STEAM Approaches for Encouraging
Capstone Research Paper presented to the Department of Art, Eastern Illinois University
Current educators are encouraged to make interdisciplinary connections and teach 21st-century skills. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) is the perfect answer. This capstone research first studies the change from STEM to STEAM and the growing popularity of STEAM opportunities in educational settings. It explores the importance of including art with STEM disciplines and how the inclusion of art benefits student learning and social emotional well-being. This leads to the encouragement of students to be advocates for Earth’s environment now and in the future. Environment, Eco-Art, and sustainability will be defined including their relationship to STEAM education. This research results in a curriculum unit plan with an upper elementary aged focus. It incorporates observational studies of local place, looking at contemporary artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Aurora Robson, and Shigeo Fukuda, employing scientific practices to create artistic compositions, designing informational posters with technology, and using the engineering design process to imagine biomimicry designs.
STEAM Makes Meaning of Environmentalism
It’s no secret that the world we live in is a little worse for wear. With the growing industrial and technological Western world, the human carbon footprint continues to have a negative impact on the earth and its environment (Hansen, 2009; Randazzo & Lajevic, 2013). It is concerning that this is a recognizable issue, yet behaviors aren’t changing substantially enough. How can we as art educators help to reverse the apparent desensitization to the degradation of our planet and create activists? I discuss some approaches and lesson activities including cyanotype prints, issue awareness posters, and biomimicry designs. I also address the importance of including art with STEM disciplines for a well-rounded, interdisciplinary education and how these approaches can be explored within a STEAM curriculum.
Originally STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, inclusion of the fine arts, known as STEAM, invites creativity as an integral part of the process. “Creativity is a critical element in the nurturing of curiosity and our love of life. This is what young people need to learn and experience” (Boy, 2013, p. 6). Piro (2010) goes so far as to say the transition from STEM to STEAM should be deemed a national priority, that the United States is losing its status as a leader in STEM careers–careers that are capable of improving quality of life. An engagement in the visual arts specifically results in better observational and questioning skills, and greater awareness of multiple potential solutions to a single problem, all of which are examples of 21st-century skills. I recently took a new position teaching middle-level STEAM where introducing concepts like biomimicry would combine 21st-century skills, STEM content along with the artistic creative processes, all while engaging students with a real-world dilemma.
This capstone project researches the impact STEAM educational practices have on the learning experience including meaning-making with strategies to develop a unit on environmental activism. My goals for this unit were to reconnect students to the natural environment through observation, awaken a sense of connection and empathy toward the spaces we share, instill a desire to take action toward improving environmental circumstances, and practicing 21st century skills along with the engineering and artistic design processes to imagine potential solutions.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) content is pushed for its ability to cover 21st century skills such as analyzing, evaluating, and technological literacy in hopes of producing more scientists and engineers. There is a fear that the United States is falling behind as a world leader in STEM fields (Feldman, 2015; Piro, 2010). Student interest in those fields is declining. Adding art is the game changer. STEAM can increase engagement with STEM content for students that don’t feel confident in those areas by being able to put individuality and personality into their learning (Feldman, 2015).
STEAM has been a growing interest of mine. While I taught for a virtual charter school, I was a founding collaborator with teachers in other states to develop a STEAM learning community. I successfully convinced the leader of the group to include the arts on the basis that it increased creative problem-solving skills and design thinking. I recently accepted a new position teaching upper elementary (“middle school” grades 4-6 due to spatial logistics of teaching during COVID-19) Art and STEAM at a private K-12 school. This new school—which boasts a philosophy of fostering curiosity, problem solving, and innovation–organizes the experience of STEAM education in phases: tinkering, making, and specialization. As the middle-level teacher, I focus on the making phase. Never having taught STEAM, it has been a work in progress to wrap my head around a new curriculum that has evolved and changed quite frequently over the past few years. The closest resemblance to curriculum alignment was given to me in the form of a binder, filled with projects and ideas from a teacher who had been asked to co-teach STEAM at the very last minute. Here I am, teaching a new subject with very little to build upon from the previous year. It has also been difficult to collaborate with other divisions for vertical alignment while teaching during a global pandemic. Much of our time is dedicated to organizing spaces, following cleaning protocols, and overly communicating with parents as they aren’t allowed on campus for the school year.
After observing my students’ personalities and what type of resources were available to me for the first semester, I realized that both seemed to have a strong connection with the environment and local ecology. Students foraged in the brush along the outskirts of the playground and showed me the lizards they found during recess. They built forts out of fallen branches and tree limbs. The campus grounds are complete with a butterfly garden, recycled bird feeders, and a bioswale, all of which were previous collaborative projects. Since I was given the opportunity to help establish a more lasting curriculum at my school, my goal has been to create a unit plan on environmental advocacy to engage the apparent interests of my students while aligning with my school’s culture.
Including art with STEAM encourages better questioning and creative-problem solving by understanding that there are multiple ways to solve a single problem. It also has a positive impact on communication and expression. By allowing the creative input of STEAM, students learn to express their personal identities and interests which lends to more meaningful connections (Catterall, 2017), and meaning-making in art will have a longer lasting effect on advocacy. I hope my curriculum study will be the start toward building further middle school units with meaningful topics, well-constructed scaffolding, and valid assessments. The topics within the unit will also address the ability to observe, empathize, and create through the design process, all of which are skills to prepare future advocates with the ability to recognize that they can make a difference.
In this section I discuss the importance of STEAM education and how it can be used to motivate students to care for the environment. In order to conduct curricular research on a unit plan in STEAM, it is helpful to distinguish it from its predecessor, STEM education–Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. By adding the A, the fine arts are included, thus, embracing creative consideration (Bequette & Bequette, 2012; Catterall, 2017; Feldman, 2015; Guyotte, Sochacka, Costantino, Walther & Kellam, 2014; Piro, 2010) and design thinking (Bequette & Bequette, 2012; Feldman, 2015; Guyotte, et. al., 2014). Other benefits of including the arts are the soft skills deemed necessary in 21st century learning to prepare students for the workforces of the future (Taylor, 2015). These skills include collaboration, critical thinking, active listening and learning (Taylor, 2015), engaging and persistence, tending to relationships, expressing ideas and personal meaning (Bequette & Bequette, 2012). Many educators find the latter in that list of skills are necessary components when teaching advocacy (Bertling, 2013; Boy, 2013; Hansen, 2009; Inwood, 2010; Randazzo & Lajevic, 2013; Rex & Woywod, 2014). As students form relationships with the world around them, they begin to exercise their imagination and develop a sense of empathy (Bertling, 2013). That empathy becomes the motivational fuel needed to act (Anderson & Guyas, 2012; Jaquith, 2011). One area in particular that art and STEAM educators agree calls for more action is that of the Earth–both the climate and ecology. They note the rising issues, yet how those issues continue taking a backseat in favor of continuing with destructive lifestyles (Randazzo & Lajevic, 2013). It becomes the responsibility of educators to encourage and develop empathy and the ability to take action for a healthier world and a better future. STEAM education is the interdisciplinary practice suited for covering such environmental, engineering, socially and ethically engaged design matters (Guyotte, et. al., 2014).
STEM to STEAM
Looking at the research of Boy (2013), STEM education was a necessity to prepare students of the 20th century for the production industry workforce, such as mechanical maintenance, electrical engineering, and technological connectivity. Anything in art or design was deemed a hobby and incapable of providing any skill toward college or career aspirations (Feldman, 2015). There has continued to be a push in the direction of STEM-related careers in the 21st century seen through the development of its curriculum and programs. Many researchers reference the declaration of STEM education as a national priority in the wake of a declining economy and the U.S. fall as global leaders in STEM disciplines (Bequette & Bequette, 2012; Feldman, 2015; Guyotte, et. al., 2014; Piro, 2010). In 2009, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate initiative which made available $250 million for recruiting STEM teachers, on top of the $700 million already allotted to science and mathematics programs (Piro, 2010; The White House, 2013).
However, several scholars have noted a lack of engagement or interest from students in STEM fields (Boy, 2013; Feldman, 2015; Taylor, 2015) and advocate for the inclusion of the fine arts–visual, music, dance, and theater–because they incorporate a social, or human element. As previously mentioned, the arts incite creativity. Boy (2013) defines creativity as being “about human needs, out of the box thinking, and breaking the standards; it is about purposes,” (p. 6) and continues that it is a necessary part of human life for nurturing curiosity and motivation to be participatory and risk-taking. As educators, districts, and the government take notice, STEAM programs have begun to flourish. In 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act which mandates funding and the provision of STEAM opportunities in schools (Catterall, 2017). Feldman (2015) references a $530,000 grant awarded to the state of Pennsylvania specifically for STEAM programs and events such as VH1’s Save the Music Foundation promoting it. The Maker Education Initiative (2020) is a non-profit organization that has granted $415,500 to museums, libraries, schools, and after-school programs in support of maker education and trained hundreds of educators in workshops, conferences, etc. One such museum is the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville, Arkansas–a children’s interactive museum for discovery and play. Through partnership with Maker Ed, the Amazeum provides professional development to twenty-one schools in Northwest Arkansas in the area of maker spaces and tinkering labs.
The Arts Promote Expression and Empathy
As the creativity of the arts is invited into the cross-disciplinary approach of STEAM education, so are other humanitarian characteristics. Jaquith (2011) links creativity to intrinsic motivators such as curiosity and problem finding and solving. Art also has the ability to impact emotional and empathetic response, awareness, and relational connections. In articles by Bertling (2013), Hansen (2009), Inwood (2010), and Randazzo and Lajevic (2013), they share strategies and reflections on lessons and curricular units that have engaged students in connectedness. Hansen (2009), who explores place-based art, explains that students must first understand their part in the environment before they can build a relationship with it. She further posits that this type of engagement allows for continued emotional consciousness and conceptual connections in order to address real-life problems. Randazzo and Lajevic (2013) study contemporary artists such as Scott Wades and Alexandre Orion, as well as reverse graffiti artist, Moose. They suggest the work of these artists in reverse pollution promotes meaningful connections with the environmental surroundings and encourages students to use art “as a meaning-making endeavor instead of simply focusing on formalist traditions” (p. 44). Bertling (2009) describes her study of place as an awakening for her students to the social responsibilities they hold in imagining and creating a better future.
Environment, Eco-Art, and Sustainability
While those researchers share commonalities in their curricular frameworks of art as meaning-making through empathy and relational awareness, they also share a common goal of advocating for the environment. “The environment is comprised of multiple dimensions, including material, social, and built surroundings that each one of us experiences locally,” according to Hansen (2009, p. 46). The experiences we have with our various surroundings, or “natural systems,” serve as the foundation for ecological art (eco-art) described as “explor[ing] the relationship between humans and their natural environment” (Randazzo & Lajevic, 2013, p. 40). Guyotte et. al. (2014) discuss art–including its place within STEAM –and its impact on social practice in their respective university departments, the College of Engineering and the School of Art. Using creative thinking tools such as observation, empathy, and play to bridge the gap between disciplines, undergraduate students worked collaboratively to solve two design challenges–waste reduction and water ethics. The authors state, “we began to realize that social practice as doing might push these students to more meaningfully consider and engage with the issues and materials at hand, as well as the audiences they intended to reach” (p.17) as a framework for STEAM emerged.
Taylor (2015) urges that educators work to build higher-order abilities which would cultivate a moral conscience about the human planetary footprint and consideration for the concept of sustainability. Sustainability can be defined as “the study of how natural systems function, remain diverse and produce everything it needs for the ecology to remain in balance; how we might live in harmony with the natural world around us, protecting it from damage and destruction” (What is sustainability, 2020, para 3). Art teachers, and other educators, have implemented green practices such as using recycled or found objects, using the natural environment as medium, conservation of energy and reduction of waste, even art and design as communication in the form of posters. As mentioned throughout, the cross-disciplinary practice of STEAM education does not separate or diminish each content area as some would believe, but rather “celebrates the rhizomatic overlapping qualities between subjects and content… and trandscend[s] the school subject boundaries” (Randazzo & Lajevic, 2013, p. 44-45). Art combined with environmental education develops an awareness and engagement with the concepts and values of empathy, sustainability, and respect for the environment (Inwood, 2010).
