Good afternoon – My name is Joe Schwartz. I teach computer graphics and design at Spotswood High School in New Jersey. I'm also an adjunct professor at Kean University's Robert Busch School of Design and a cofounder of the Design-ed coalition, a nonprofit group that helps teachers integrate design into their learning experiences. So, just to do a quick survey around the room, who of you teaches a dedicated gifted learner program? Who needs more information on serving gifted learners in your regular education classrooms? Any administrators? After school programs? Anyone I didn’t cover?Now, I have to admit that gifted learners are not my area of expertise. With DESIGN-ED, STEAM is one of the areas that we advocate for and for which I had the privilege of speaking to some of you two years ago. Eddie must have liked what I said, because she invited me back to talk with you again.
I don’t think there is a reason to talk in detail about STEM, because we all know what it is and that it is an attention-grabbing acronym. The attention is well-deserved, because there is a serious lack of intellect in these areas out in the workforce and it is causing major damage to our economy and our employment rolls. Most of the employers who will be hiring in 2020 will need to fill jobs that fall into these areas but less and less, we’re finding that the students graduating from American schools these days can’t fill those needs.
One of the issues is that after high school, there is a massive dropoff in students who continue their education in one of these areas. As few as 6% of high school graduates will graduate college with a bachelors degree in a STEM area. They lose interest, don’t see its value or think that STEM is reserved for brilliant scientists or doctors, which they have no intention of being. The worst dropoff is with girls, who see STEM areas as distinctly unfeminine and uninteresting areas to pursue as career options.An additional issue is that STEM disciplines are often taught in silos, with little in the way of cross-pollination between other academic areas. This diagram was provided by Gary Hull, one of the Computer Sciences teachers in my high school. It clearly shows just how much of a demand there will be in the next 6-10 years for students who have a specialty in a STEM area, but it also shows where student interest lies in pursuing a college major and the lack of jobs in proportion to those interests.
To demonstrate the problem even further, this diagram – also provided by Gary, – shows just how much in lost income our students face without an education in STEM areas. They are facing a future where, if you don’t have some kind of STEM knowledge in your toolkit, you are doomed to be passed by those who do. And most of those people are going to come from overseas. If you want the hard truth about outsourcing, it is that there are more people graduating school in Bangalore India who can do these jobs than there are in Philadelphia. Or Detroit. Or Houston. If Microsoft can’t find qualified employees here, then they can’t afford to wait for us to get them qualified. And once a job goes overseas, it will be a long time before it comes back here, if ever.Our students will be leaving $500 billion in lost income at the table by not pursuing careers just in computer sciences, let alone any other STEM-related area.
This is where STEAM comes in. STEAM has been described as a “metadiscipline” that acts as a binder between the STEM subjects. It shows the potential of each one but by integrating Art and Design,it also shows the connections between them.If you have gifted learners in your classroom or have a gifted program that services these types of students, then it is imperative that you keep them interested in STEM disciplines. If you can keep them moving forward, can connect the dots between the disciplines and demonstrate how they work together, then your students have the best chance of success in continuing their educations in one or more of these areas and finding careers that will be fulfilling and financially secure.So today, we're going to talk about STEAM and how it can be used to help you augment your existing TAG programs. It's not that difficult, it may just require a different way of looking at things.
This list are recommendations from the National Association for Gifted Children Task Force that were published in March of 2009. In writing these guidelines, they also wrote:
“Arts education can benefit academically gifted students by increasing the complexity and rigor of the curriculum, promoting extensive use of a variety of problem-solving strategies, heightening student motivation to pursue a topic of interest in depth, and developing rich skills in communicating with varied audiences.”So, as you can see by these recommendations, the group that helps teachers of gifted children states that incorporating art and design into your programs is a huge benefit to the students.
The Rhode Island School of Design is a big proponent of STEAM learning, and school president John Maeda has put in a lot of effort to not only get the word out himself, but to also support faculty who promote the effort.
