Visual Art 10 students researched topics of interest regarding the environment. Choices included, but were not limited to: (a) Glyphosate and its impact (or lack of impact) on humans, (b) Healing plant species - Indigenous knowledge and pharmaceutical industries, (c) Forests, the logging industry, and global warming.
Students created makeshift microscopes by attaching macro lenses to their phones (they used sticky-tack) and zoomed in on their subject of choice to create an abstract painting of a plant species. Overtop of the abstract they painted a realistic object/scene to convey a message about the connection between humans and plants. Seeds were then physically embedded into the artwork (this project was inspired by Ruth Cuthand's "Trading Series" artworks where beads are attached and Naomi Gerrard's mixed media seed paintings).
My grade 11 students spent a week in December designing model toys using TinkerCAD software and the 3D printer. Some students took to the process fluidly and created much more complex sculptures than I dreamed possible for a first time project in the new medium. Each toy took about an hour to print, and then students painted them in acrylic to complete their designs.
Visual art 30 students have been busy creating a mural that will be installed on the side of the Route 11 building. The task was to feature some of Warman's historic roots, and students spent a lot of time researching and discussing what to include and how to compose the mural. I think it's important that students included both Euro-Canadian and Indigenous roots in the mural - thanks to Ray Keighley and Lyndon Linklater for their ideas and insights regarding honouring Indigenous histories. A few more days and I think students will be nearing completion of the mural. I am so proud of how they have all collaborated together on this project - I think they've done an amazing job.
Last year I watched Neil Tyson's clip about kids all being scientists and it reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk, where he speaks about how all kids are initially creative but that our education system conditions them out of creativity.
Yesterday Mrs. Fishley led students in our Art Club in an acrylic pour (learn about the science of it here). There was a great turnout - about 15 students came - and I think everyone's paintings were successful. Some of the finished products looked like abstracts of earth and other planets from outer space - so cool.
Today we had our global warming paper circuit painting critique. We would turn off all the classroom lights and see the painting light up when the button was pressed and the LEDs were activated, and then we would turn the lights on and see it in daylight, and there were lots of ooohs and ahhhs. I was really impressed with my art students' willingness to problem solve and engineer different circuits and designs in order to pull of their artworks. Some students had to try upwards of 3 different wires and redo their circuits, but the overall feeling was that it was worth it in the end. Here are some of their paintings by daylight in contrast with their paintings glowing in the dark. I've also included a few shots of the various circuits that back their paintings.
Ideas keep coming to me about how art intersects with science, technology, engineering, and math. It's as though I opened up Pandora's box when I started exploring STEAM. Last week my daughters accompanied me on a mission to get some colour changing markers. I had to have them for a project. I had never thought of the chemistry behind the magic of colour changing markers, but a few YouTube videos later, and there my daughter, Georgia, and I were conducting tests on what caused markers to change colours. The next day I tracked down Mr. Bardall and Ms. Lebiszczak and peppered them with questions about the chemistry behind it. Because items like vinegar and baking soda did have an impact on the markers, while other items did not, Ms. Lebiszczak said she thought the markers had some kind of a colour changing pH chemistry in them, and showed me a cool titration experiment on the spot. I still can't quite get my mind around it. I just barely broadened my mind to understand how light mixes (which is the reversal of how paint pigments mix), and now I have to entertain the notion that chemistry is linked to colour as well.
The Art 30 students will soon be coding Arduinos and creating interactive canvases - which means I am doing some homework and learning about Arduinos myself. Saskcode has a great website with tutorials for teachers who want to include programming in their K-12 courses. Today I tried a mixture of their 1H "Create Any Colour with RGB LEDs" and had success experimenting with taking the RGB light off the breadboard and still having it hooked up and their "Blinking an RGB light with a Lilypad." I am still not sure which one - an Arduino Uno or Lilypad - will work best with the canvas for this project. I am still struggling to understand resistors, and how electricity travels around the breadboard and connects to various pins. I tried Saskcode's 2c "Sound" activity, as I also want students to be able to create sound with their canvases, but I had no luck. The Arduino did not play any music. I ordered my own personal kit to experiment with, so I'm hoping that my kit is to blame more than my wiring capabilities. Thank goodness Warman High's resident expert, Ms. Bitner, is going to teach me a few things this week. Saskcode is shipping us an Arduino Uno and Lilypad kit to experiment with our students. Mrs. Fishley and Ms. Moe are also going to help out in period 4, and together with students we will learn a bit more about coding than we knew starting out. We may have to adjust our expectations to meet reality - my vision was a touch sensitive canvas that reacts to viewers - only time will tell (you can see the possibilities for someone who knows what they are doing below).
