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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2020 / Winter 2021)

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Book review: Putting the “arts” in STEAM education through fun + rigor

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University 


Cases on Models and Methods for STEAM Education
Judith Ann Bazler and Meta Lee Van Sickle 
IGI Global 
2020   378 pp. 

Science education has gone through many changes.  Whereas in the past, science courses were about “weeding out” learners, now it is about protecting the STEAM pipeline of learners at every step of the way, from pre-K-12 through higher education.  Where science learning in the past was about general intelligence, now, there are more advanced understandings of various human intelligences (per Howard Gardner).  Such advances have been for the better.  These changes and others may be seen in the Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) approach to science education.  

Embodiment of STEAM Teaching and Learning

Judith Ann Bazler and Meta Lee Van Sickle’s Cases on Models and Methods for STEAM Education is a book that emerged from the science teaching backgrounds and art practices of the respective co-editors, one a “vocal performer” and one a “painter, poet, and novelist” (“Musing on…” 2020, p. 1).  As such, both embody the lived practices of STEAMeducation, an acronym and educational framework popularized in 2013 by Georgette Yakman.  STREAM was created to make the STEM fields more “inclusive and empowering …for all students” (Koester, 2015, as cited in Bazler, Koester, & Van Sickle, 2020, p. xviii).  The work of bringing in the arts into STEM requires “more time for the imagination, creative agency, and innovation” to the teaching and learning (p. xix).  Indeed, some work has been done on further refining the STEAM framework, such as by conceptualizing “a constructivist, making approach that leads to the creation of artifacts (projects) that can be shared, critiqued, and celebrated” and a STEAM practice that is “transdisciplinary” (Bazler, Koester, & Van Sickle, 2020, p. xx).  STEAM is inherently learner-centered (with individual vision and expressiveness important), and is conceptualized as problem- and project-based for authentic learning (p. xx).  

Bringing Unanswered Questions to the Fore

Meta Van Sickle and Merrie Koester’s “Musing on Unanswered Questions” (Ch. 1) engage in a transcripted interaction in which they discuss their approaches to STEAM as informed by their respective science teaching and art practice backgrounds.  Their approach is informed by musicianship, “improvisation, composition, or the interpretation of its performance” that informs the teaching of science as an “aesthetic inquiry” (Van Sickle & Koester, 2020, p. 2), in a social and communal space.  An arts-integrated approach is thought to not marginalize those who struggle with reading by enabling different paths to the learning (p. 6) and through an ethic of care in the teaching and learning as expressed in “constructive critique to validate” learners (Van Sickle, as cited in Van Sickle & Koester, 2020, p. 8).  This dialogue is a far-ranging one, separated out in sections, with both sharing experiences, quotes, research citations, and stories, in a conversational tone.  Such an approach has implications also on the various types of assignments, such as the practice of thinking through drawing (Van Sickle & Koester, 2020, p. 12), to harness visual thinking.

Graphic Novels and STEAM Learning

Since their emergence in the 1970s, graphic novels have accrued a popular reputation for being gritty, roughcut, edgy, and cool; they have been used to address the unspeakable in human history (think about the serialized Maus); they are used to entertain.  And it turns out that they can be harnessed for science learning according to Alex Romagnoli’s “Graphic Novels and STEAM:  Strategies and Texts for Utilization in STEAM Education – Graphic Novels and STEAM” (Ch. 2).  In 2013, the author defined a graphic novel as “a comic style narrative, fictional or nonfictional, that is either a collection of individual comic book issues or an extended, original work” (as cited in Romagnoli, 2020, p. 24).  There has been a tradition of the interweaving of science and technology in comic books and also ties to diverse disciplines (Jones, 2004, as cited in Romagnoli, 2020, p. 23).  Their integration in STEAM learning highlights the power of multimodality and multiliteracies in learning (including “social,” “mathematical,” and “creative” in one example) and open up paths for learning in less traditional ways and to connect with learners where they are.  The challenge is that while such graphic novels may engage nonfiction topics, they cannot be overly didactic (or they will contravene the conventions of the graphic novel artform).  In harnessing graphic novels, teachers have to be highly skilled—so as to control for misapprehensions and misreadings.  

Beyond a review of the academic literature, the author goes on to summarize various compelling graphic novels, like Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:  A Graphic Interpretation, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, and The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry, Laika (about the dog on Sputnik II).  The graphic novels have to bridge to more sophisticated scientific understandings, such as discussions about historical events, scientific discoveries, scientists and their work, technological advancements, and others.  There can be head-scratching missteps as well, such as when matter is shown in various states (as solids, liquids, and gases) depicted as people (Romagnoli, 2020, p. 33).  While there is no denying the appeal of the form, teachers have to judge in a case-by-case basis what each can contribute to the particular learners in the particular learning contexts.  Also, it is unclear how available graphic novels are for particular science topics or how much effort it would be to track these down as teaching and learning resources.  It probably helps if the teacher is already an aficionado.  

The author argues potently and eloquently in the conclusion:  

Utilizing graphic novels in class is about the balance of literacies and recognizing diverse ways to understand concepts; that is all very important. However, a pattern has started to emerge where the perceived coldness and rigidity of science and mathematics is being dispelled.  Science is not just lab coats, hypotheses, beakers, and experiments.  Mathematics is not just equations, proofs, memorized operations, and prime numbers. Science and mathematics are influenced and shaped by people, and the people’s experiences affect the sciences and mathematics.  More so than the multimodality of the comic books, the stories within this literature help to humanize what are sometimes perceived as robotic subjects. There is beauty in constellations, exploding stars, sea life, and cellular reproduction.  There is beauty in perfect proofs, statistics, and pi.  There is true beauty in all of the people who sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and sometimes their well-being in the noble efforts to simply inform the world’s people about how the universe works and why they should care.  There is beauty in knowing these stories and reflecting on not just the discoveries, but the lives of these scientists who made it their missions in life to better the world through discovery and experimentation (Romagnoli, 2020, p. 36).   

Certainly, harnessing pop culture to bridge to science can be effective for learning.  

Strategic Selection of Children’s Books for Targeted Science Learning 

Carolyn A. Groff’s “High-Quality Trade Books and Content Areas:  Planning Accordingly for Rich Instruction” (Ch. 3) focuses on strategic selecting of children’s trade books for the elementary learner.  Proper lesson planning helps students focus both on the content and “apply literacy strategies for comprehension” (p. 40).  Teachers have to integrate “high-quality informational texts into STEM content area lessons, focusing on the integration of visual information and concept development” (p. 41).  The books should be age-appropriate and encourage active exploration.   

The author offers some advice:  “Consider which literacy strategies would help the students understand the concept through reading trade books and writing.  Choose several informational or hybrid trade books on the concept.  Make sure to choose books at varying reading levels to accommodate all readers.  One of the books should be the mentor text that is shared with the entire class.  Align an appropriate reading strategy with your text; for example:  Making connections (e.g., text to visuals), Visualizing, Inferring, Asking Questions, Determining Importance, Synthesizing” (Groff, 2020, p. 44).  She follows with pre-reading, reading, and post-reading teaching and learning strategies and tactics. She suggests the importance of assessing the effectiveness of the learning and making changes as needed. 

Harnessing Live Performance for Learner Attention

It is hard to deny the appeal of narratives and acting, which animate movies and television shows and music videos.  Paul C. Jablon’s “Theater as the STEAM Engine for Engaging those Previously Disengaged” (Ch. 4) advocates the use of  “creative dramatics” in science courses to dispel the sense that science fields are “cold” and not engaging for adolescent learners.  

In this chapter, Jablon employs Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to better understand young learners, who are likely in the lower tiers of this hierarchy, especially the safety and the belonging levels.  They have social-emotional needs for belongingness among their peers that may be harnessed in their formal learning.  He writes:  “Everyone agrees that they care most about being accepted by a group of peers who matter to them. They also care about being able to demonstrate their competence in things they and society find important.  This differs from the former need in that in the latter they are respected for who they are and what they can accomplish” (Jablon, 2020, p. 56).  

He describes the power of learning through role-playing, which places the students in different scenarios in which they stand in for various interest groups and constituencies around a science issue.  They take on roles as “the STEM professionals that are involved in government, legal, medical, engineering design, or other professional situations where decisions need to be made” (Jablon, 2020, p. 58).  From initial prompts, the learners improvise based on defined character criteria.  They bring their science knowledge to bear, and they also develop empathy to understand different points-of-view.  After the roleplays, the learning is debriefed.  Learners can discuss possible solutions for various problems raised   (Jablon, 2020, p. 59) and other points defined in the lesson plan.  

