This is why now, the most recent push is to go from STEM to STEAM (the "A" is for incorporating art). Of course I am all for this idea, since my biggest goal is blending math and creativity effectively, while retaining the mathematical rigor. I have pulled together a few ideas to help you get started in your own classroom.
WHY Add the "A"?
The NCBI tells us why it’s necessary to add the “A”. “While the demand for a strong STEM workforce continues to grow, there are challenges that threaten our ability to recruit, train, and retain such a workforce in a way that is effective and sustainable and fosters innovation. One way in which we are meeting this challenge is through the use of the arts in the training of scientists.”
Know that adding art into your lessons is not just for the fun of it, or to make your program look good. There is so much value you can add by incorporating art into your Science, Math, Engineering, or Technology curriculum.
Go here or here to read more facts about STEAM.
Incorporating the Arts
Here are some creative and engaging ways to incorporate art into your content in a PURPOSEFUL way. You do not have to worry about "sacrificing" precious instructional time by throwing in an art project just for the sake of doing art in class. Art class has infinite merits on its own, but these additions will fit right into your curriculum and offer an additional daily dose of art for your students!
1. Choice Boards / Project-Based Learning
If you are not already using choice boards in your classroom, you may want to give them a try. When you use project-based tasks, students have freedom to complete an activity or assessment in the way that best suits their individual learning preferences. When I create a choice board, I like to offer six options and allow students to choose three of the six to complete. Usually, most of the tasks involve some sort of art. Here are some sample ideas:
2. Photo Scrapbooks
My middle schoolers loved making the Geometry Scrapbook Project! I gave out a list of key terms (vertical angles, parallel lines, isosceles triangle...), and the students had to find each in the “real world”. They had to take photos and create a scrapbook!
There are plenty of other lessons where students can go on a real life scavenger hunt, as well. For example:
3. Graphic Design / Graphic Organizers in Your Content Area
Another fun idea is to have your students create their own visual representation of a concept, instead of passing out premade graphic organizers or study guides. They can develop a visual aid or infographic.
Check out this post for more about creating visual representations of key terms, or this post about infographics in the classroom.
4. Art-Based Assessment
A lot of classrooms already do this. If you have not done anything like this yet, try adding just one artistic assessment this year. Teachers have come up with great ideas over the years, from the typical 3-D cell model to a skeleton with all the bones labeled. Think about what unit in your curriculum could be assessed in a different way.
Maybe your genetics unit could have an alternative assessment in which students create a beautiful tree representing traits within a family.
Maybe your fractions unit could end with an artistic display where each student uses a material of their choosing (clay, paper, beads...) to represent three sets of equivalent fractions in different forms.
Remember that theater is an art as well! Can your class act out what they have learned? Get your own creative brain thinking and really take a look at your assessments.
5. An End Result to Display
Students love to create something beautiful if they know that you will display it for everyone to see (yes, even older kids)! My absolute favorites are giant constructions (using a compass and straightedge). This activity was such a motivator. I only taught constructions at the end of the year if there was enough time, and this truly motivated the kids to keep on pace all throughout the year. They were so excited to be one of the classes that got through everything and got to finish the last Geometry unit with the colored constructions they had seen in the hallway the previous year.
Students completed a series of constructions on a large sheet of paper and ended up with a beautiful design. I then allowed them to erase whatever lines they wanted and color their design. They were each unique and looked great on the bulletin boards, and thoroughly helped their geometry skills!
Another idea for a display-friendly activity in geometry is holiday ornaments made from polyhedron nets. Print out some nets for your students here. The students can decorate and then fold them to create 3-D ornaments. You can have them find volume and surface area as well.
6. Tweak a Current Project
During our Pre-Engineering class, we were learning how to write programs for the movement of our robots when one of the girls saw a picture showing that a pen could be gripped in the robot's claw arm. We tried it right away, and then developed a very simple pattern of movements that turned our robots into spirographs. We kept adjusting the code in the program to make different designs on the paper.
Try making adjustments to a current project in your own classroom. Do you have students model viruses on paper? Try giving them more freedom to display their work in a more artistic way if they wish.
Do you have your middle school classes draw out floor plans of houses when you study area and perimeter? Add to this project by having your students design a geometric rug with a certain area for the floor and dilating and rotating the artistic design on the rug to make a matching similar figure in a different orientation for a larger room.