Cas Holman is one of those RISD faculty members who has done a lot of work to promote STEAM, and she’s on the cusp of doing much more. Cas was a guest of mine at DESIGN-ED’s first annual design education conference, held this past June in Philadelphia. This is an event we’re going to repeat this June at the University of the Arts.
Right now, Cas is a professor of industrial design at RISD, but she’s really become interested in STEAM-based toys. At the conference, Cas told us about her “Workyard” kits. These oversized kits resemble a cross between tinker toys and erector sets, but they don’t require any special tools and come with no plans, so the children can build anything that they want from their imaginations.
The kits were built for the Highline, a unique park environment in New York City. When the weather is good, the kits come out for visiting children to play with. While they are building their contraptions, they are learning about a whole list of engineering feats such as weights, balances, pulleys, and cantilevers. They learn how to support basic structures and are also learning about how geometry works in a 3-D environment.
The pieces have real weight and heft, real rope, real wheels and the kits are infinitely fun. The children are free to build anything they can imagine, without the distraction of instructions, rules or adult interference.
Now, while the Workyard kits aren’t currently available for sale because they are still in development, they are an excellent example of the type of STEAM learning that can engage and inspire children.So here is your first question:
Now remember – this doesn’t need to be anything fancy – using anything from a few cardboard boxes going up to wood crates, ropes, etc. you can extend the opportunities for your gifted students to connect the dots in a real-world, hands-on environment. The most important thing you can do to add value to your program is to bring your own unique solutions to the table, no matter what level your budget may be at. Maybe you don’t have access to a wood shop that could make something like this for you. But is it needed? The students could make their own pieces out of boxes, gallon milk containers, PVC pipe and other donated materials from parents. They could build an entire city from such materials. This would require skills evident in engineering, planning, and math. If you make a whole project out of it, you could have the students plan out a real “garbage” city and figure out how streets work, traffic patterns, parks, bridges, etc.This is where the A in STEAM comes in –because just having students build a town out of recycled materials isn’t enough. It used to be – we’ve all made cities out of boxes when we were kids. We’ve used building blocks, Legos and books to make spaces for our dolls and matchbox cars to roam in – and while It might have been creative, it doesn’t foster the deeper investigation that a gifted program should aspire to have. Likewise, a lesson on how pulleys and cantilevers and counterbalances work doesn’t go far enough to demonstrate how they are used in the real world for the construction of engineered structures.
The National Society for the Gifted and Talented recognizes that this type of learning, called “Problem based learning” or “Project based learning” is an essential part of helping students put their acquired knowledge to practical use. Rather than just see diagrams or videos on how pulleys and levers work, developing an entire project around these tools can help the students acquire a deeper meaning.
Much of the premise for this work is based on the work of Doreen Nelson, who first proposed something similar as design based learning in the 1960s and has dedicated much of her career to promoting it as a viable learning tool.
You don’t need something as complicated as a Workyard kit in order to inspire creative engineering with your students. For younger students, you could use old paper you have jammed in your closets to make paper engineered bridges that have to support a certain amount of weight, such as a matchbox car or a stone;
And take it as far as you can with cardboard chairs that can support the weight of an adult. Create advocacy for your program by having your supervisor or principal be the one whose weight the chair has to support.
You could use straws and milk cartons to build a simple crane;
Or go old school and use popsicle sticks to make a catapult. All of these simple projects can be used to turn STEM principles into STEAM projects that keep the students interested in learning and add to their experiences.
You can take any manmade object on your person and build an entire gifted lesson around it. For example, the simple penny. Something manmade, something designed, something common to everyone and something with a deep rich history that we never take the time to think about.What kind of STEAM based investigation could be done around something as simple as the lowly penny?
For example, you could start a history lesson by explaining how the American penny was first introduced in 1793 and looked like this, but its lineage goes back to the ancient Greeks. You could have the students investigate how the Greek society was structured and how they used metal coins alongside simple bartering.
