I really loved diving into computer programming, robotics, and bridge building (both virtual and hands on). We built formula 1 cars, tested them in wind tunnels, and raced them at a competition. It was pretty special to be part of this type of program back before it was popular or encouraged for girls. Even though I did not become an engineer, I really believe these experiences helped me become a better math teacher.
As the STEM concept became more popular, these programs became common in schools. Now, the most recent push is to go from STEM to STEAM (the "A" is for incorporating art). I really love this idea, and have pulled together a few ideas to help you get started in your own classroom.
WHY Add the "A"?
- Activating the "artistic" parts of the brain stimulates more creative problem-solving strategies.
- Students who are more involved in art show more social awareness, flexibility, and collaboration.
- Activities that require use of the WHOLE brain (the logical/analytical left brain and the emotional/creative right brain) help students build better mental connections while developing a well-rounded child.
- Students who are engaged in STEAM are able to think about their choices, weigh the risks involved, and persist in creative problem solving.
- Using STEAM lessons builds a focus on inquiry, process-based learning, collaboration, and hands-on exploration.
*from separate sets of data from The University of Florida and the new Steam Portal website (See links below for great infographics and more facts.)
Incorporating the Arts
Choice Boards / Project-Based Learning
- Create a comic strip that teaches the content.
- Make a video that explains how ...
- Write a story about the topic. Include ten facts.
- Develop a visual way to present the information to a younger student.
- Create a song, rap, or poem that incorporates ten facts from the lesson.
- Make a game in which players practice the new concept.
My middle school students always loved the Geometry Scrapbook project. I gave out a list of terms from the unit (vertical angles, parallel lines, isosceles triangle...) and the students found each of the terms represented in the world. They took pictures and presented them in a book. I gave them an option to compile it on the computer or by hand.
You may have lessons in which students can go on a real-world scavenger hunt as well. Have your class take photos of....
Graphic Design / Graphic Organizers in Your Content Area
Instead of handing out pre-made graphic organizers and study guides for your content, give your students an opportunity to create their own visual representation of a concept. They can develop a visual aid or infographic by hand or on the computer. (Check out my post on infographics in the classroom.)
For a unit on the Animal Kingdom, have students create a classification chart or model using different colors, textures, and patterns for the levels. They can draw their own animals as samples in each category or use digital clipart arranged creatively.
When teaching circuits and electricity, encourage students to organize the information in a creative or artistic way. You will be amazed what they come up with if you limit the guidance and structure that you give.
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 from 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.
An End Result To Display
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. They also helped practice the constructions we were learning!
Tweak a Current Project
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.
Drawing FROM Famous Art
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.
Swap out a "Create Your Own Quiz or crossword" Activity
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.
Doodle / Sketch Notes
Students will integrate art while connecting the two brain hemispheres! This leads to better focus, memory, and even lower stress levels. Learn more about this strategy here.