Of the three pillars of sustainability–economic development, social development, and environmental protection–this capstone research focuses on the latter. The research provides information for creating a curriculum unit plan that incorporates the cross-disciplinary approach of STEAM through environmental science, art, engineering, and technology. When students observe the natural systems in the environment in first-hand experiences–nature walks and drawing from life–it results in an awareness and relationship with their environs (Hansen, 2010). Students make connections with contemporary and eco-artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Aurora Robson, and Alan Sonfist which leads to the reflection of varying perspectives on environmental issues conveyed through materials, content, and presentation (Inwood, 2010). Using technology, students research chosen sub topics of environmental and ecological issues such as ocean pollution, global warming, deforestation, etc. that are relevant and have personal meaning. Positive interaction garners positive response (Anderson & Guyas, 2012). Graphic design posters and infographics are designed to communicate and advocate for change throughout the school and local community using positive perspectives. Building on their environmental research, paired with personal observations of the local ecology, students will finally work collaboratively using the engineering design process culminating in an innovative product or process that uses biomimicry–a practice that learns from and mimics nature without extraction or harvesting. The philosophy of mimicry is to build an empathic, interconnected understanding of our environment while bringing relief to both the natural and human worlds (Biomimicry Institute, 2020). I find that this sentiment is shared in the ideals of STEAM education as a way to combine aesthetics and analytics as well as the ideas of eco-art as a means to inspire change. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of art teachers to combine with STEM content as they are “core constituents of 21st century art education” (Bequette & Bequette, 2012, p. 43) and “promot[es] student understanding of art, world, and self” (Randazzo & Lajevic, 2013, p. 45).
STEAM for a Cause
This section describes a unit that connects science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) disciplines with the intent to promote advocacy (see Appendix A). Following this section is a unit plan including handouts and assessment strategies that outlines the process of developing empathy in a social issue, specifically environmental applications, using a variety of STEAM activities. The unit is designed to slowly progress from traditional art practices to gradually more complex and collaborative projects that implement science labs and design thinking with technology and engineering techniques. The artistic qualities involved garner engagement from students in STEM content areas through creative, hands-on practices (Feldman, 2015). The lessons in this unit are organized in such a way to develop personal experiences with the local environment. Doing so should foster positive perspectives and behaviors with that place, and hopefully, instill an interest in fighting greater environmental causes (Inwood, 2010).
In developing this research, I immediately knew I wanted to design a unit around STEAM content as I had just taken a new position in a private school teaching fourth, fifth, and sixth grade Art and STEAM. I’ve included STEAM concepts in my art curricula in prior years, but never taught it as a course on its own. While observing my new students to get to know them, I noticed several of them enjoyed foraging in the campus bioswale—an aesthetic alternative to a storm drain that reduces and filters storm runoff (Naturally Resilient Communities, n.d.)—and outlying bushes of the playground area. They would show me the lizard they caught or the newest addition to their rock collection. I felt using the environment as our connecting theme to develop advocacy practices would be most successful with this group of students.
During this five-week unit, I meet with fourth and fifth grade students daily for forty minutes. The early weeks begin with an introduction of knowledge material which then flows into practice and small-scale creations. The later weeks involve a greater amount of research and planning on the students’ part resulting in larger collaborative projects. This plan was designed with the intent to be completed during the spring semester, aligning it to end on or near Earth Day as a celebration of all that has been accomplished with a recognized holiday and environmental movement. Completion of the unit should build a sense of understanding for the Earth and how humans can live responsibly within its environments.
Empathizing with Local Place
The unit opens by addressing the enduring understanding—specific learning priority (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)—that STEAM education makes use of its inherent connections to positively impact the environment. It begins with scientific content via discussion about the field of ecology and what constitutes an environment. They have prior knowledge of ecosystems through Common Core science standards (Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2015), but the lesson will expand on the knowledge of environmental factors by projecting an image of a natural place on the board. After defining the term environment, students have an opportunity to work individually to create a list of characteristics of the environment shown. In an informal assessment, they then use dry erase markers to label the projected image with their examples. To conclude the lesson, students consider and share what makes up their own personal environments. The following day, students take a nature walk around campus—a nearby park or nature reserve works as well. During the nature walk, students should document what they observe on the given handout (see Appendix B), which includes reminders about the characteristics of an environment. A checklist for completion and accuracy of characteristics are used to assess observations (see Appendix C) (Beattie, 1997). The next lesson strengthens observational skills further through the traditional art means of drawing from life. Students set out independently around the playground/field area to pick a scene or natural object of their choosing to study, preferably en plein air, but this can be adapted for indoor use if necessary with photographs. Spending two to three days in close observation of a local place will hopefully foster a deeper appreciation for natural beauty and the local environment. Students complete a 3, 2, 1 self-reflection assessment handout (see Appendix D) to reflect on what they learned from observing their environment, what they like about their drawing, and to start considering improvements to the environment.