7. Drawing FROM Famous Art
Find a famous artwork, song, or poem that portrays the concept your class is studying (tesselations by Escher, "Starry Night" for learning about stars) and ask students questions about the accuracy or content of the art. Ask your 5th graders which phase of the moon may be occuring in certain songs about the moon ("like a big pizza pie - That's AMORE!"). Ask your 10th graders to find a piece of famous art that contains a pair of congruent triangles.
Do you teach fractions? Have your students investigate some sheet music for a tune they are familiar with. Teach the basics of half notes and quarter notes. Ask them to make connections to the math behind the music or even write out the note values for another song they know based on the beats.
8. Swap out your traditional quiz with a creative “Create your Own Quiz” version
It is great to have your class come up with quiz questions as a review. Students have done it many times, and often they write more challenging questions than the teacher does! Your students may enjoy an artistic adaptation of this. Try having them create a simple color-by-number review activity for a partner instead.
The image should be something representative of the content, and multiple choice answers can correspond to certain colors for regions of the picture. Your class will still be reviewing and writing questions about the same content, but they will also be thinking about what elements are most important to include in their picture. They can then swap and enjoy answering and coloring as a review activity.
9. Doodle Notes
In case you haven’t heard, doodle notes provide tons of learning benefits! Students will integrate art while connecting the two brain hemispheres. This leads to better focus, memory, problem-solving skills, and even lower stress levels. Just check out this post or go to doodlenotes.org to learn more.
If you want to try it out for free, you can download these “Engage Your Brain” Doodle Notes. It will help you teach your students about using the doodle note strategy and how their brain works!
Do you have any other unique ways to add art into your classroom? We’d love to hear your thoughts, below!
If you are working to add more creativity into your teaching, enter your email address here to hear more from me, get support, and download resources to help you along the way!
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Do you have vocabulary words you’d like to stick in your students’ brains? Whether you teach upper elementary, middle school, or high school, I’m guessing you’re nodding your head, yes! It encompasses all subjects- we all have key terms that will improve our students’ learning.
It’s always a teacher’s goal to improve retention, in other words, help our students move information into long-term memory. If students retain key terms, our jobs are so much easier!
Visual "Memory Triggers"
The way that we can blend text and images in a doodle note strategy leads to better comprehension and retention of our lesson material. This combination of visual and linguistic input is based on Dual Coding Theory and supports student learning.
I call these blends of text and graphics “visual memory triggers” because the student brains process the text and image together in a way that builds connections and helps them to remember the concept later on.
A solid visual trigger is based around an image that either fits the lesson material or fits into an analogy that will help students remember. They’re a key component of doodle notes. For example, this school bus is a visual trigger for the commutative property.
“Commutative” Property – to move back and forth: Students write one letter per bus window and remember “commuting” to and from school as the connection.
In the same lesson, I have students write “associative” inside an image of two people or an image of a handshake. This one helps them remember that associates are like partners and that math property is all about switching “partners” in an equation. We accompany these graphics with examples that will help connect the abstract analogy with a concrete principle. The hand’s action of lettering and sketching leads to a brain pathway that helps store each memory as a blend of visual and linguistic input. This has been proven to be the most effective way for the brain to ensure that information gets into long-term memory.
Here are more samples of what visual "memory triggers" look like. Students can develop these blends of graphic and linguistic content themselves to help a big concept or key word stick in their brains:
How to Help your Students Develop their Own Visual Memory Triggers
A way to instantly boost memory and retention is to have your students create their OWN visual memory triggers. To teach them how to do this, start with specific prompts.
You can have them create a visual magazine cover for a key term like the one below for the term “gravity.” Or you can encourage them to design a t-shirt for a term, sketch it, or use it in sentences.
Or, if the given topic has various layers, have your students show that in scoops on an ice cream cone or layers of a cake. The opportunities are endless!
Show them more examples of visual triggers for inspiration!
This pack of Visual Vocabulary Prompts: Doodle Note Review Card Templates makes this process a breeze for you and your students! The cards already have a variety of creative prompts built in, as well as designated areas to doodle, color, and visualize on paper a given term.
The graphic layout of these study guides allows students to mentally organize the information in their minds, understand the relationships and connections between ideas, and remember the lesson material better!
Why this Helps Them Remember
There is psychological research done on visual note-taking. Dual Coding Theory originated with Paivio in the 70s, and explains how visual and linguistic information is processed in two different areas of the brain.
In essence, as new input enters the brain, it's stored in short term memory in two distinct categories. Graphic information, images, and other sensory input are processed in the VISUAL center while auditory input, words, and text are processed in the LINGUISTIC center of the brain.