One example is of a two-person roleplay, of a student who is told that she has sickle cell anemia, and a genetic counselor who explains the genetic implications (Jablon, 2020, p. 60).  [The science around this issue is evolving though given some effective treatments that have emerged recently.]  Another one involves deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest and the greenhouse effect, from the perspective of a family needing resources from the rainforest for survival.  In the weeks leading up to the roleplay, the students have studied the implications of cutting trees in the Brazilian rainforest to “sell hardwoods and create grazing land for cattle to be sold as beef”;  stream tables to study “the relationship between planted and unplanted soil and water erosion”; the greenhouse effect by conducting experiments with “jars and thermometers,” and conducted “bromothylmol blue photosynthesis experiments”; they have studied the economic pressures to have exports “to avoid inflation and the World Bank calling in loans” (Jablon, 2020, p. 63).  How should humanity deal with such challenging and competing issues in a complex world?  

A third example involves interdisciplinary learning, such as a program including biology, physical education and English for a cohort of learners.  In addition to the harnessing of roleplays and performances, the BONGO program integrates project-based learning.  The program outcomes are notable, with higher grade outcomes for participants of this program.  Another finding:  

The most startling finding was that thirty-two percent of the students went from passing no courses, or one or two courses, to passing all of their subjects, including those classes outside of the three BONGO periods.  (Jablon, 2020, p. 70)  

Tapping into learners’ emotional needs through “creative dramatics” or the bringing of the arts into a core curriculum (Jablon, 2020, p. 72), such as STEM and STEAM fields, can be appealing to at-risk learners and others.  

Figure 1:  “Theatre Masks” (in color halftone) 

Jablon suggests various reasons for integrating theater in STEM fields…to give learners “insight into the scientific, mathematical, social, economic, and ethical issues of users of technology” (p. 74), help learners see “into the social, psychological, and economic dimensions of the design process” (p. 75),  and helps teachers better understand student thinking and their decision-making criteria (p. 76) and conceptual understandings (p. 77) of the topic at hand.  On the emotional front, teachers can better understand the “emotional lives of their students” while helping students meet some of their emotional needs in interrelating with their peers (p. 79).  

Using Creative Movement to Understand Simple Machines

William Paul Lindquist, Martha James-Hassan, and Nathan C. Lindquist’s “Exploring Simple Machines with Creative Movement” (Ch. 5) employs a defined step-by-step process to help learners better understand some physics laws in classical simple machines.  Theirs are kinesthetic models or “scientific inquiry dance performances” to understand and express and communicate various science phenomena, such as the “cyclical stages of hurricanes” (Lindquist, James-Hassan, & Lindquist, 2020, p. 100).  Here, science literacy is experienced in an embodied motor-memory way, in a social and performative way, as applied to physics concepts (like force, torque, rotation, motion, friction, lift, and others).  


Figure 2:  “Simple Machines” (by John Mills on Wikipedia)

The co-authors observe that analogical models, like virtually all models, have their limits in representing the external world. They write:  “Educators must be transparent with students about the explanatory power and limitations of each model utilized. Students must actively critique the model and focus on how it adds new understandings” (Lindquist, James-Hassan, & Lindquist, 2020, p. 99).  

From years of working with turning concepts into movement, the “working words into movement (WWM) tool” was created.  To the left is a term or phrase translated into the following four categories:  effort/energy, body, shape, and space/relationships” (Lindquist, James-Hassan, & Lindquist, 2020, p. 102).  The elements in the four categories are refined, and then the ideas are translated into human motion.   This seems to be less about dance choreography per se than a thinking task.  They describe the collaborative learning:  

In this case study, our context was a collaborative effort between the creative movement specialist and a classroom generalist.  The classroom generalist carried out an active ‘doing-based’ science program in her classroom, while students expanded their understanding through engagement in movement as text, metaphor, and modeling in physical education.  Although implementing movement may be easier in open spaces that are bounded enough for teacher and peer engagement, having a gymnasium or dance studio is not essential (Lindquist, James-Hassan, & Lindquist, 2020, p. 105).    

The researchers here worked with the classical definition of six simple machines:  “(1) the lever; (2) the pulley; (3) the inclined plane; (4) the wheel and axle; (5) the screw; and (6) the wedge” (Lindquist, James-Hassan, & Lindquist, 2020, p. 110), as they integrated physics insights with movement.  They describe the respective lessons with simple illustrations and explanatory text.  