After spending some time immersed in nature, it’s time to explore how artists use it for inspiration and medium. Looking at works from Andy Goldsworthy, Alan Sonfist, and Aurora Robson introduces the enduring understanding that anyone can help make a difference. Set up includes posting artwork reproductions about the room or throughout a larger space such as a hallway and printing sets of Bodily-Kinesthetic Cards (see Appendix E) for each student (Berry, et al., 1998). Students choose four to five artworks to match with the content on the cards and then volunteer to share at least one each of their responses with supporting evidence for their reasons. A formative tally assessment is used to measure responses (see Appendix F) (Beattie, 1997). Analyzing works by these artists may yield more meaningful connections with the issues and materials (Guyotte, et al., 2014). Students are then given the chance to become eco-artists themselves.
Up to this point, lessons and creations have been mostly art-centered. Cyanotype printing is a great way to incorporate scientific practices with artistic results. Cyanotype sun prints involve practicing lab safety and witnessing changes in chemical states. The resulting composition is made up of positive and negative space depending on what part of the light sensitive paper was exposed to UV rays. A few days are needed for this activity so that a history of cyanotype printing, or “blueprints,” and lab safety can be discussed beforehand. Also, students will need to know the procedures and how to use the space for preparation, rinsing, and drying their prints. All preparations should take place in dim lighting. For this age group, it’s recommended to treat the paper ahead of time. Evenly brush on the ferric ammonium citrate, potassium ferricyanide, and water mixture onto paper with foam brushes. Then let the papers dry in a dark place. The following day, students can place found natural objects on the dried paper. The object placed on the light-sensitive paper blocks the UV light exposure from the part of the paper underneath. These compositions can be placed in clear page protectors or covered with a piece of plexiglass so the items don’t shift in the process. After ten to fifteen minutes in the UV sun rays—also indicated when the light green dye has turned a darker green—bring inside and rinse the new image with water. These can be left to dry on a drying rack or hung on a clothesline for display for a gallery walk while drying. When dried, the UV-exposed chemicals will have turned the paper blue. In a summative assessment, students self-evaluate their prints using a constructed-response strategy (see Appendix G) (Beattie, 1997).
Understanding an Audience to Impact the Issues
Once students have had hands-on experiences engaging with nature around them, the unit progresses to consider how humans fit into this grand design. This week’s lessons combine the previous two enduring understandings: the inherent interdisciplinary connections of STEAM education and acknowledgment that anyone can make a difference. Students begin to see they are capable of change and able to influence an audience through research and design. In personal observations, especially with younger age groups, students believe anyone reading or viewing the piece is considered the audience. The early goals of this portion of the unit are to explain there are specific groups of people who view and interpret visual culture differently depending on their backgrounds, culture, experiences, beliefs, and interests. To begin the lesson, students brainstorm what makes people different, such as the examples previously mentioned. While students call out these characteristics, the teacher creates a master list where all can see. Once the master list is complete, students are handed a print reproduction of an advertisement. Working in pairs, they mark each specific evidence they see from the ad with sticky notes to show the type of audience for which the ad was meant.
Reviewing graphic design poster examples including those of Barbara Kruger and Shigeo Fukuda continues the idea that visual culture can be a tool for communication. Using an Art Detective worksheet (see Appendix H) to help guide students’ analysis of these designs, they begin to make the connection that artists and designers purposefully arrange elements in their pieces to convey a specific meaning or message as suggested by Guyotte, et al. (2014) and Randazzo and Lajevic (2013). From there, students can share their thoughts and interpretations with the class, and allow for organic discussions to take place. The works from these designers exhibit an awareness of social issues, which makes for a smooth segway into the various branches of environmental concerns. Students use available technology and other resources to research a particular environmental cause that interests them. A list of issues can be provided for those who need it. Using the provided planning guide (see Appendix I), students come up with the issue they wish to advocate, a list of facts about it, a list of symbols or imagery that fit the idea, and a minimum of three thumbnail sketches of design layouts. Once their planning guide has been reviewed, they may begin drafting their advocacy poster using Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator. The creation of the advocacy poster design, including a mid-process peer critique (see Appendix J), will take approximately a week to complete. To conclude the lesson, students complete a few journal questions to help them form an artist statement explaining their issue, why it is important, and thoughts for how we can make a difference (see Appendix K) (Beattie, 1997). Posters can also be displayed around campus or the greater community.
Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge
Introduction to the idea of biomimicry fulfills the final enduring understanding that learning from nature can help solve local or global sustainability problems. By registering for the Youth Design Challenge, educators can access resources through Biomimicry Institute (2021) to follow the MIMIC Instructional Approach. The acronym MIMIC stands for Motivate, Investigate, Match, Innovate, and Communicate (Biomimicry Institute, 2021) which is similarly structured to the engineering design process (Bequette & Bequette, 2012). Thus far in this unit plan, motivate and investigate have already been addressed. The biomimicry design portion of the unit covers the final three sections in the sequence. By playing the How Does Nature… Game (see Appendix L), students practice reframing human needs in a biological context. For example, instead of asking, “How do we reduce packaging material,” one would ask, “How does nature protect from pressure?” Restating the questions in this way helps them devise stronger research methods and goals. “Biologize” is a term coined by Biomimicry Institute to describe the translating of a design problem into a question that can be more easily researched among biology. The “Biologize” the Design Question worksheet (see Appendix M) helps develop a problem to solve, consider the needs for resolving it, and reframe it in a “how does nature…” question. Then students begin to research and document their sources and findings using the Inspiring Strategies form (see Appendix N).
Now that students have identified a problem and some needs towards addressing it, they need to experience identifying biological strategies. In the innovate and communicate categories of the storyline, Biomimicry Institute provides an activity with examples of biological strategies that nature uses to combat problems and then to convert those strategies into engineering terminology. At this stage in the design process, students begin brainstorming possible solutions for their identified problem. From personal experience, students of all ages tend to favor their first idea. They need practice brainstorming simply to generate ideas. Materials include a large piece of paper such as an 11 in x 17 in sheet of copy paper, sticky notes, and something with which to write. To do this, determine student groups and have them write their design question atop the large sheet. Each member of the group writes their bio-inspired strategies on a sticky note, one note per strategy, and places them in the center of the table. Members take turns reading the strategies on the notes and discuss how the strategies solve their problem. They should agree upon a set number of potentially successful strategies, and those sticky notes are affixed to their large sheet. Collaboration and communication are “hallmark skills for 21st century success” (Piro, 2010, para 11), so peers are to provide feedback toward design strategies via gallery walk among groups.
The final stage in the process is to design prototypes for presentation. Each group collaborates using art and/or technology to create a visual of their prototype solution. A member of the group organizes the research and data in a clearly legible manner. Another member helps to write a script explaining what problem their design helps to solve, how it accomplishes the solution, how the biological strategy they discovered informed their design, and explain the biomimicry design in detail. Meanwhile, members check in with one another and review each other’s progress. All group work culminates in a final summative assessment (see Appendix O) in the form of a video podcast. This type of collaborative project allows students an opportunity to excel in an area they feel most confident. Ending the unit in this way allows students to showcase the meaningful connections they’ve each made toward defining and correcting an environmental issue, and to take social responsibility in creating a better future (Bertling, 2013).
Application for Other Social Issues
Authentic advocacy practices can’t be forced; one must first decide they care. Fine art allows participants an avenue for expression and unpacking personal meaning that strengthens STEM skills (Bequette & Bequette, 2012). Over the course of this unit, students engage in areas from STEAM education to develop empathy for the natural environment, instill a belief that they can be the change, and build encouragement to become life-long advocates (Bertling, 2013; Rex & Woywood, 2014). In the process of combining content from science, technology, engineering, art, and math, students can see the interconnection of these disciplines. They discover that their interests can be applied to the specific areas in which they previously felt discouraged. “Students learn to recognize that they have power and creative options for addressing real-life problems” (Hansen, 2009, p. 47).
While environmentalism is but one narrow issue that needs attention, students should be able to identify any other social issue they wish to change that piques their personal interests. Art educators can use the outline that forms this curriculum plan—observation, empathy, action—as a template to address other social issues while also practicing 21st century skills. The outcome for students is to gain an appreciation for how things should be through observation and involvement. After identifying an issue, they’ll use re-framing questioning strategies to pinpoint a potential solution which then leads to investigation, brainstorming, planning, and design strategies. Following the research, students can create an appealing argument for awareness directed toward a particular audience. All the while, students are building digital literacy skills by using technology for source material, medium, and presentation. In the process, students collaborate with one another as a team as well as provide constructive feedback for editing and revision. Approaching any social issue in this manner using STEAM education provides a holistic learning experience.
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