This is a great way for our brains to constantly take in both types of information, and the system works very well as we are on the go. However, in order to actually convert new information into true learning, we need it to be saved and stored in long term memory.
To do this, we need referential connections between the two zones. We have to CONNECT the information in the visual area with the information in the linguistic area.
When we are able to blend the text/auditory input together with the images, we boost the potential for retaining the information!
Not only are the individual words and ideas committed to long term memory more effectively, but the associations between them are retained as well. With this strategy, our students can understand the big ideas and concepts AND remember the vocabulary and small details more consistently.
In addition to the learning benefits of visual note-taking, when students develop their own visual memory triggers, they are essentially able to teach others. According to the Art of Problem Solving, “The best test of whether or not you really understand a concept is trying to teach it to someone else. Teaching calls for complete understanding of the concept. You can’t just ‘kind of get it’ or know it just well enough to get by on a test; teaching calls for complete understanding of the concept.”
Even if you don’t use the visual vocabulary in groups or partners, your students still have to interact with the term from a different perspective. They have to think about the key term as if they were teaching it; they have to fully understand it in order to build a visual memory trigger. It's all about coming up with their own brain-friendly memory boosters!
The templates and prompts shown above are part of this set.
For support and more information as you explore the different opportunities that visual note-taking can offer your classroom, download the complete Doodle Note Handbook for free here.
Related Posts on Brain Based Visual Notes:
The past three weeks I’ve posted a series about women in STEM. Even in today’s world, there is so little female representation in science, technology, engineering, and math due to many various factors. It's essential we help our teenage female students realize there is a place for them in STEM.
An interesting way to look at women in STEM is through an international lens. The differences around the world might surprise you!
In case you missed it, check out Women in STEM: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to learn more about why these gender gaps exist and how to help our female students close the gap!
How Location in the World is a Factor
I just read a fascinating article from The Atlantic that made some shocking realizations about women in STEM in the world. Basically, in more progressive countries like the US, where gender equality is greater, there are much fewer women in STEM than in countries where males and females are not considered equal.
The article says Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries in which boys are significantly less likely to feel comfortable working on math problems than girls are.
Shocking, right?! You would think that greater gender equality in society would equal greater gender equality within STEM fields. Here is one theory- “...it could have to do with the fact that women in countries with higher gender inequality are simply seeking the clearest possible path to financial freedom. And often, that path leads through stem professions.”
This tells us that there’s something in liberal societies nudging women towards careers other than science, technology, engineering, and math, and vice versa in less liberal societies. The article shares other theories and findings; give it a read if you have a chance!
Three Inspiring Women in STEM
One way to pique our teen students’ interests in STEM is by sharing some inspirational women in various science, technology, engineering, and math fields. Bonus points if the girls can picture themselves in these roles, (One of the many reasons why diversity is important).
So, this week, I’m sharing 3 young, modern-day women who have made their way into STEM fields.
At a young age she founded ProjectCSGIRLS, a tech and computer science competition for middle school girls. This organization has chapters all around the world.
According to Huffington Post, Pooja said, “I saw female friends turn away from pursuing computer science because of the negative stereotypes surrounding the field, and the lack of female role models.”
The goal of ProjectCSGIRLS to show women they can use science and technology to make a social impact.
At just 15 years old, Sabina London founded STEM You Can! What started as a summer camp with 15 kids became a huge program for kids who love science. Her Campus tells us she wanted other young girls to become just as passionate about science as she was.
“My idea to start STEM You Can! extends back to my sophomore year in high school when I noticed I was one of only four girls in my honors chemistry class,” London shared. She was further motivated by studies that showed women lacked confidence in the scientific fields and felt like they were “incapable of succeeding.”
Sasha Ariel Alston
Sasha studied technology in high school in Washington D.C. and became an intern at Microsoft, where she designed her first gaming app. She was involved in many STEM-related clubs and courses; she noticed there were very few women around her and even fewer women of color.
So, she wrote and published a children’s book called, Sasha Savvy Loves to code.
Alston said, “I want girls to know that they can choose any career they want despite their gender or race. Raising interest in STEM should be done at an early age. Hopefully, girls hearing from me, a young woman who likes fashion and music just like most of them but also thinks coding is cool, will make an impact.”
To wrap up this series, I'm including a printable file with the graphics I made for these posts so you can put them up in your classroom. This would be a great bulletin board or decoration for your STEM classroom! These images feature facts and quotes for some of the featured women in STEM as an inspiration for your class. Enjoy!
Click here to download the pictured materials and then subscribe here to get more free materials, ideas, and updates sent to your inbox.
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