[Combining digital and physical art is something that makes STEAM come alive. In this Mindshift article discover how a teacher in Australia has found that using digital tools opens students to creativity unseen in just physical art. Here in Pittsburgh there are many schools integrating the arts into their STEM programs. I work with Birdbrain Technologies, a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff, that many schools have used with great success to combine physical art with programming and other digital skills.]
Students in Cathy Hunt’s art classes are constantly blurring the lines between physically created art and digital creations. In one project, students created fish out of clay using old pinch-potting techniques. But the project didn’t stop there. They then took photos of their creations and used digital tools to paint on the photos, adding color and design without fear that an unknown glaze would ruin their vision.
Once they designed their fish, they developed a storyline featuring their creations for a stop motion animation created by the whole group. When the project was completed students had artfully blended the physical world with the digital one, using the best of both, and creating a finished product that can be put online and shared with the world. The impact of that project goes far beyond a shelf full of clay fish.
[The power of technology in the form of Makey Makey is the subject for this Mindshift article. I’ve seen students from elementary to high school levels enjoy this whimsical tool that opens the door to programming and electrical circuits.]
It might have been the banana piano. Or perhaps the bongos, made from lemons that students had plucked from the citrus tree at school. Elizabeth Little, who teaches middle school math and science, doesn’t know exactly which of the hands-on projects she introduced to her remedial math class turned the class around. But by the end of the school year, all her math students, not just those needing extra support, were clamoring for more math.
How did this happen?
Little teaches at Martin Luther King Jr Middle School in Berkeley, California, where classes like sewing, woodshop, and metal shop — what she calls “practical ways of learning math” — are no longer offered; tight budgets and renewed emphasis on academic learning have eliminated them. But Little couldn’t bear to subject already disengaged students to yet another ho-hum class of multiplication tables and long division.
Instead, she took a gamble and brought some materials to school for her students to play with: a sewing kit, the 3-D doodler she’d just been given, her son’s marble-run set and a MaKey MaKey device she knew nothing about, donated by a friend.
[Many times the most creative approaches to learning occur in after or out-of-school programs. Three sites for the YMCA in Pittsburgh have tapped into human-centered design to challenge young people to not only “make” items, but to solve problems in their communities. Here’s an article from Remake Learning that highlights a creative use of eTextiles to solve a transportation issue. I have visited two of the sites and observed the kids at work. They tackle the challenges with enthusiasm and creativity.]
Last year, a group of kids in Pittsburgh set about making cycling safer—and more stylish. With a sewing machine and a lesson in circuitry, the pre-teens created a shirt that lights up and changes color depending on how fast you ride your bike.
The young designers were participants in Y-Creator Space (YCS), an afterschool program that serves low-income youth at three Pittsburgh locations. The mission of YCS is to teachhuman-centered design using science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Kids create prototypes and then build products that solve a problem or hurdle that a person or a community faces—thus the “human centered” tag.
At first glance, YCS might appear a lot like other local programs—Assemble or MAKESHOP—that emphasize creativity and hands-on learning. “But we’re different from a makerspace in that we’re very purposeful,” said Nic Jaramillo, YCS director since its start in 2011. At YCS, the goal is less open-ended tinkering and more tangible application of ideas and creativity. The kids are always making something—whether that’s the playful wearable technology or an aquaponics system that encourages healthy eating.