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steam units

04 Apr Board the STEAM Train: Steps to Developing Rigorous, Arts-Focused STEAM Units

By Jenny Windom, Rubicon International

STEAM often seems to fall in the realm of science and math teachers with art teachers acting as support. Arts—the one dimension differentiating STEAM from its predecessor, STEM—tends to get lost and overlooked. Here are three ways art teachers can get the STEAM train rolling in their own classrooms, allowing the “A” to shine in STEAM units.

 1. Start with (Engineering-Inspired) Inquiry

Engineers have used design thinking for years: why not apply it in art class? Design thinking pushes creators to consider the impact of their work on others. It is also an iterative process (revisiting and revising problems after finding solutions) that allows people to experiment and push limits of creativity.

This mentality is not far from what is likely already happening in your classroom. Art, by its nature, is a human, social activity. By presenting students with “problems” they need to respond to through the creation of art, we’re not only modeling a more intentional way to explore the creative process, but also highlighting that art is a part of every-day life if you know where and how to look.

Starting with design-based inquiry can take many forms. Begin by providing a situation for your students to support or solve in the form of a design brief—a document that provides the framework for how the situation needs to be addressed. Briefs can look different for different classes, grade levels, and situations!

 2. Embrace metaphor and play to deepen conceptual understanding

Creativity is the art of metaphor. When we ask students to be creative, in art or any other class, we are asking them to create links between two (or more!) ideas. Play is also another “secret ingredient” to foster and unleash creativity! Play shouldn’t be restricted to younger grades! Middle and high school students love the opportunity to create, rather than consume, information. Even a shift from assigning a task to providing the freedom to choose can allow learning to become more playful.

What’s even better is that when students are involved in metaphor and play, they retain—and sometimes even deepen—their understanding of concepts.  Use this to your advantage! Collaborate with science and math teachers to connect what’s happening in those subjects and integrate relevant concepts in your lessons.

Are you a dance teacher? Tie in a unit about the state of molecules by focusing on texture and tempo in movement. (Click here for a beautiful TED talk showcasing how this could look). Are you a music teacher? Consider taking inspiration from Rube Goldberg machines and have students play with multiple media to create a machine that showcases different examples of dynamics (or even plays with pitch, tone, and rhythm!). For inspiration, check out Melvin the Magical Mixed Media Machine, This Too Shall Pass, or The One Moment.

 3. Use STEAM to support your art program (instead of the other way around!)

Flip the script and let art take the lead in STEAM. Take a project or event you typically do in your course, and see how math, science, technology, or engineering can supplement the artwork your students are doing!

If there’s a theater production happening at your school, have your class take the reins and see if you can get other STEAM faculty on board! This is an opportunity where set design, construction, lighting, historical context of theater and its processes, costuming, budgeting, and even marketing material design can all combine into an incredible STEAM production!

 Get ready for more ideas!

Art needs advocates. Developing rigorous STEAM units emphasizing the arts will go a long way to shifting the mentality around art. And, students benefit from the increasing rigor and application that interdisciplinary pedagogies, like STEAM, provide.

While these are great ways to begin making sure that art is not an overlooked component of your school’s STEAM education. Keep checking back for additional blogs from our team as we work through developing specific STEAM units and providing more detailed tips for leading the STEAM train!

Share your favorite STEAM activities with us at Facebook or on Twitter @RubiconAtlas!

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