openness to new ideas, especially in microbiology! Created with Nokia Smart Cam

 

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Thinking of bacteria as a medium of art, rather than germs to be feared and removed at all costs, makes manipulating them a lot less scary. Not being assessed on the success of the project also makes it more fun and less threatening

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

(but many students don’t bother to do the valentine because it’s not required). The best thing in being released from the fear of manipulating bacteria is that it gets one thinking about the ways in which we use microbes to our benefit; in food production and agriculture, bioremediation, biotechnology, and most importantly as a part of our resident microbiota that is so crucial to our health.

Created with Nokia Smart CamFinally, the delayed gratification that comes with making light ‘brush strokes’ with a sterile toothpick to place microscopic cells on the growth medium, and then to come in the next day and see that your sketch idea has bloomed into color and completion is one that applies to laboratory science and experimentation in general. Just finding out if you like the fine motor manipulation, the suspense of the wait, and the excitement and surprise of the result is a good thing to learn early in career exploration, no? You can find much more of the same on the web here: http://www.microbialart.com/more/

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The Buzz

Hungarian postage stamp issued to publicize the value of savings and insurance

Hungarian postage stamp issued to publicize the value of savings and insurance

Many creative projects in STEM classrooms are about their subjects; fewer include their subjects in the art. But Sarah Hatton, a visual artist and bee-keeper residing in Quebec, has incorporated her focal species into her work. She’s arranged dead honeybees in mathematical patterns such as a Fibonacci spiral to dizzying effect, a reminder of the damage caused by neonicotinoid pesticides on bee navigation (http://sarahhattonartist.com). A collection of thousands of dead bees all in one place is a sad and compelling reminder of the ever-expanding crisis facing our most valuable pollinators. For a recent article on her work see http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-11/21/bee-art

Acting/Science Mashup

Caricature of a mad scientist drawn by J.J.

Caricature of a mad scientist drawn by J.J.

Let’s face it. Science has an image problem. Part of that problem arises out of a complicated history, but much of it can be attributed to the fact that scientists can have a hard time communicating science in a clear and compelling manner.

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science (http://www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org) uses the art of acting (as well as other techniques) to improve science communication. Located in the Stony Brook University School of Journalism (https://journalism.cc.stonybrook.edu), faculty members include highy-respected theater professionals, journalists, writers, and filmmakers, as well as the extraordinary Mr. Alda (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000257/). Through summer institutes on-site and customizable workshops held at locations around the United States, the Center trains researchers, professors, health care practitioners, and graduate students to more effectively teach complex scientific ideas to a wide variety of audiences. Improvisation plays a central role in this training, helping participants to understand how they’re heard by people who lack the same expertise.

Could a collaboration with your university’s theater department improve teaching? What about student presentations?

Mr. Alda hosted PBS’ American Scientific Frontiers (http://www.pbs.org/saf/) for more than a decade and is deeply committed to public education in science.  The actor, director, screen-writer and author is best known for his work on M*A*S*H and The West Wing.

(See also an earlier related post about Nancy Houfek, Head of Voice and Speech for the American Repertory Theatre: https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/act-like-you-mean-it/)

STEM is funny. No, really.

sciencevsart

Science vs. Art (courtesy of the artist)

When I saw this poster, Science vs. Art (click on the image to expand), by Rosemary Mosco (http://www.rosemarymosco.com) I knew I needed to write about her work!  Ms. Mosco is a field naturalist who creates charming, informative and funny comics, charts, posters and video games about nature.

Even if your students aren’t great artists like Ms. Mosco, they can probably make a comic, or illustrated poster or chart, about almost any STEM topic. Through the creative process, students will explore STEM ideas and concepts, in many cases work collaboratively, and express what they have learned. Their creations can also be shared with a general audience, advancing learning beyond the classroom.  Ms. Mosco’s work can provide them with inspiration!

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!

WHO ARE YOU?

Image

Hermann Berghaus, Map of the World in star projection, 1880. This star projection is a special kind of a map projection.

I have readers from more than 35 countries. I’m quite curious about who you are. Are you involved in education? K12 or is it higher ed? Are you a scientist? An engineer? An artist? What brings you to this blog? What are you doing to implement STEAM in your work? This week’s post is about you! I look forward to your responses. (This is also a chance for you to network, so do share!)

STEAM Ed in India

In her Art Lab Blog, (http://kkartlab.in/profiles/blogs/the-science-art-education-models-of-india-and-the-us-a-case-study)  Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa considered the difference in the educational systems in the United States and India with a focus on STEM and STEAM.

Artist at the 2013 International Kolkata Book Fair, the largest non-trade book fair in the world and the most attended book fair in the world. (Biswarup Ganguly)

Artist at the 2013 International Kolkata Book Fair, the largest non-trade book fair in the world and the most attended book fair in the world. (Biswarup Ganguly)

In her argument she stated that, compared to students in the U.S., Indian students have much more extensive exposure to the arts all the way or nearly all the way through school. In fact, the arts integration is so strong that students don’t experience art and science as separate disciplines. (Do you agree with Dr. Challa’s characterization of the educational system in India?) India has many people with STEM skills. It also has general public that is much for accepting of science than is the general public in the States.   What a great model for STEAM, right?

However, because of our powerful research presence in the States, something lacking in India, she says that folks in that system look with admiration at our more single-minded attention to STEM.  So what to do? Dr. Challa suggests a hybrid approach that result in outstanding researching and excellent science communication. What do you think that would look like?

But Does the Art Have to be Good?