STEAM-y Learning in the Real

Merrie Koester’s “Getting to ‘Know’ STEAM” (Ch. 6) takes an autobiographical (pseudo-autoethnographic) approach to describing “an arts-integrated approach to science curriculum inquiry” which started in the 1990s “before the national science standards” and either STEM or STEAM at the beginning of a long teaching career (p. 122).  As the author describes it, she was assigned a class of learners, an unreadable textbook, and an overcrowded classroom of 35 desks while the “gifted science class” had “a nice lab with equipment and space to do experiments” (p. 122).  Then, one week into her new assignment, she was assigned to lead her sixth graders through their first-ever science fair projects.  She chose to tap into her arts background and “as-if” imagination-based worlds to meet the challenge:  “I developed this hypothetical learning equation:  Imaginative story (in a trade book featuring science content) + creative drama (with movement) -> Learning + Engagement” (p. 124).  In her teaching, she wrote poems that could be choreographed to motion.  She connected with state level and national level marine educators associations.  She ultimately developed “a literacy-based, arts-infused, science-centered, technology-driven ocean science curriculum for middle grade learners” (p. 130).  Her students worked on a collaborative arts installation from ocean debris, with learning about the oceans and ways to keep those ecosystems healthy (and free from human garbage).  In another project, students worked on a mural while learning about “overfishing, shifting baselines, coral reef bleaching, global warming, harmful algal blooms, dead zones, and the power of youth” (p. 134), with various activities and resources brought in to enrich the learning.  In the learning, students are creating…with photos of murals on canvas, drawings and drafts, class quilts, and other created objects.  In her telling, there are lessons to be had about actively engaging the world, connecting with others, and using various creative means to reach learners.  

Interestingly, she describes when she first heard of STEAM and a litany of skeptical learning rigor questions that that sparked:  

Which teachers did STEAM—art, science, ELA (reviewer note:  English-Language Arts), social studies, all, some?   Did it ‘happen’ after school, or during?  If both, how were the versions different from one another?  Were specific art forms or science/STEM content areas being privileged over others? What did STEAM look like when it was ‘working’?  What steps were being taken to make sure that STEAM was not just one more task being asked to the already over-taxed art teacher’s planning book?  Were science, STEM, and arts teachers co-constructing project-based lessons? What kind of academic rigor did STEAM pedagogy offer?  Further, how were the engineering, technology, and mathematics components being addressed?  What kinds of STEAM  might be funded? Would competing interests jockey to brand their own versions of STEAM as profit earning, educational commodities, thus achieving, at best, an isolated impact (for the developers) versus a collective one (for all stakeholders)?  This competitive market strategy seemed counter-intuitive to me.  (Koester, 2020, p. 138)

She is able to continue to create alliances and acquire funding for various teaching and learning endeavors in the STEAM vein, including a state-level grant bringing drawing to the fore in science learning.  Koester then describes how the “Know”tation graphic visualization tool for the “teaching and formative assessment of science content learning” was created  (Koester, 2020, pp. 141-142).  She writes:  “I visualized a one-page composition which integrated all of Lemke’s four science languages:  1) science terminology (the WORDS); 2) explanatory drawings (the IMAGES); 3) the equipment and procedures used during an investigation (the ACTIONS); 4) and mathematical equations, icons, graphs, and tables (the SYMBOLS)” (p. 142). A main focus would be on functional readability, not aesthetics per se.   There are some charming drawings to illuminate various “know”tations.  

Beyond the practical applications of visual approaches to teaching and learning, there is a sense of joyful contribution to education and learners and fellow teachers over a lifetime in this chapter.  

Building a Tower that Stands the Tests of a Shake Platform

Judith Bazler’s “Tower Design, Build and Test as a STEAM Project:  Tower Design, Build, and Test” (Ch. 7) describes a long-term cooperative project with middle school students to conceptually and physically build a tower—while learning about design and testing (and using physics equations related to forces acting on a tower and mathematics related to winds acting on the tower), documenting processes in writing, conducting research on towers in the world, engaging with peers, and studying structural disasters.  Building on the middle school teacher’s work, this chapter adds cost analysis to tie the learning to the real world and added a test to the towers with a shake platform.  The towers themselves are constructed from plastic drinking straws, graph paper, lined paper, a soda can, masking tape, paperclips, and other common materials.  The shake platform is comprised of a “stiff board” and “small piece of plywood” and hot glue or masking tape (p. 159).  There is a list of questions for making observations of the created tower, such as its height, related costs, time spent on the design and building, and analytical questions.  The project involves both fun and seriousness.  

