Building Up STEAM

Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member

If you follow education trends even a little, you can’t avoid the STEM acronym. In fact, at many area high schools, getting a slot in the highly popular STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) magnet program is tricky at best.

Why is that?  Why do people automatically assume that if you want your student to get ahead in life, your best bet is to seek out an education that prioritizes a STEM-based curriculum over one that values the humanities or visual and performing arts? Now, enrolling in a STEM-focused program is certainly not bad advice. But, it’s definitely not the only path to success as one recent Washington Post article reported.

“Kids have been educated in a computer world.  But that computer world continues to threaten traditional jobs, so success will rely on the ability of students to innovate and use tools in a non-traditional way.”

In the article, “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees – and what it means for today’s students,” the Post reported on a 2013 study that Google conducted on its own hiring practices. Its founders, with solid backgrounds in computer science, felt certain that only “technologists can understand technology.” But after every bit of data was gathered and analyzed, the company discovered something unexpected. Of the top eight criteria considered essential for a top employee, STEM expertise rated… um… eighth.

This led to a deeper dive into the data, which ultimately led to Google re-evaluating its employment processes and putting more emphasis on hiring “humanities majors, artists, and even MBAs.” Other companies (such as Chevron and IBM) have also discovered the positives of hiring liberal arts majors because they “prize their ability to communicate.”

pam negrin creative stitching
Students at Western High School worked with fiber artist Pam Negrin to stitch the likenesses of important, black, female scientists onto one collaborative work of art.

On a personal level, I feel very strongly about this. My daughter, Colette, spent seven years (three in middle school and four in high school) pursuing a Performing and Visual Arts education. She learned to sing, dance, act, write, and most importantly from my perspective, think creatively. And while she was singing and acting her way through high school, she was also taking AP Physics and Calculus and learning to wire circuit boards. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when she enrolled in Engineering as a college freshman.

While some people were shocked at the 180° turn she made, I viewed it as the logical conclusion to a style of learning that she honed as an arts major in high school. Combining a love of math and science with the arts is not as unusual as you might think.

“Finding a path to my final images is a complex choreography of math, my sensibilities as an artist/scientist, and the subtleties of the subject.”

Take, for instance, Dr. Tim Christensen, biology professor at East Carolina University (ECU) and Senior Faculty Fellow in their Honors College (full disclosure – that’s how I first met him, when touring ECU with my daughter, who was accepted into both ECU and their Honors College). Dr. Christensen is primarily a scientist but also an artist. Merging the two disciplines, he fully embraces and personifies the concept of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).

Dr. Tim Chritsensen’s photograph, Rosette Nebula

I was immediately struck while perusing the awe-inspiring galactic photographs on his website, AstroWimp. “As an artist, I’ve been heavily influenced by my scientific training,” he wrote. “To a scientist, images are ‘data.’ Standing in both art and science worlds, I attempt to convey the art of the data.” In his role as teacher, Dr. Christensen transfers the wonder he experiences as a scientist and an artist to his students.

He readily admits that while he finds jumping back and forth between scientific and artistic worlds a natural leap, that is not the case with every scientist.  “Some are still wary of anything that can’t be measured scientifically.”  Nevertheless, he continues to champion the intersection of science and art, as evidenced in his own artwork. “Finding a path to my final images is a complex choreography of math, my sensibilities as an artist/scientist, and the subtleties of the subject.”

Dr. Christensen is currently collaborating with a fellow faculty member, Daniel Kariko, Associate Professor of Fine Art Photography. Their project, dataSTEAM, “focuses on artists who work directly with scientists to develop a deep understanding of the data, preparing artists to contextualize data in their art, connecting both disciplines… art to science, and science to art.”

First graders in Young Audience’s Summer Arts & Learning Academy created monsters, then partnered with classmates to write mathematical word problems based on their different numbers of eyes.

Starting in the fall semester, the two will “facilitate collaborations between Art and Honors/Science students” leading to a gallery exhibit at the university. But more important than the exhibition is, of course, the concept of cross-fertilization between the two disciplines.

As Dr. Christensen explained it, “Kids have been educated in a computer world.  But that computer world continues to threaten traditional jobs, so success will rely on the ability of students to innovate and use tools in a non-traditional way.” He feels that merging science and art will create students who are quicker to think outside the box and can straddle both the worlds of imagination and hard-core data.

YA artist Amanda Pellerin worked with Brooklyn Park Middle School students to create a Cells and Viruses mural that will hang in MedStar Harbor Hospital.

