I am really enjoying the entire STEM movement to get students really involved in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics thought processes. I was so lucky to be part of a pilot program for this years ago as a student. The whole concept was new, but a few great teachers started a Pre-Engineering program for us (and at an all-girls high school!!).
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"?
First, let yourself be convinced that this 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.
*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
Here are some ways to incorporate art into your content in a PURPOSEFUL way. I know teachers worry about "sacrificing" precious instructional time by throwing in an art project just for the sake of doing art in class. Therefore, be sure that your content adds value to the art, and the art adds value to your content. 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!
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 style. 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:
Graphic Design / Graphic Organizers in Your Content Area
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 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
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. They also helped practice the constructions we were learning!
Another idea for a display-friendly activity is holiday ornaments made from polyhedra nets. Print out some nets for your math class using the link below. The students can decorate and then fold them to create 3-d ornaments. You can have them find volume and surface area as well.
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.
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.
Swap out a "Create Your Own Quiz or crossword" Activity
It is great to have your class come up with quiz questions as a review. Students have done it many times, and often 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.
Doodle / Sketch Notes
There are a ton of learning benefits that come along with doodling, sketching, drawing, and coloring.
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.
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