In my previous post I featured a story about the sonification of climate data (https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/sing-of-song-of-science/). A student created a simple cello piece from global temperature numbers over time. This story was covered widely by both the conventional media and the blogosphere. The resulting music was described as beautiful (http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-07/story-warming-climate-told-through-song) and haunting (http://iamchiq.fooyoh.com/iamchiq_living_lifestyle/8555284). The wide coverage of the piece indicates that it was successful in increasing the communication of the climate change message to the general public, which was, in fact, the goal of the exercise.

But one blogger, Smashly, pointed out that the resulting cello piece, while showing great initiative and some creativity, didn’t actually qualify as great, or even really good, music (http://madartlab.com/2013/07/04/more-adventures-in-terrible-data-sonification/). I’d have to agree.  I doubt that it would have been described positively by folks who heard it if they hadn’t known the backstory. She calls for musicians to take up the challenge to make data sound like real, truly moving music by, to start, finding the right chords to put behind the notes that represent the numbers.  Andrew Revin of the New York Times made a similar point (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/02/global-warming-trend-and-variations-charted-by-cello/?_r=0). NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt has proposed a symphonic approach to climate change communication (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/earthmatters/2011/10/13/news-roundup-when-music-and-climate-change-meet-a-hair-below-a-sea-ice-record-and-more/).

Sunday on the Pot with George (Museum of Bad Art, Somerville, MA, USA)

Sunday on the Pot with George by Anonymous (Museum of Bad Art, Somerville, MA, USA)

So what does this mean for educators? Does the art produced through STEAM have to be any good? Some folks have asked me about assessment — how can STEM professors assess the art that’s produced through STEAM projects? These are my thoughts:

1. Perhaps we don’t have to – it’s possible to focus on the STEM content alone. I’ve done that and it worked well.

2. If one purpose of including art is to communicate the science to a general audience, that aspect could be assessed through surveys. The audience could be surveyed regarding knowledge and opinions before and after exposure to the art. In many cases, better art would equate with better communication.

3. In some cases the STEM professor is also an artist, and could bring that expertise to the development and assessment of the course.

4. A STEM professor and an art professor could collaborate on a STEAM course.

or

5. A STEM and an art class could be combined for a joint project as we saw at DePauw University (https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/the-use-of-sculpture-to-teach-protein-folding/).

So, no, I don’t think that the resulting art necessarily has to be good. If good art is one of your teaching goals, then you’ll need to build that into the course in formal way. Maybe you’ll make a new friend in the Art, Music, or Theater Department!

Goings On About Town

Today I present a sampling of a few arts integration efforts at universities around the United States. I hope you find them interesting!

Undergraduate and graduate students participate in the Art of Science Competition at Princeton University. http://www.princeton.edu/artofscience/gallery2013/gallery.php%3Fp=1.html

Undergraduates in the School of Education at the College of William and Mary have the opportunity to do their clinicals at the Virgina STEAM Academy (http://www.vasteam.org), a public residential school for gifted middle-school and high-school students, set to open in 2014. http://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2013/wm-school-of-education-to-partner-with-virginia-steam-academy123.php

In 2012, Palm Beach State College began a 5-yr STEAM initiative with a focus on workforce preparedness. They plan to support STEAM program enhancement and provide scholarships and internships to undergraduates. Their website emphasizes the many STEM resources and programs at the college. http://www.palmbeachstate.edu/foundation/steam/

Detail a the roof of the College of Engineering at University of Northern Florida

Detail a the roof of the College of Engineering at University of Northern Florida

The STEAM Journal is published out of Claremont Graduate University. Their inaugural issue was released on-line in March 2013 and included academic papers, lesson plans at the K12 and undergraduate levels, and artwork. The journal is edited by faculty members and a Ph.D. candidate in their School of Education, the Director of their Transdisciplinary Studies Program, and Professor of Art. This journal could provide a venue for STEAM-related efforts, hopefully to include rigorous research, by graduate students and faculty members. http://scholarship.claremont.edu/steam/

Imagining the Brain

A recent paper by David Hay et al. of Kings College London (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sce.21055/abstract) examines the role of scientific illustration as evidence of expertise, and considers pedagogical techniques that can lead undergraduates to produce illustrations indistinguishable from those of PIs.

Image shows tyramide-filled neurons from the cingulate cortex of mouse brain. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mouse_cingulate_cortex_neurons.jpg)

Tyramide-filled neurons from the cingulate cortex of mouse brain.

An understanding of invisible structures, processes and phenomena requires a level of abstraction that presents a challenge to the typical undergraduate student. The authors show how activities that support the creativity and imaginations of students can lead to expert-level work.Their interventions required the students to use imagination and movement to see themselves as their biological subjects, in this case brain cells undergoing development. The activities appeared to provide students with insight into the research perspective without the need for benchwork. After participation in the activities, student drawings were more likely to represent a variety of types of neurons and to demonstrate the creative approach, imagination, and hypothesis-building typical of PIs. They include elements of neuron identity that are not visible. It is suggested that illustrations by PIs, which to a certain extent represent their original conceptual models, may fuse objective scientific illustration with elements of design.

As an introduction to their argument, the authors present useful reviews of the topics of Science Studies and of Science Visual Culture. They also reference Objectivity (Daston & Galison, 2007), and use the framework presented therein for what they describe as the three types of representation in science: Truth-to-Nature, Mechanical Objectivity, and Trained Judgement. Benjamin Cohen gives a clear summary of this framework in his blog post on the topic: http://scienceblogs.com/worldsfair/2008/01/03/objectivity-truetonature-mecha/

The authors conclude that

“… an ability to label what is otherwise invisible, functions as the code marking-off a boundary between real professionals and novices or the boundary between the members of a specific laboratory culture and outsiders. Our current data reinforce this view suggesting that there is an imaginative constant to experts’ images, depending on their embodiment of relationships toward objects experienced thorough the material realization of experiments (see Radder, 2012).  “