Center for Creative Energy

Creative Collaborations

Student learning through Art/Science Fusion

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about collaboration, especially after a successful bout of Art/Science Fusion.  Lillian’s post about STEM to STEAM led me to consider how important it is for educators to find common ground between disciplines so that the strengths of each can create a dynamic learning experience for students.

The big questions we ask ourselves here at the Center for Creative Energy while we develop curriculum are:

How do art and science connect?

How can these connections help our students create?

Create what? Artworks, inventions, new ideas, ground breaking research, a new museum exhibition? The challenge here is to successfully collaborate without using one discipline as just a tool to teach about the other. The UCRA and SAMFA try to meet this challenge through our programs, but it often takes some creative collaboration to make sure students are participating in a truly interdisciplinary program.

There is a lot of discussion about how the arts help students build observation skills, recognize and invent patterns, and to imagine and think creatively. These arguments are usually designed to stress how important the arts are to scientific progress. This argument is less commonly reversed to argue that scientific progress also leads to great art. However, I don’t believe education is only about teaching one subject for the benefit of another.

In education policy, as Lillian noted, disciplines that will advance our future economic viability garnish the most attention. Although I agree with Piro that the arts contribute significantly to that viability, the idealist in me wants a comprehensive education to be more than just the road to riches or a comfortable middle class life.

What if STEAM was about ensuring students become creative, engaged, thoughtful and empathetic citizens with a broad understanding of what makes up our world both physically and culturally?

I understand this last sentence is rather mushy, and dodges the meaty politics that ensue when defining education policy. Developing education policy has proven to be an arduous collaboration between many stakeholders with competing interests.

However, collaboration is defined as a group of people or institutions working together towards a common goal. So in the interest of inspiration, I would like to pose one last question:

As educators committed to interdisciplinary learning through STEAM, what are our common goals for our students?


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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