One of the things that drew me to a STEAM approach is that I believed it offered a way to Indigenize (which is herein defined as reflecting and valuing Indigenous knowledge in both educational content and pedagogical approaches) and decolonize curricula, since a STEAM approach is culturally responsive and inclusive. I also happen to think it's very My Prairie Spirit Classroom (MPSC).
Here is an excerpt from a paper titled, "The Train Has Left the Station: STEM Should Become STEAM", which I wrote for an Educational Administration university class earlier this year.
The Government of Canada has acknowledged the racism its educational system has historically inflicted on Indigenous peoples, herein defined as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. It has begun the much-needed process of seeking to Indigenize its educational system; STEAM education would positively contribute to this process. One way to Indigenize curricula is by “developing culturally appropriate curricula” (“Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future”, 2015, p. 321), which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada suggested the government do. For the following reasons a STEAM approach would be a much more culturally responsive approach than the traditional Eurocentric one that is so often reflected in today’s classrooms.
The current educational system often treats various subjects as separate entities which, from an Indigenous worldview, is not conducive to learning. Aikenhead and Elliot (2010) wrote that while their worldviews vary, both Indigenous and European knowledge offer valid ways to “understand the physical world” (p. 329). An Indigenous perspective does not view knowledge as “linear but generational and interconnected, therefore, education for Indigenous children must be holistic and inclusive” (Smith, 2016, p. 54). One way to decolonize one’s pedagogical approach is to “Consider arts based and non-dominant forms of demonstrating understanding including re-storying, photo essay, performance, reflective writing” (Pete, n.d., p. 6). STEAM challenges the current Eurocentric view of how STEM subjects are often taught, since an integrative Arts approach is less compartmentalized and more holistic. Saskatchewan’s most recent science curriculum has been praised for successfully including Indigenous knowledge by integrating it into “each of the four units of study at each grade in an attempt to avoid tokenism” (Aikenhead & Elliot, 2010, pp. 329-330). Arguably, a STEAM approach would additionally Indigenize curricula because of its interdisciplinary, creative, nature.
In addition, the STEAM approach is a student-centered one. Student-centered learning contrasts with “the traditional classroom where the culture of the teacher is given central focus and has the power to deem what constitutes appropriate and acceptable knowledge, approaches to learning, understandings and sense-making process” (Bishop, 1998, p. 741). Smith (2016) explained that, “Using culturally responsive pedagogy like co-constructed learning helps to decolonize education. Co-construction is powerful because it places the student at the center of the learning and makes the learning relevant to them” (p. 55). The “Joint task force on improving education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Metis People” report says that what is needed in our educational system is “an ethical space that promotes dialogue, a cooperative spirit and respectful relationships among First Nations, Metis and non-Aboriginal people” (p. 70). STEAM education helps to Indigenize education because it facilitates a more collaborative, equitable, relationship between students and their teachers.
Aikenhead, G. S., & Elliott, D. (2010). An emerging decolonizing science education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 10(4), 321–338.
Bishop, R. (1998). Freeing ourselves from neo-colonial domination in research: A Maori
approach to creating knowledge. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in
Education, 11(2), 199-219.
Ge, X., Ifenthaler, D., & Spector, M. J. (2015). Moving forward with STEAM education research. In X. Ge, D. Ifenthaler, & M.J. Spector (Eds.), Emerging technologies for STEAM education, (pp. 383-395). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future. (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved from http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_ the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf
Pete, S. (n.d.). 100 ways to Indigenize and decolonize academic programs and courses.
Retrieved from https://www.uregina.ca/president/assets/docs/president-
Smith, T. (2016). Make space for Indigeneity: Decolonizing the curriculum. Saskatchewan Education Leadership Unit Research Review Journal, 1(2) 49-59. Retrieved from https://selu.usask.ca/documents/research-and-publications/srrj/SRRJ-1-2-Smith.pdf
Sarah Gerrard teaches Visual Arts 9-12 at Warman High School. She recently received a grant from the Prairie Spirit Schools Foundation to infuse her courses with STEAM.