Similarly, what Google has identified as the top characteristics of successful employees are not unlike the same skills that educators and other business leaders identify as being critical to a person’s success in careers, in college, and as a citizen: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. These are behaviors that Young Audiences’ teaching artists observe and nurture every day among students in arts-integrated classrooms. And so, for those folks who doubt the value of arts integration into core curriculum subjects such as science and math, the, ahem, data demonstrate that arts and science together create a more balanced individual who can successfully work in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing work environment.

An in-progress section of the ceramic Cells and Viruses mural that artist Amanda Pellerin and Brooklyn Park Middle School students are creating.

But don’t take my word for it, just ask my daughter.  In a recent phone call, Colette was excitedly discussing her Statics class.  The definition of her Statics class from ECU’s website- the analysis of equilibrium of particles, addition and resolution of forces, equivalent system of forces, equilibrium of rigid bodies, centroid and moment of inertia, structural analysis, internal forces, friction, and virtual work- left my head spinning.

When I commented on the apparent difficulty of the class, she assured me breezily, “Oh Mom, it’s easy for me.  After all those arts classes in high school, I can see in 3-D.” 

North County High School: Creating Learning Opportunities Through the Arts

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI) is aimed at ensuring equitable access to the arts for Northern Anne Arundel County Public Schools through in-school arts integration, out-of-school arts programming, and professional development for teachers. Now in its second year, the initiative has been expanded to include all twelve schools in the region thanks to generous funding from the National Endowment for the Arts!

North County High School

Notable among the additional schools is the North County High School (NCHS). All students in every other school impacted by AEMI are zoned to complete their secondary education at this high school. North County High School’s new designation as an AEMI school will enable local students to continue their learning through arts integration throughout their school years. This creates a unique opportunity for the school to serve as a beacon for arts engagement, not just for high school students, but for the whole Northern Anne Arundel County community.

NCHS is already home to a variety of performing band and orchestra ensembles, and offers students the opportunity to become involved in a number of in-school and after-school arts activities. “The medium of music is a fantastic way to teach some wonderful life lessons as part of the comprehensive program at North County,” wrote NCHS Music Director Theresa Bange on the school’s extensive music program’s webpage. The school climate encourages a culture of respect for the arts in its many forms. NCHS has also shown a commitment to innovation, offering special programs including the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Magnet Program, the IT3 (International Trade, Transportation, and Tourism) Program, and the Early College Access program.

This year, the high school will participate in several arts-integrated opportunities where artists will professionally deliver instruction through the arts. Math Department chair Amy Goodman is leading the charge of integrating the arts at North County High. She is currently coordinating a residency developed by YA artist and spoken word poet Femi the DriFish in collaboration with the school’s Algebra 1 team as well as collaborating with theatre artist, storyteller, and YA roster artist TAHIRA to develop a residency through the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI). Also through TAI, 9th grade algebra teacher Sarah Dobry is collaborating with steel drummer, Kevin Martin, integrating music with the curriculum!

“It’s all about creating opportunities,” said Mrs. Goodman. She recalled her experience working with teaching artist Carolyn Koerber in the previous school year. “There was one student who struggled all year, but finally felt success working with Carolyn. Bringing artists into the classroom is an amazing opportunity for not only our students, but for faculty as well.”

We are looking forward to sharing the collaborative work of YA artists and educators in arts integration at North County High School over the next few months and for years to come.

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative is the combined effort of many groups and individuals seeking to build a movement for increased equity through the arts in their community. With funding from the NEA in 2016, we built partnerships with Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC), Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS), Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, and University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC).

AoSL Releases Report Linking Arts-Based Learning to STEM Innovation


Arts Integration in Action! Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy 2nd graders learned math and multiplication through the arts with teaching artist Mama Rashida of Wombwork Productions.

The Art of Science Learning (AoSL), a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded initiative, spearheaded by its Principal Investigator, Harvey Seifter, has released its newest report, titled The Impact of Arts-Based Innovation Training on the Creative Thinking Skills, Collaborative Behaviors and Innovation Outcomes of Adolescents and Adults. The report was written by Audience Viewpoints Consulting, the independent research firm AoSL retained to conduct the study. The effort compared the impacts and outcomes of arts-based innovation training with more traditional innovation training that does not incorporate the arts.