For your design lesson, you can tell the students how the first Lincoln penny was commissioned by Teddy Roosevelt and was issued in 1909. It was based on a design by a Lithuanian Jew named Victor David Brenner, who lived in a New York City tenement. Every penny minted since 1918 has Brenner’s initials stamped into Lincoln’s shoulder. How would you use this discussion about a poor immigrant being the designer of the most widely circulated coin in human history? Ask your students to look into why Teddy Roosevelt chose Lincoln for this honor.
The photograph used for the cameo image of Lincoln was taken by Matthew Brady in February of 1864. You could ask your students who Matthew Brady was and why photographs of Lincoln are so rare. They could discover what other famous people Brady took photographs of and his contributions to documenting the Civil War.
Now for the science - Copper and zinc are the basic metals used in modern pennies – your students could investigate how copper is mined, why it is so valuable, how it is used to conduct electricity and why it oxidizes to a green patina. The amount of science involved in that alone would greatly extend their understanding – if you got into the physics of how pennies are made by stamping sheets of copper with high pressure, you’ll really be going further to enrich their experience with the subject matter.
You could even discuss how during World War 2, there was a shortage of copper, so pennies were minted in zinc-coated steel. It is still the only American coin that could be picked up with a magnet. Prompt your students: Why can’t copper be picked up with a magnet? Why were the pennies coated in zinc?
You can associate a great deal of vocabulary with a project like this and the answers can come from the questions you develop.So, you can see here how a simple object could be dissected, analyzed and give the students a deeper understanding of the designed world around them. You could repeat this process with other coins but also with any common, everyday product - telephones, blue jeans, eyeglasses – anything designed and built by humans!The students could write up their findings, complete with pictures and diagrams – and at the end of the school year, you could publish the students work in a “Did you know?” fact book, like a mini-encyclopedia. Present it to your supervisors, administrators, the Board of Education – you could even have a display case with the found knowledge. You have to be an advocate for your programs.
Should we keep going? Are you getting some ideas of your own? Do you have any questions?OK, as long as we’re on the advocacy issue, let’s talk about the basics. How are you going to equate the use of something like STEAM with making a contribution to your gifted programs? Well, what has been perceived as a great enemy to education is actually something that will benefit you.Yes, I’m talking about the dirty words
Common Core.This is the bane of the teacher’s existence. All anyone hears, even with my CTE classes, is how we all have to adapt to Common Core. Next year, even the National Art Educators Association will release the final draft of the Art Common Core standards – so everyone is getting in the game.It was my wife, who teaches third grade, who actually helped me make a connection between Common Core and teaching design. We were presenting a workshop on improving poster projects at the NJ education association conference two weeks ago and while we were prepping, she showed me the Common Core website.Nestled deep down in its pages came these nuggets of insight:
Right in the Common Core standards for English Language Arts, it specifies that the students should add or use drawings or other visual displays to provide additional detail.This means, right here, that writing alone isn’t enough, that visual displays and multimedia components may be needed to enhance the development of the main ideas or themes of the assignments you give your students. Right there in the Common Core standards, there is your “A” in STEAM. I’ve given a few examples here, but these go all the way from the Kindergarten to 12th grade standards, in one way or another.But wait, there’s more…
There are also ELA Common Core standards for History, Social Studies, Science and Technology – and THEY also state that students should integrate visual information into their work – including the use of drawings, diagrams and models. So here is another demonstration of the A in STEAM.So the point I am making is that if you have been lacking anything in your own program that shows how you are applying Common Core to your gifted programs, it is all here – by adding STEAM to your existing programs, you can quantify how your programs are aligning with sections of Common Core that no one else in your school may be doing on a regular, consistent basis.