Harnessing Air for Flight through Design and Materials

Jena Valdiviezo and Letitia Graybill’s “The Great Race:  Using Air to Move Paper Airplanes and Balloon Rockets” (Ch. 8) describes a learning sequence in which learners first try to design the most efficient paper airplanes to fly across a room and then a balloon rocket to carry the planes in a mock-up of a space shuttle (carrying a vehicle into space).  The student teams work together with defined materials and knowledge of the behavior of air for their designs, and their work is tested in culminating flights where performance is important.  Such concepts and approaches are inspiring, and it is easy to imagine learner enthusiasm, imagination, and collaboration.  

Figure 3:  A Balloon Rocket Carrying a Paper Plane

A closer look at the activities shows close alignment with a variety of science-based learning objectives.  For example, Standard 8: 3-5-ETS1-3 reads:  “Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved” and Standard 10:  MS-ETS1-2 reads, “Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem” (Valdiviezo & Graybill, 2020, p. 173).  The learning activities are aligned with outcomes in other curricular areas beyond the scientific method:  math, physics, reading and writing, research, and others.  

What follows is an engaging description of the Great Race as a case, with evocative photos and descriptions and from-world tips.  The safety precautions—in the uses of scissors, flying paper planes outdoors—gives something of the sense of consideration for student well-being (but stands in sharp contrast to the reopening of schools currently during a pandemic with so much at risk health-wise) (Valdiviezo & Graybill, 2020, p. 183).  There are procedural lesson plans for every phase of the learning.  Certainly, NASA’s excellent website was also a resource in the learning.  

The co-authors powerfully observe the need to be inclusive of all children in science learning. They write:  

The challenge presented by the idea that science is for all children needs to be faced by science educators and special educators.  Special needs children will be just as impactful on the future as their peers in general education classrooms.  Methods of making science concepts comprehensible for all children must be explored by partnerships between special educators, general educators, and science educators.  Incorporating the strategies, techniques and art of co-teaching needs to expand” (Valdiviezo & Graybill, 2020, p. 202) 

They observe some headwinds to such endeavors as well. 

Pollinating Bees 

Kerry Carley Rizzuto, John Henning, and Catherine Duckett’s “Bee Pollination” (Ch. 9) sheds light on the need to build high-quality science experiences for pre-schoolers.  At present, based on research, the early childhood education science learning may consist of isolated lessons without connection to “a meaningful and broader science curriculum” (p. 206).  Some teachers had prior negative experiences with science learning and so do not want to bring science subjects into their teaching.  Yet, children are “natural scientists” given their “predisposition for investigation” (p. 205).  They stand to benefit from well designed learning experiences that trigger their sense of wonder about the world and provide them with “tools of the trade:  ample time to explore outside, measuring tools, magnifying glasses, pails, and shovels” (p. 210).  Also important in the early childhood education classroom:  a caring teacher, high engagement, social contexts, and pedagogical designs built around valid learning objectives.  The co-researchers of this chapter model how to create effective early childhood education in science based on their experiences with an inquiry-based module on pollination, created in partnership with a foundation. 

Figure 4:  Bee on a Cherry Blossom (by Ivan Radic, on Flickr, April 12, 2020) 

Pollination plays a critical role in food production, with 75% of crop species relying on animal (bee and insect) pollination (Klein et al., 2007, as cited in Rizzuto, Henning, & Duckett, 2020, p. 207).  Over the past four decades, however, honeybee colonies have declined perhaps from a mix of many causes (“mites, viruses, pesticide residues, loss of non-agricultural habitats”) (p. 208).  

The faculty teams with preservice teachers designed various activities, including the HoneyBee Waggle Dance; seed sorting; planting Nasturtium, Sweet Pea or an Aquilegia; dipping moist cotton balls in different colors of Kool-Aid to recreate the pollination process; and racing in the Pollination Relay Race (Rizzuto, Henning, & Duckett, 2020, p. 215), all of which sound so fun that it makes one nostalgic for childhood.  After the designed learning sequences, the faculty and preservice teams met to debrief and review pedagogical lessons learned. 