“With this research, we now have clear evidence that arts-based learning sparks creativity, collaboration, emotionally intelligent behavior and innovation in both adolescents and adults,” Seifter said. “The implications for 21st Century learning and workforce development are profound.”

Working with Worcester, MA high school students and early career STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals from San Diego, the results were compiled through a series of experimental studies testing AoSL’s hypothesis: that integrating the arts into STEM innovation training results in enhanced individual creative thinking skills, increased collaborative behaviors, and more robust team innovation outcomes.

The research yielded compelling results; a strong causal relationship does indeed exist between arts-based learning and improved creative thinking skills and innovation outcomes in adolescents, and between arts-based learning and increased emotionally intelligent and collaborative behavior in adults.

Arts-Based Learning Led to Stronger STEM Innovation Outcomes in Adolescents

The study divided participants into control and treatment groups. Both groups used a hands-on project based approach to learning innovation. The treatment curriculum replaced 9 hours of the traditional innovation pedagogy used in the control curriculum with 9 hours of arts-based activities designed to achieve the same learning objectives. The study lasted five weeks.

“Our research provides quantitative evidence that validates what artists, inventors, scientists, technologists, educators, entrepreneurs and humanists have known for thousands of years,” Seifter said: “discovery and innovation happen at the intersection of art, science and learning.”

The research demonstrates that arts-based learning directly strengthens many key 21st Century learning and workforce skills, a finding with numerous immediate and longer-term practical applications for K-12 and post-secondary education, informal learning and workforce development.

Arts-Based Learning Improved Creative Thinking Skills in Adolescents

The data strongly suggests that arts-based learning can help STEM companies to spark high performance innovation teams among a new generation of professionals, and that schools, museums and science centers can create environments that foster creativity, collaboration, innovation and engagement by integrating the arts into STEM learning.

Read the full report and its key findings

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About Harvey Seifter
Art of Science Learning was founded by Harvey Seifter 2008, and grows out of his decades of work at the intersection of art, science and learning. In addition to his research work, Seifter brings his arts-based approaches to innovation, leadership development and high performance teamwork to dozens of global corporations, and serves as Visiting Associate Professor of Design, Arts and Cultural Management at Pratt Institute in New York City. He is also a classically trained musician with a 25-year career at the helm of several distinguished arts organizations including Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Magic Theatre of San Francisco. During his tenure these organizations garnered 5 Grammy Awards, 24 Obie and Critics Circle Awards, and the Kennedy Center Award.

About The Art of Science Learning
The Art of Science Learning (AoSL) is a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded initiative, founded and directed by Harvey Seifter, that uses the arts to spark creativity in science education and the development of an innovative 21st Century STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workforce. AoSL’s national partners include The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Americans for the Arts and The Association of Science-Technology Centers.

All text Republished with permission from the Art of Science Learning (AoSL)

Meet Our Artists: Scott Patterson

Scott Patterson

Young Audiences’ roster of artists continues to grow to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms, from slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters. We’ll be regularly posting interviews with our artists, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences bringing their Young Audiences programs to schools.

How did you first hear about Young Audiences? What made you decide to become a roster artist?

A colleague told me about the Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS) Alliance, and I found information about Young Audiences on the AEMS website. My reasons for deciding to become a roster artist are twofold. First, I have fond memories of the school assemblies I attended as a child. Whether the assembly was about public safety or a performance, the message always stuck with me. Assemblies were presented as something special, a time to get out of the classroom and see information presented in a fun and interesting way. It is my hope that Outer Space Improvisations leaves the same kind of positive impression on students as the assemblies I attended as a child. Second, I place a high value on professional development, and when I learned about the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI), I realized that Young Audiences does too.

How does your art form help connect students to what they are learning in school?

When composing music I utilize basic math concepts. Additionally, I rely on my skills as a writer to create song lyrics and devise hypotheses. As I experiment with new sounds, I recall historical events and scan my current environment for inspiration.

Through music, I encourage students to see the convergence of academic disciplines, rather than single out one in particular. In using improvisation activities, I invite students to pull from what they know about math, literature, science, and history to create something entirely new and unique.

Scott Patterson

We love your concept of connecting live, improvisational music with the theme of space exploration. Can you tell us more about your program “Outer Space Improvisations”?

Outer Space Improvisations” is a program designed to stoke students’ imaginations. The students and I take a musical space journey, leaving our day-to-day existence on Earth to travel to far and distant places, both charted and uncharted. It is the uncharted place that most excites me because students have to use their imagination to create what these places look, feel, sound, taste, and smell like; this is where the improvisational aspect of the program comes into play.

