Amy Traggianese | October 2016

STEAM in Art Class

STEAM in art class? Yes, please!

A STEM is great, but STEAM adds an “A” for Art and design. While teaching twenty-first-century skills, art and design should be integrated with science, technology, engineering, and math. Students need to create and design objects that are functional, look good and work in an innovative, elegant way. Adding some scientific resources to incorporate STEAM in art class will make learning while creating a natural combination for young artists.

Young learners need to make cross-disciplinary connections: that’s why my art room will be a lot STEAMier this year. I’ve started using a different instructional approach called Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), a nationally recognized choice-based art education model to teach art. My art room is now called “Art Studio 139” and has centers set up to explore drawing, painting, collage, architecture, and 3-D construction. Each student artist is responsible for his or her own materials, set-up and clean-up. The students will be working like “real artists” and will be given choice in the projects they create.

Throughout my years of teaching, I have been offering more and more choice within art lessons, so TAB is a natural extension. I also believe that children need a place to be able to create, explore, solve problems and succeed. I am excited to see how my students will flourish and grow as artists and problem solvers during this school year.

Nature photo and student pastel, Education Closet

Nature photo and student pastel

Arts integration has always been a necessary part of my teaching and learning throughout my career. It didn’t matter if  I was teaching Kindergarten, first grade or elementary art. It just made sense. Why try to compartmentalize disciplines when they overlap and complement each other?

Last month, I attended a symposium at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum called “Full Steam Ahead” with two colleagues. I got a fabulous idea for adding STEAMy resources to the art studio for my students from a session by Neal Overstrom, the director the Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design. The Nature Lab is a natural science collection and lending library where students have hands-on access to specimens such as shells, taxidermy animals, and skeletons. There are also live plants and animals to support a visual inquiry into biological and natural sciences. There are almost 80,000 individual specimens in the collection.

Old nature books as visual resource, Education Closet

Pages from old nature books are a great visual resource

When I was listening to Neal, my TAB art room and arts integration/STEAM side came together with a great idea.

If RISD students could have hands-on access to natural specimens, why couldn’t mine? Elementary students would LOVE examining natural materials. I started to make a list of items that would be appropriate scientific specimens for a K-5 art room:

  • Insects – how about some real specimens in resin?
  • Animals – realistic plastic toys, I have some in the cellar (Don’t tell my son!)
  • Photos of animals, plants, etc – I have collected old books for this purpose.
  • Leaves – it falls in New England, that one is easy!
  • Gourds, fruits, and vegetables – the art room has these already.
  • Feathers – I’ll need to find some clean, natural feathers
  • Bones – I have a Mr. Thrifty skeleton already!

Students love the plastic fruits, vegetables and gourds. Imagine for a moment, twenty children setting up their own small still life at the same time! It is really something. Mr. Thrifty, the skeleton, will make his appearance this week. I wonder how the students will react to him. Some of the other items I plan to ask for in a grant from our local learning foundation.

Grade 3 student working on a still life, Education Closet

Grade 3 student working on a still life

What do you think? Do you have any other ideas to add STEAM in Art Class? What are some simple, inexpensive things you can do to promote the “A” in STEAM in your classroom or school?

About the Author

Amy Traggianese has been an elementary visual arts educator in CT since 1995. A former kindergarten and first grade teacher, she has over 30 years of arts integration experience. Amy specializes in integrating language arts, math, science and technology into the choice art studio. She is an arts integration coach for The Institute for ARts Integration and STEAM. Amy is an active educator voice on Facebook and Twitter and loves a good Twitter chat. Connect with her on social media or at [email protected].