So we’ve gone over a lot of material, and there is still more to come. But I wanted to take a few minutes and give you some brainstorming time before I move on.If you haven’t already done so, take five minutes and use the back of the booklets I distributed to write down some ideas for a STEAM project or assignment. They don’t have to be completely finished thoughts, just ideas. At the end of the five minutes, I’ll ask a few of you to share with the group what you came up with.
So there was a point to having you stop and write down your ideas now while they were fresh in your head – but we’ll come back to what that point is in a few minutes.I’d like to point out some of the highlights of the resources provided in the booklets I gave you.You can see in them that there are a good deal of websites, articles, blog posts, videos and documents that all deal with STEAM. This one on the screen is a great example.I had the good fortune a few years ago of visiting a company called FableVision in Boston. Fablevision is the brainchild of two identical twin brothers – Peter and Paul Reynolds. They publish educational books, videos, games and toys all for young children – and it is an incredible place to visit. One of their books is now offered for free - it is a STEAM based book that you can download. I happen to have one of the rare hard copies of it here, but they now distribute it for free online. Author Peter Reynolds is working on a sequel to the book and hopefully we’ll see it next year. It is also offered as a free interactive app on the iTunes store.In the book, siblings Sydney and Symon solve scientific mysteries by keeping a scientific journal that visually documents their findings. This kind of experimenting and visual note taking is also at the heart of a STEAM based lesson that can augment your Language Arts gifted programs.
There are quite a few books out there to give you ideas for developing your own STEAM lessons. I have not read most of them – who has times? And I really can’t advocate for one over another besides Water Wonders – but if you look these up on Amazon or look for them in a book store, they can also give you some ideas of places to start using STEAM with your own programs.
Last year, I attended a symposium at the Henry Ford, a complex in Dearborn Michigan that is part museum, part school, part institution – but entirely original in its approach to supporting examples of what innovation looks like. I brought some examples of the kinds of materials that can be found there and online – but if you ever get a chance to visit, I can’t recommend it enough.
next.cc is probably the most extensive web resource for STEM and STEAM project ideas that I know of – it has thousands of pages, papers and lesson ideas all for teachers at many different levels and is totally worth a look.
Doris Wells-Papanek runs the Design Learning Network and has an annual Design Learning Challenge that integrates STEM areas, Language Arts and design into solving problems that the students will face on a larger scale when they are in college or the workforce.
In the booklets are some action questions that are intended to generate ideas for you to get some STEAM power of your own – and I hope you will!If you are interested in my work at Design-ed, you can visit our website, like us on Facebook and Twitter and join our mailing list.Does anyone have any questions? If anything comes up later, please don’t hesitate to email me – I’d love to hear if you were able to use anything here today in your programs – and whether it worked or failed.
STEAM and the Gifted Learner presentation
and the Gifted Learner
Spotswood High School
and the DESIGN-ED Coalition
A rt& Design
Develop talent and strengthen opportunities at all grade
levels in technology and engineering.
Provide opportunities and materials for innovative
math, science, technology, and engineering.
Ensure that students work with peers of similar interests
Garner support and mentoring for STEM initiatives from
a wide range of community stakeholders.
Collaborate with mathematicians, scientists, engineers
and technology experts in mentoring and development of
“Arts education can benefit academically
gifted students by increasing the complexity
and rigor of the curriculum, promoting
extensive use of a variety of problem-solving
strategies, heightening student motivation to
pursue a topic of interest in depth, and
developing rich skills in communicating with
ELA Common Core Standards
Add drawings or other visual displays to
descriptions as desired to provide additional detail.
Create engaging audio recordings of stories or poems that
demonstrate fluid reading at an understandable pace;
add visual displays when appropriate
to emphasize or enhance certain facts or details.
Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound)
and visual displays in presentations when appropriate
to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
History/SS Common Core Standards
Integrate visual information
(e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps)
with other information in print and digital texts.
Science/Tech Common Core Standards
Integrate quantitative or technical information
expressed in words in a text with a version of
that information expressed visually
(e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).