Through sound design, I welcome students into the performance with the sounds of space. When I play, students are immersed in original space-themed compositions inspired by composers and musicians like Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Earth, Wind & Fire, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Thundercat. Facts about space are woven into the program to deepen their intergalactic experience, and improvisation activities connect students to the infiniteness of their imagination.

How do the lessons/skills you teach students about or through your art form apply to and affect their everyday life outside of the classroom?

An important aspect of my work as a composer is improvisation; however, it is through my imagination that I can improvise. The ability to create something that has never existed before is an essential skill that all people must have. Without it, the ability to solve the simple and complex problems that pop up in everyday life would be impossible.
It is important to me that students feel confident in their capacity to think through and learn how to present a new idea. The problems children are solving today and those they will address in the future require a strong imagination, critical thinking, and courage.

Scott Patterson

Why do you believe it is important for every student to have access to the arts?

I am committed to arts education. It was through the arts that I learned how to improvise, communicate, and imagine. The arts education I received as a child helped shape the person I am today. Seeing that I had a passion for music, my parents enrolled me in arts programs. In high school, I attended a performing arts magnet program where I had the opportunity to interact daily with teaching artists. They challenged me to think creatively and critically about how to contribute to the world around me through my art.

What is the most rewarding aspect of becoming a Young Audiences roster artist?

Performing in front of students who at first don’t know what to expect when they see me, and then seeing the impact my music has on them as their imaginations light up is exciting. I believe the ability to use imagination, to see beyond one’s circumstance or everyday reality is not a privilege, but a necessity. To see students grasp this concept, and then watch them use it to do something that has never been done before is my greatest joy.

Learn more about Scott Patterson’s assembly “Outer Space Improvisations”

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Use simple circuitry in sculpture in March’s smART Tip

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In March’s smART Tip, Young Audiences visual artists and STEAM experts FutureMakers show how students can use simple and affordable LEDs to make sculptures that light up! Press play to learn more:

[youtube https://youtu.be/TkNZsA-92SU]

smART Tips is a monthly video series sharing tips for educators who are interested in new, creative ways to use the arts in their classroom with students. See all smART Tips to date here. Interested in a specific topic? Let us know!

Meet our new artists: FutureMakers

Meet Our Artists-FutureMakers_2

During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.

To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far. We recently sat down with Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers.

What is your background as an artist?

FutureMakers started from work I was doing as a visual artist and sculptor with other makers and educators. I was frequently asked if I could bring the type of work I was doing to classrooms. I had met artists, engineers, and technologists that wanted to do projects with young people, but didn’t feel confident about how to approach it. I wondered if an organization could connect makers and educators, so both could build their skills.

During the summer of 2012, I was invited to work with a supportive cohort of community colleges in Maryland to bring STEAM workshops (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) into their summer programs for youth. Since then, we’ve steadily been growing our staff, or as we call them, coaches, and are excited to be working with Young Audiences to provide a formal pathway for those interested in joining FutureMakers to deliver programs to schools.

How did you hear about Young Audiences?

Someone shared a workshop offered by Pat Cruz, Young Audiences Education Director. I wasn’t able to attend, but reached out to Pat to find out how FutureMakers could learn from and work with Young Audiences. In 2013, we were invited to support a summer learning program in Harford County, and participate in the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar. Through TAI, we developed a FutureMakers residency. We’ve been making things that wiggle, draw, glow, and do crazy stuff with kids ever since.

Meet Our Artists-FutureMakers_1

See these sculptures in action here!

What has been the most memorable part of the programs you’ve had through Young Audiences?

I was watching morning announcement videos at a school which used puppets created by students with TAI instructor and playwright John Morogiello. They were funny and sharp. It wasn’t about adults, it was about youth development with young people out in front. I was impressed by the way art was completely integrated into that school. It made me wish that more places would work and integrate this way.

What was your favorite part of the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar? How has the experience changed your approach to teaching?

TAI solidified the way we at FutureMakers think about the pathway our coaches follow. It focuses our expertise and creativity on student engagement, measurable outcomes, and addresses the needs of our teacher partners. They get to see and do what they’d like within boundaries of what they need to do.

Our coaches are experiencing how maker education can connect in classrooms because of Young Audiences. Being observed, receiving feedback, and having scheduling and communications support is an enormous value that Young Audiences adds to our organization.

What does your art form–particularly as it relates to STEM subjects–teach students?

With technology, things are moving toward additive processes – for example, 3D printing, which is a process we incorporate in many community workshops. Traditional craft and art media are now expanding to incorporate materials often found in science or technology classrooms, or only available to higher education students. In a rapidly evolving, project-based learning world, coaches help young people embrace the design process in their creative lives – think like engineers to figure out how to solve a design challenge, and have the confidence to iterate, or try again, when things go in unexpected directions.

How do the lessons or skills you teach students apply to their everyday life outside of the classroom?

Students asking, imagining, planning, creating, and improving is the core of what we’re about. Young people have limitless imaginations, and are open to learning how to take a step back and ask questions. In the past, young makers followed plans or prescriptive examples to complete a project.  We’re learning that truly effective coaches facilitate their discovery of paths and options that lead to mastery – supported by the design cycle.

Why do you believe art is important for every student to have access to?

Young people need to have the opportunity to try something and fail, and a coach who can help them through difficult spots. Art was the only thing that kept me focused and motivated in high school; it was my identity early on. When we’re working with students in upper-elementary and middle school, identity is a large and important part of what our residencies are about. Art is a fast path to forming and grabbing onto an identity, whatever the content is.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Young Audiences roster artist?

It’s incredibly validating to know as an organization we’re doing something that our school systems embrace. I think the most rewarding aspect is knowing that we’re working in a community of other practitioners who are phenomenal performing and visual artists and amazing coaches. That is a very rare mix, and we’re honored to be a part of it.

Learn more about FutureMakers’ offerings through Young Audiences.

Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists! See past new artist interviews here.

Summer learning comes to a close

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See photos from the Young Audiences arts-integrated summer learning site!

The summer can be a time for fun in the sun with family and friends, but for many students across the country, it is a time of uncertainty. Without school, many at-risk students are left without adequate supervision, access to regular, healthy meals, and opportunities to participate in engaging and constructive activities. On average, all children can lose approximately two months of learning from the previous school year during the summer months without engaging education activities, and for low-income students, the loss is even greater. More than half of the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers can be attributed to the unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

summer learning infographics

For five weeks this summer, Young Audiences again partnered with Baltimore City Public Schools to combat summer learning loss through a free math- and science-focused summer camp opportunity for Baltimore City middle school students. Young Audiences artists provided arts enrichment activities at seven Baltimore City 22nd Century Pioneers Summer Camp sites. In addition, for the first time, Young Audiences managed an eighth completely arts-integrated camp site at Edmondson Westside High School.

At the Young Audiences camp, morning math and science classes were co-taught by Baltimore City teachers and Young Audiences artists, who explored STEM subjects through the arts. Students had a choice in the art form they focused on during afternoon enrichment classes, including dance, photography, illustration and mural painting, improvisational theatre, Hip Hop, steel drum, or VEX robotics. The camp also included field trips, giving students the chance to apply their knowledge outside of the classroom.

The program was a learning opportunity for participating teachers as well, some of whom were new to arts integration as a teaching practice. Co-teaching with Young Audiences artists gave teachers the opportunity to try out a different way to approach each lesson, growing their knowledge of the arts and the natural connections that exist between core subjects and the arts.

summer learning infographics4

In a recent survey of 500 U.S. teachers, 66 percent said it takes at least three to four weeks to re-teach content from the previous school year to get their students up to speed at the start of each new school year. At Edmondson Westside, the arts made learning fun and students both stayed intellectually engaged so they would not fall behind in their classes this coming school year, and also discovered a new way of learning through the arts. Students had the opportunity to develop their knowledge in math and science in a hands-on way, learning how the length of sound waves relates to the pitch of each note on a steel drum, or how a photographer or illustrator uses mathematical ratios to compose a piece. Students learned about themselves as they tried new things; took risks during classroom activities; and showcased what they had learned for others.

Read more about the Young Audiences arts-integrated summer learning site and see photos from this summer here.

The Deutsch Foundation shares its TAI experience

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The Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) is made possible in partnership with Young Audiences, Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS), and the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC). TAI partners and generous sponsors, like the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, provide funding and support that make this training opportunity accessible to all qualified artists.

Taylor DeBoer, Communications Manager for the Deutsch Foundation, joined us for the first day of the 2013 TAI Seminar retreat last week and shared his experience on the foundation’s blog. Check it out!

See more photos from the TAI Seminar retreat.

Learn more about the TAI program.