Creating Catapults from Spare Parts on Mars to Keep Predators at Bay 

Imagine you are as astronaut who has landed on Mars.  It turns out that not only is the environment hostile, but there are actually predatory hostiles on the planet against whom you have to fight to survive.  You have some spare parts from which to build a catapult (to lob projectiles), such as those used in medieval siege warfare (by the Greeks, the Romans, and the Chinese).  What do you do?  Such is a learning scenario in Warren James DiBiase, Judth R. McDonald, and Kellan Strong’s “Cases on STEAM Education in Practice Catapults and History of Catapults” (Ch. 10).  [The scenario breaks down on a lot of levels—such as the atmosphere of Mars…the challenges of catapults used as offensive/defensive weapons…the need to replenish projectiles…where spare parts for catapults might have come from…and others.  But this is more of a fictional scenario on which to base the actual learning, and people do have a great capability to play along with pretend.]  The setup helps bridge to the learning, which is more about angles of launch the laws of trigonometry, artful design, and physical science (“force and motion” to understand the movements of the catapult).  (p. 227) The co-authors base the design of this catapult activity based on various precisely-defined Engineering, English/Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies standards.  This work is a type of “deep dive exploration” (p. 230).  The available spare parts would challenge even MacGyver:  1 cardboard shoebox, 4 rubber bands, 2 popsicle sticks, 1 6-inch piece of masking tape, 1 plastic spoon, 1 ruler, 1 pair of scissors, (and) 1 marshmallow (p. 231).  The experience is an 11-day one from start to finish.  One objective is to lob the marshmallow as far as possible.  At the end, the teams evaluate the respective designs and make comparisons to historical ones.  This work offers a compelling lesson plan and an interesting history of different types of catapults, with accompanying visuals.  

Designing Insulators for Drinkware

Kathryn Electa Pedings-Behling’s “A Mathematical Approach to Designing Insulators” (Ch. 11) explore the capabilities of various materials and their capabilities at providing insulation for insulated drink cups through mathematical modeling.  Then, the students design their own insulators.  This lesson has been versioned at “two different levels for students from grade three through high school with an optional extension activity for more advanced students” (p. 244).  The technologies around insulated drinkware dates back to 1896, with the first Thermos.  This lesson brings in some standards from the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) but with differing questions focused on different standards depending on the level of the learner.  The experiments entail some risk because of the use of boiling water, but there are safety mitigations like goggles and protective gloves.  There are data tables for the collection of measurements and observations.  Advanced learners may be pointed to Newton’s Law of Cooling as either an exponential function or a differential equation (p. 249).  The author provides a walk-through of the learning…and then the meta-perspective about the pedagogical designs.  At the end, she offers responses to different points of teacher resistance (insufficient technology, insufficient class time, student safety, variant data from research) to taking on such a STEAM teaching approach.  

Focusing on Engineering and Arts in STEAM 

Sara B. Smith’s “Engineering and Art:  Putting the EA in STEAM” (Ch. 12) opens with her background as a practicing engineer who then transitions to teaching formally through a teaching program.  Her chapter focuses on a design project for first-year pre-engineering students that will integrate some topics in the engineering curriculum:  “the engineering design process, sketching, measurement, the elements and principles of design, and three-dimensional modeling” [and more advanced learning that may be added such as “isometric sketching,” 3D computer-aided design models, and measurement] (p. 258).  She lays the engineering groundwork for why it is important to visualize in 3D and 2D and to transition between the two.  She describes the importance of accurate sketching as a critical skill for engineering design but also for communicating with clients.  She describes the process flow which includes “identification of a problem, the generation of concepts, the development of solutions, the construction and testing of a prototype, the evaluation of solutions, and the presentation of solutions” as iterated steps that cycle through a number of times (p. 262).  Another task involves reverse engineering an actual designed object to better understand design (p. 263).  Students also acquire skills in using Autodesk Inventor, a CAD program (p. 264). The learning sequence involves both individual and group work.  The challenge of measurements has to do with the need for engineers to work both in the U.S. Customary System of Units and in the metric system (used by most of the rest of the world) (p 265).  She lists the various sources for standards for engineering education.  Once she has set the stage, she describes three units of the Introduction to Engineering Design Curriculum, in evocative detail, and shares some photographs and screenshots of student work.  

She ends on a high note, observing that she learns new things about the lessons each time she uses the lessons and so has refined her teaching over time.  Sara B. Smith offers some powerful ideas for STEAM learning in engineering and models well some of the ideals of STEAM teaching.  

Applying the Law of Cosines…through Star Maps to Measure Distances between Stars  

Vecihi S. Zambak and Budi Mulyono’s “Developing and Applying the Law of Cosines:  Using Star Maps as a Context” (Ch. 13) describes a multidisciplinary lesson about the law of cosines, which is then applied to an astronomy task.  Here, 9th grade students learn the law of cosines (from trigonometry) and then engage “a star map task to find approximate distances between stars” (p. 274).  This task echoes the uses of geometry in antiquity to understand the world.  A more contemporaneous approach involved the use of a free applet by GeoGebra.  This multidisciplinary approach also enables the lesson to address different formalized learning standards.  

VideoLaw of cosines | Trig identities and examples | Trigonometry | Khan Academy (on YouTube) 

The respective coauthors describe their pedagogical strategies throughout the lesson in a clear and emulate-able way.  Visuals are used liberally.  Student reflections were collected to enhance the teaching and learning.  At the end, there are ideas about making this assignment even more advanced, such as having learners develop 3D models of their unique Star Map.  

Designed Visuals in a Marine Science Lesson

Callie (Van Koughnett) Dollahon’s “Using STEAM in Marine Science:  Incorporating Graphic Design into an Existing STEM Lesson” (Ch. 14) focuses on a basic adaptation to a learning case that introduces the “art” (“STEM + A”) in the science learning.  In this learning case, students “are asked to design and build a robotic arm that is capable of accomplishing a task such as move or grasp an object” in a marine science context (p. 289).   She offers a compelling argument early on:  

Take a look at any science textbook, engineer’s notebook, NOVA video publication, or architectural installation, and it is clear that art is already a fundamental component of STEM.  The engineering process mimics the artistic process, especially in a commercial setting.  The purposeful practice that artists use to improve and enhance their craft is akin to the repeated iterations used by engineers to refine and test solutions. Each reproduction provides new information, from data to muscle memory, whether the learner is an artist, mathematician, scientist, engineer, or otherwise.  In a graphic design course, students often keep a portfolio of ideas and variations of a concept, and it is through the process of reflection, evaluation, and sometimes collaboration, that these ideas are narrowed down into one product, whether art or engineering. (p. 291)

The process of conceptualizing, designing, and creating, has some universal aspects.  Art and aesthetics (and function) play key roles in STEAM.  

Figure 5:  “Underwater” (by sailormn34 on Pixabay) 

For the author, graphic design in her college years informed her understanding of math in college.  In high school, she ran a business that used graphic digital programs and enabled her to explore “translations, rotations, 3Dimensional structure, vectors, and color theory that would later be the tangible mental foundation I used to explore and understand the same math, physics, and applied technology concepts in STEM courses” (Dollahon, 2020, p. 291).  

Heroics are part of the framing story for the student assignment.  Here, a submarine has been lost at sea and “must be found in order to rescue the scientists on board.”  The students have to “plan, design, build, and evaluate a robotic arm that can complete a given task” (Dollahon, 2020, p. 293).  The standards for this assignment come from the National Ocean Literacy Principles; the lesson addresses Next Generation Science Standards and some Common Core standards (p. 294).  The actual assignment is described in a way that the pedagogy is transferable to other science learning contexts.  

At the end of the chapter is a section titled “Current Challenges Facing Teachers.” This is set up as a Q&A, with reluctant comments by teachers and answers by the author.  There are prompts like, “Isn’t it Hard to Grade Something Like This?” and “I Don’t Have Access to Technology.”  In response, the author provides plenty of encouragement, some tips, and some summaries of her own experiences (Dollahon, 2020, p. 309).   

A Learning Hook:  Redesigning a Disney® Ride

Kyle Seiverd’s “’Imagioneering’ a New Mission:  Space” (Ch. 15) describes a STEAM assignment, which involves learners critique a Disney ride’s layout and improving “the exterior and line-queue design of a famous attraction at Disney parks” as an assignment (p. 315).  The ride is “Mission:  Space,” which was constructed in the early 2000s.  One of its innovations was having a line for those who wanted a more intense ride (one with greater G-forces) vs. those who wanted the plot experience without the ride intensity.  Based on the essential information, learners are given office supplies and given the task of redesigning the exterior and line queue to this ride.  

