Center for Creative Energy


Do High Test Scores Really Help?

by Mark Guzdial

Just got this article in my inbox from Computing Education Blog.  If you can, please share it with as many administrators and school board members as possible.  If we want success for our youth here in America, we need to have an honest conversation about our priorities for education.  Testing causes a lot of stress for students, teachers and administrators. This article  made me ask, “Is it worth it?” If our test scores are not reflecting or positively affecting how our students perform in real life, what’s the point? Standardized testing is a great way to see if students as a whole are retaining certain content, but students need to do more with content than retain it. They need to live with it.

Our programs here at the Center for Creative Energy are  project-based, and although we align with state content standards, delivering that content for high test scores is not the goal. We like hands-on and minds-on learning where students get down and dirty with knowledge. (Literally. We spray paint storm drains, catch and identify macroinvertebrates, paint Texas ecoregions with watercolor, create prints about flood and drought in San Angelo, collect dead fish for art installations about dried up reservoirs, and much more.)

Activities like these deliver and reinforce content through participation rather than memorization and recall. It also connects content to real world problems like water conservation here in San Angelo. Project-based curriculum is rooted in the idea that learning is important for a healthy community and successful career. Students also smile a lot during our programs–not only is learning important for a great job, it’s also part of a happy life.

We work directly with our local school district (SAISD) to design and implement all of these programs, and a lot of our content delivery is relieved from effective classroom education. SAMFA and UCRA provide places where students can reinforce and apply content outside the classroom. Are partnerships between schools, museums, and community organizations a way to reach a happy medium between test-prep, content standards, and unique experiences that make learning meaningful in real life?

They could be, but right now it isn’t a perfect system that alleviates all test stress. The Center for Creative Energy often works outside the classroom system to facilitate programs. For example, we switched our audience for Art/Science Fusion from 3rd grade to 2nd because of test prep conflict issues in the spring. Aqua Squad and Camp Odyssey are summer enrichment programs not directly integrated into the classroom.

However, could our programs work during the school year alongside test preparation, even in support of it? Of course. Is trying it worth the risk to schools and administrators who stand to loose funding and jobs because of low performance? Probably not.  Incentive based standardized testing is a reality that every educator has to deal with until policy adjusts to real statistics outlined in great articles like the one above.

For now, we are providing unique art and science programs for as many students as we can. Students who haven’t yet experienced test related stress and those enjoying summer vacation to forget it are the ones who can gain the most from programs that connect learning to a happy life.

To end on a seriously sappy note, here’s a slideshow of happy smiles!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Reflecting on WebWise 2011: STEM in Education, Learning, and Research

Last month, March 9th -11th, I was fortunate to be able to attend the IMLS sponsored WebWise conference in Baltimore, Maryland. A signature initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the WebWise Conference annually brings together representatives of museums, libraries, archives, systems science, education, and other fields to explore the many opportunities made possible by digital technologies. The focal topic this year was Science, Technology, Engineering + Math (STEM) in Education, Learning, and Research. I was amazed by the variety of projects related to STEM learning happening around the country.

Dr. Milton Chen's presentation at WebWise 2011


I particularly enjoyed hearing Dr. Milton Chen speak. Dr. Chen is the former executive director, now senior fellow, with the George Lucas Foundation and Edutopia. Dr. Chen reflected on President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This campaign includes not only efforts sponsored by the Federal Government but also those promoted by leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies. Libraries and museums are leading partners in this national effort, making significant contributions to both formal education and informal learning in the STEM disciplines. A significant trend in library- and museum-sponsored informal learning, especially in STEM-related fields, has been the support of social constructivist activities where youth learn through group investigation and creation. Dr. Chen also emphasized the the value of creativity and community involvement in STEM education.

Additionally, I found the session Friday morning to be very relevant to our work here at SAMFA. Speakers friday talked about STEM, Arts and Humanities: Intersections and Inspiration. Essentially, what  moderator Tom Scheinfeldt and panelists Chris Wildrick, Fred Gibbsand Michael Benson discussed was that years of Science and Technology Studies have exposed the STEM disciplines not as disembodied fonts on knowledge but as deeply social and cultural processes. Just as society at large is influenced by the insights and inventions of scientists and engineers, those insights and inventions are shaped by the influence of culture. In recent years, museum and library professionals and scienists alike have come to embrace the complex symbiotic relationship between science and culture to the benefit of both groups’ work. They highlighted examples of crossover projects that have brought librarians, museum professionals, humanists, artists, scientists, and engineers together to explore the productive tensions between science, technology, society, and culture.

If you would like to get the whole content experience, IMLS has a web archive of all the speakers that can be found at this link: WebWise 2011 archive

I strongly urge you to explore the content from this conference. There are brilliant minds and content that await you!


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.



%d bloggers like this: