Hand models, carnivorous plants, and other ways to gain STEAM

Brenda Major and Lynn Williams

Brenda Major (pictured left) and Lynn Williams (pictured right) have been teaching art to K-8th grade students at High Meadows School for more than 16 years. They combine experience in marketing, graphic design, technology, fine arts, teaching and learning for an expanded perspective of art as core to a quality education. Brenda and Lynn serve on the High Meadows Innovation Leadership Team, with the goal of empowering both teachers and students to engage more deeply with all subject matter through arts integration.

Follow @HighMeadowsGA

Website: www.highmeadows.org Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Students listen and providing feedback on plans for their Bio-engineered Carnivorous Plant designs to control mosquitoes. // Images courtesy of author. Students listen and providing feedback on plans for their Bio-engineered Carnivorous Plant designs to control mosquitoes. // Images courtesy of author.

The popularity and push for STEM learning is gathering STEAM, as educators increasingly recognise the power of integrating Art with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths curricula. This approach recognises Art as core to the development of creativity and thinking skills critical to problem-solving. The art programme here at High Meadows School - a progressive, independent, international Baccalaureate (IB) school - supports inquiry-based learning that departs from a siloed approach.

Here, Art is taught within programmes of inquiry through natural connections, providing experiential and creative ways to apply and “Could they paint with popsicles? No!”test concepts, while teaching skills that enhance learning for all subjects.

Students in Pre-K through eighth grade experience the “A” in STEAM through two approaches: Art classroom experiences designed to purposefully integrate disciplines, and STEAM labs brought into classrooms that approach academic subjects through an artistic lens.

Whether exploring states of matter through art materials or recreating masks to understand ancient cultures, students learn how to problem-solve, respectfully critique others’ work and their own, and identify universal connections. Here are examples of this approach in action:

1. Unified Teacher Team

Art teachers mine the programme of inquiry for opportunities to connect art across disciplines, meeting every six weeks with grade level teachers to discuss those opportunities. We plan, exchange ideas and share resources, working together to take advantage of the efficacy of varied approaches to learning. Capitalising on natural connections reinforces learning by creating multiple touchpoints for key concepts.

For example, when learning about states of matter in their classroom, Pre-K students turned water into steam. Art teachers followed with a STEAM lab that explored water as a solid. Could they paint with popsicles? No! Students recognised temperature was the agent of change, as frozen paint pops went from a solid to a liquid once out of the freezer. Teachers open to working collaboratively in each other’s spaces reinforce the natural integration of disciplines through exchange of perspectives and shared language. It’s a powerful message to students that everything is connected.

2. Firsthand Discovery

Kindergarteners and first graders connected ceramics to weather by making pinch pot wind chimes. They learned that wind chimes are engineered to work with the wind to create sound. Learning about clay skills and tools led to incorporation of naturally connected scientific principles. Students discussed how properties of materials and the size and shape of components can create different sounds. After assembling, students tested the wind chimes for sound quality and decided how to group them in the garden. Rather than learning through books or lectures, these experiential, multi-sensory lessons have greater, long-lasting impact.

A ceramic weaving piece - integrating two age-old fine crafts into one contemporary solution. The clay is run through a slab roller (simple machine) after being wedged from previously used clay. Firing in the kiln takes the clay through its next state of matter (bisque ware). We then had students use oil pastel and watercolor to add color in a resist technique to their textured pieces.

3. Growth Mindset

Hands-on, first-person discovery through art builds capacities for innovation. During a programme of inquiry about the human body, Grades 2/3 participated in a STEAM lab to create articulated hands. The completed hand model moved with the tug of a string to show how tendons work with bones. Some didn’t move, leading to evaluation and comparison with peers for a deeper understanding of how the parts of the hand work, then adjusting to make room between the “bones” for a joint. These lessons in hands-on modules reinforce a growth mindset that empowers students to solve issues, seek peer input and experiment to find success - qualities that are important in all applications. It’s the antidote to “I can’t do it!”

4. Naming and Framing

We frequently frame Art instruction to help students identify the kind of thinking we want them to exhibit, linking disciplines in yet another way. We may tell them they’re working like scientists, or in the case of a Grade 4/5 project, like archaeologists and engineers. Students created multi-cultural masks, researching form and function to better understand the ancient civilizations they were studying. They were challenged to “hack the mask” using creative thinking strategies to transform a basic mask template to fit their design. This exercise demonstrated that art has different functions based on its purpose. An archaeologist is creating for cultural accuracy to educate others, rather than free expression.

5. Critique and Presentation

In conjunction with a lesson about biomes, students learned how carnivorous plants have adapted to trap prey. Utilising the Agency by Design (AbD) protocol developed through Project Zero “Students tested the wind chimes for sound quality.”of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, students in Grades 2/3 designed and illustrated a new carnivorous plant. The drawings indicated both form and function, underscoring the link between purpose and design. Students shared their creations, explaining details and getting feedback for improvement from peers. Students learned how to both give and receive constructive criticism in this exercise - skills that transfer to all facets of life. They refined their drawings and presented again, showing how feedback was incorporated in the final version. Key takeaways beyond the original lesson about how plants survive and thrive included recognising the value of collaboration and embracing opportunities to improve and grow.

6. Guide on the Side

Middle years (Grades 6-8) students have more opportunities to connect STEAM subjects within the Visual Arts programme, selecting from a variety of classes such as sculpture, sewing, 3D design and glass arts. Motivated by their interest in the art form, students are encouraged to explore, experiment and challenge themselves beyond following directions. Within a Fiber Arts class, students observed a sheep shearing, carded wool and applied dye, digging deeper to understand how the properties of wool work with the dying process. Teachers serve as the “guide on the side”, allowing students to do the work and reach conclusions about their processes. Students can draw parallels between their artistic explorations and academic knowledge, based on years of connecting art to their programmes of inquiry.

Full STEAM ahead

In the real world, no subject exists in isolation. Integrated instruction of STEAM subject areas through the arts breaks down learning siloes, equipping students with creative skills to reinforce and apply learning, tactical problem-solving experiences and an innovative growth mindset.

Want to receive cutting-edge insights from leading educators each week? Sign up to our Community Update and be part of the action!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"