Delivering Differentiated Instruction in a High School Forensics Classroom 

A murderer is out there.  High school students in a forensic science class can solve the case if they conduct appropriate fingerprint recovery, identification, and classification, from the print recovered on the weapon at the mock crime scene.  The learning scenario evokes the glamor of forensic scientists on the television small screen and the film big screen.  Tracy L. Mulvaney and Kathryn Lubniewski’s “Differentiating Instruction in the Forensics Classroom” (Ch. 16) addresses a wide range of practical strategies for providing the differentiated instruction to enable effective learning for these future crime fighters.  

Figure 6: Fingerprint (on Pixabay) 

These young sleuths have received both direct and supplemental instruction to achieve the task [such as instruction an anthropometry and the Bertillon methods used to “keep track of criminals based on the measurement of various parts” (Mulvaney & Lubniewski, 2020, p. 332)], but there are differing learning needs between the different students.  Differentiated instruction may be achieved by adjusting various aspects, such as the “content, process, and product” to affect student learning (p. 330).  The differentiation does mean pushing “students’ individual limits to maximize their academic success.”  (p. 331), so having high expectations of all learners is important.   

The learning is cumulative, with earlier lessons building up to enable buildup to the denouement.  

The final assessment challenges students to locate, recover, classify, and identify fingerprints.  Students use knowledge from the previous two lessons on recovering and classifying fingerprints to complete the final process of identifying prints given multiple sets of prints of possible ‘suspects.’  The crime scene is set up with five sets of fingerprints belonging to fictional characters.  There is one set of fingerprints found on the weapon used to commit the crime that is shared with the students.  Students must match the fingerprints found at the crime scene with those on the weapon.  The whole process is interactive, inquiry-based, and completed in teams of investigators (i.e., cooperative groups (Mulvaney & Lubniewski, 2020, p. 335).   
This work follows up with some real-world strategies to set up such learning in environments with colleagues with many professional demands and busy schedules.  The coauthors acknowledge challenges like “lack of classroom time to complete projects, and lack of support or collaboration with key stakeholders” (Mulvaney & Lubniewski, 2020, p. 328).  


Judith Ann Bazler and Meta Lee Van Sickle’s Cases on Models and Methods for STEAM Education (2020) depict STREAM learning as energizing and effective, and perhaps even visionary.  They posit that STEAM learning should be a fully embodied process “that unites the head, heart, and hands in teaching and learning performances, whose outcomes cannot be prescribed” (Koester, 2020, p. 344). 

At the center of this learning is the act of individual and group creation:  

Our theoretical framework is inherently progressive and relational, seeking not to privilege any one discipline over another as to its ‘worthitness’.  Instead, the proposed STEAM approach situates synergy and synthesis of diverse ideas as best practice and argues against the contrived, often institutionalized separation of the disciplines.  Employing artistic habits of mind and emergent mindsets in the process of science curriculum-making and enacting can add energy into the teaching/learning system, making possible all kinds of exciting and meaningful work. (p. 345) 

The “art” in STEAM can be forefronted but will clearly require flexible and creative teaching, and some ceding of teacher control for student agency and decision-making.  Underpinning the learning is scientific rigor.  And there are accurate ways to measure the learning, even given the freeform study. The respective cases help bridge the research and data to practical lived life; they serve as portals into more complex science.  Throughout, the respective researchers-teachers-authors share their expertise, insights, and methods generously with other professionals, and all are practically heritable works.  

This approach is clearly not without detractors.  With STEAM set up as an approach for “students who struggle to read” (Koester, 2020, p. 122) by several of the authors in this work, one is left with the question of whether such learners do ultimately acquire reading as an important capability for the future.  Is this about enabling learners to catch up and find their feet in mainstream learning, or is this an off-ramp into a non-academic track and vocations?  Does STEAM ultimately positively serve learners in the short-, medium-, and long-terms?  Does it lead to some sort of equifinality?  These works would suggest that most students come out stronger and more academically inclined, but this measure is important to evaluate.  

Finally, two co-authors propose a valuable and practicable challenge.  They write:  

Future efforts and detailed conceptions of STEAM Education should aim to elevate Content Specific Implementations to a Universal STEAM curriculum, in which lessons are independent from any focused content/discipline.  Developing a University STEAM curriculum should be the priority of teachers, teacher educators, and curriculum developers (Zambak & Mulyono, 2020, p. 286) 

It seems appropriate to conclude on high and prosocial ambitions.  

About the Author

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer / researcher at Kansas State University.  Her email is  

Thanks to IGI Global for providing a digital review copy of the work.  

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