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The Arts Connect Naturally

December 6, 2011

STEM/STEAM and other connections

Recently a comment was posted to the blog that was made by a person who is not trained as an arts educator nor an artist. It was in response to the post called Reaching Students Through STEM and the Arts which was posted on January 11, 2010. Not sure why the individual didn’t comment on the several other STEM/STEAM posts that have been made since that date. The comment made me pause since I have seen two other articles of note this week. One that connect the Arts to STEM in Education Week and one from the Maine Sunday Telegram about students at Waynflete School in Portland collaborating to create 23 – 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide trees.

First a look at the Ed Week article called STEAM: Experts Make Case for Adding Arts to STEM written by Erik W. Robelen. Mr. Robelen provides examples of schools across the country where the arts are connecting with STEM. One example is “the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership, with support from a $1.1 million Education Department grant, is working with city schools to help elementary students better understand abstract concepts in science and mathematics, such as fractions and geometric shapes, through art-making projects.

“Educators are finding where the arts intersect with the STEM fields to enhance student engagement and learning, and educators are finding that it helps unlock creative thinking and innovation.

Doesn’t sound like anything new to me or to arts educators who have been connecting curricula to deliver arts education in practice for years. In fact, arts educators understand the connections and our understanding is much greater than just to other content as stated in the Maine’s 2007 Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction.

Standard E – Visual and Performing Arts Connections:

  1. The Arts and History and World Cultures
  2. The Arts and Other Disciplines
  3. Goal-Setting
  4. Impact of the Arts on Lifestyle and Career
  5. Interpersonal Skills

The work at Waynflete this month is a great example of the value of connecting content. The outcome is an exhibit called “Arboretum”. This is taken from the December 4th article written by Bob Keyes: Students conducted all kinds of research about trees, including their environmental impact, their ecological value, their role as habitat for animals and the sacred nature of trees in certain religions. Jeff Tarling, the city’s arborist, came in to talk to the students about trees in Portland, and why some survive and others do not.

As part of the process, Waynflete art teacher and gallery director Judy Novey challenged the students to create something artistic from their research. She urged them to think about the form and rhythm of trees, and to visually represent their research through their work.

These students did not approach their work as an art project at all. It had more to do with science and culture than anything with a creative quality. But as they worked through their tasks, the students said they felt their creativity willing itself to the fore.

When I reflect on my teaching the most successful and memorable work was when students had no idea what classroom they were sitting in nor what subject they were focusing on but it was the magic of learning that was taking place. Life-long learning that becomes embedded in the way we think. The culture of the classroom and school is transformed.

So, I ask you… should we be connecting with the STEM movement currently taking place in education, should we encourage our students to think beyond STEM to help them think and create artistically?

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