Musing on Unanswered Questions

Musing on Unanswered Questions

Meta Lee Van Sickle (College of Charleston, USA) and Merrie Koester (University of South Carolina, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2334-5.ch001
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Out of a conversation between two long-time colleagues—each a science educator and practicing artist, emerged the question, “What does it mean to STEAMify a lesson, and why would a teacher actually choose to do such a thing, other than, say, for-grant-writing-purposes? Their science selves really liked the idea of a STEAM system, acted upon by forces, both from the outside and from within, and with energy flowing and cycling, all the while transforming grey matter in ways that sustained the teaching/learning process. When it came to their art, however, their dialogue followed pathways grooved by long years of practice and hard work in their respective fields. One author is a seasoned vocalist, trained in the nuances of both individual and group vocal performance as well as the attendant dimensions of music, its composition and phraseology. The other is a painter, poet, and novelist, shaping words, color, and line to tell stories and communicate ideas. What was significant to each was that their artistic habits of mind had shaped their axiology, transforming their ways teaching.
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Why should just one more in an interminable line of educational acronyms or slogans actually matter? Is STEAM really different, or is it another fad? That the idea of STEAM has even emerged in the first place implies some underlying and global lack of creativity and imagination in both science and STEM education; and yet, we have personally observed many such teachers employing highly artistic teaching styles, flexibly improvising to adapt to changing situations and student needs and driving home the message that in the end (as Eisner has said), education is the act of inventing yourself through hard work, practice, failing, and trying again. There is no kit with instructions for the making of the self. Such an effort begins with and is sustained by the individual. We are calling for a kind of STEAM education that develops the habits of mind associated with making art, which includes the practice of critique and care throughout the learning/making process. Such STEAM educators would recognize that what educators Hetland, Winner, Veenema, and Sheridan (2013) describe as “studio thinking” are highly congruent with the Science and Engineering Practices (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Comparison of art studio habits of mind and NGSS science and engineering practices


We advocate for a kind of STEAM that builds in time for critique to help students learn to observe, interpret, explain, and evaluate (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2013). Through the imagery of musicianship— be that improvisation, composition, or the interpretation of its performance—we will introduce a model of teaching science as aesthetic inquiry that we think can move students away from alienation and towards affiliation with science and STEM education. Our aesthetic model foregrounds knowing as communal and value-laden, rather than as a static, detached, objective process of naming and identifying. Aesthetic inquirers recognize that the creative process (always present at the heart of science) spirals outward through cacophony and chaos, and that neat, harmonious compositions may not always be the result, especially as new and yet unanswered questions emerge. Finally, we have conceptualized this form of STEAM education as a kind of communal making—one that unites the head, heart, and hands as ideas and learning artifacts are constructed. We fully recognize that our approach may evoke responses ranging from dissonance to resonance and that there is no one best way to do STEAM education.


The Resonance/Dissonance Dialectic

When people are deeply connected in a positive way with one another, they are often described as being tuned into one another, on the same wavelength, or in complete harmony. Their emotional and intellectual frequencies are in resonance, and they can often anticipate the other’s next phrase. They listen to one another attentively and appreciatively, until and unless they are interrupted by a noise, which suddenly knocks them out of synch and forces them to attend to the distraction. They may even become irritable. How dare an intruder ruffle the smooth texture of their discourse and introduce tension into their relationship! Do they really have to listen to such noise? There are many educators who may criticize STEAM education as not-science or not-STEM. We recognize that we may not even approach equilibrium with these individuals. For them, even the idea of STEAM introduces too much cognitive dissonance and threatens their sense of should and ought. But we wonder, too, if the arts were a significant part of their own education, and if so, how were such experiences organized for them?

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