Center for Creative Energy


Center for Creative Energy: STEM and STEAM, part 1

A Ryken High School student attending a STEM summer camp, July 2010

A Ryken High School student attending a STEM summer camp, July 2010. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

You may be wondering about the conversations and motivations for developing the Center for Creative Energy and its associated programs. While Megan DiRienzo has written about the Museum’s local motivations, I would like to introduce a few of the larger conversations that continue to be influential in the development of our work and its context in the U.S. education conversation. Here’s a quick introduction to STEM and STEAM, and next time I’ll expand on their direct relevance to the Center for Creative Energy.

Nationally, many educational institutions, research organizations and foundations responded to the alarming reports of U.S. students’ declining performance in STEM subjects when compared to international students by re-evaluating curriculum and programming for its ability to reinforce deeper and more meaningful STEM learning. For the unacquainted, the acronym STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  According to both the United States National Research Council and the National Science Foundation, the fields are collectively considered core technological underpinnings of an advanced society. In both political and academic forums the strength of the STEM workforce is viewed as an indicator of a nation’s ability to sustain itself. Most recently, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate initiative to support STEM education in K-12 schools.

As the national conversations about the need for STEM curriculum pushed schools, universities, museums and other educationalinstitutions to shift their processes, an urgent  voice emerged. Dr. Joseph Piro urged educators to adopt an A for arts in the STEM acronym. Essentially, Piro (and others) argued that the arts have held a traditionally marginalized place in both American society and the school curriculum. This de-emphasis of the importance of arts education is

upended by a 2008 study from the National Endowment for the Arts, “Artists in the Workforce,” This study showed that artists make up a larger occupational group than lawyers, medical doctors, or agricultural workers. The size of the artistic community gives it an astonishing $70 billion aggregate annual income. The country’s $316 billion communication and entertainment business employs a diverse range of artists, most of whom prepared for their careers by participating in some sort of arts education program. This massive economic contribution to the U.S. economy alone should provide the case for support of arts education, argued Piro.

The STEM/STEAM conversation has motivated our thinking and curriculum approaches to the Center for Creative Energy. The conversation (and debate) continues amongst politicians, educators and other stakeholders. In my next post, I will share more about the converging paths of STEM and STEAM.

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Watercolor

SAISD second graders laying down washes

This week, many of our Art/Science Fusion 2nd graders put the finishing touches on their landscapes. The children spent three weeks on their artworks. During the first week, they completed pencil sketches of their landscapes. The next week they masked off everything they wanted white, and laid out broad washes of color. During their final week in the studio, they added details with smaller brushes, speckled, and used sea salt to add texture.

Watercolor artists will create quick watercolor paintings en plein air (a French phrase meaning in open air, which is most commonly associated with French Impressionists who, obsessed with light, loved to paint outdoors), or over time in the studio. Walt Davis, whose work the students looked at on their gallery tour, paints en plein air while traveling and creates larger works back home in his studio.  All of Josephine Oliver’s works were created en plein air during her trips to to west Texas in the 1920s and 1930s. If your students don’t remember these works, check out the All About Texas Tour Ppt. for a refresher!

Here is a great video of an artist doing a watercolor sketch. Please feel free to share this with your students. Do they recognize any familiar techniques?

 

en plein air

Our Rivers Inspire Us!

What a wonderful way to start our Art/Science Fusion! As the “science person” in this venture (I am Christy… at the UCRA Water Education Center), I just love bringing in all of this art at every opportunity.

We managed to integrate not only science and art, but also geography and Texas history in this first round of sessions.  Texas is simply just so huge!  That means that the waterways that serve as our borders have some very different ecosystems!  Our 2nd graders became “Eco Region Experts” and sorted images of different plants and animals and presented these to the whole group. These regions were based on those waterways that serve as our borders:  Rio Grande River, Red River, Sabine River and the Gulf Coast. As students  explored sketching and watercolors, they learned what it meant for artists to be inspired by their surroundings.  The humid Sabine River with bald cypress trees and alligators looks very different from the Rio Grande River as it runs through the Big Bend area of Texas.  After learning about these different ecoregions of Texas, the students could decide which one truly inspired them.

After our long journey around the borders of Texas, I was ready to head straight for the Gulf Coast for a relaxing time on the beach hanging out with dolphins and sandpiper birds! I am pretty sure our 2nd graders were too!

 


Lessons About Water

San Angelo had a crazy snow/ice storm last week, so Art/Science Fusion readjusted scheduling to make sure that SAISD 2nd graders still get the most from the program. Christy and I (Meg) shared a couple of sessions, and it got me thinking about how important water is to this program.

One of our major themes and goals for the Center of Creative Energy is to connect the curriculum to water. For the All About Texas Art/Science Fusion curriculum we use water in a couple of ways:

Laying down washes of color.

1. We’re using watercolor. Okay, a bit literal, I know…BUT Walt Davis, who is featured in the All About Texas exhibition at SAMFA, created beautiful watercolor paintings to document the journey he and his wife took around the edges of Texas. Our 2nd graders are learning some basic techniques like masking, washing, and dry brushing to create watercolor postcards of the Texas landscape. At the end of the program, the kids will exchange their postcards along with a letter sharing their thoughts about their time at the Museum and Water Education Center.

Christy and students organizing Texas wildlife according to region.

2. We’re focusing on how water (in the form of rivers and an ocean basin) helps create the shape of Texas. This naturally leads to a great discussion about how ecologically diverse Texas is. Texas has 7 ecologically unique regions featuring deserts, swamps, canyons, prairies, and beaches.

Why does Texas have such an awesome terrain? Because different amounts and kinds of water (salt vs. fresh) can create different ecosystems and landforms. Of course, Texas being really, really big helps a lot!

As we continue to teach this program, we hope that students are starting to think about the important role both water and art play in their lives.

If you have a moment with your students, ask them why water is important. Then, feel free to share those responses in the comment section below.

Thanks, everyone!

–Meg



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