Partnership with Webster Groves Schools Puts 'A' in STEAMM

Aug. 17, 2015

In a partnership with Webster Groves schools, scientists, artists, educators and mathematicians explore multi-faceted approaches to problem-solving.

 

A collaborative workshop between Webster University and Webster Groves School District adds the Arts to "STEM" to the benefit of educators and students alike.

“STEAM is STEM on steroids,” Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts professor Carol Hodson explained. In the rooms around her, groups of scientists, artists, educators and mathematicians puzzled: how to make the invisible visible, to re-design a catastrophe and to create a form that transforms energy.

They were participants in the second annual STEAM workshop jointly held by the Webster Groves School District and Webster University for middle and high school teachers on alternative teaching methods. The workshops were held June 2-3, at the Webster Groves High School Science labs.

STEAM is a derivation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) or STEMM (adding Medicine), a White House education policy aimed at improving the United States’ competitive strength in the global market and addressing the shortage of job seekers at home. “STEAM is everything wonderful and fantastic about science, technology, engineering, mathematics with a transfusion of another blood type that causes greater reaction,” Hodson said.

She established the program in 2014 with her brother Robert Hodson, deputy chief engineer at NASA Langley Research Center, and organized it with the help of Ed Grooms, Fine  Arts Coordinator for the Webster Groves School District, and Chris McGee, president of the Webster University Alumni Association President and curriculum coordinator for science and social studies in the Webster Groves School District.

The Hodson siblings, one artist and one engineer, brainstormed the workshops after noticing that problem-solving in their disciplines paralleled each other.

“We both come from the same intention of wanting to engender creative, passionate, hands-on experiences that lead to lifelong learning,” Hodson explained. “[The workshop] is about the instructors recognizing the limitations of their natural styles and adding protocol that will allow them to reach a lot of students with different learning styles.”

Robert Hodson gave a keynote lecture illustrating the importance of real-world alternative problem solving—for example, how NASA has used creative design solutions, like tumbleweed-inspired Mars rovers that use wind propulsion and exoskeletons to counteract muscle degradation in space.

They workshop introduced participants to three creative problem-solving protocols. Facilitators, such as Webster University Department of Biological Sciences chair Stephanie Schroeder and Bristol Elementary art teacher Marissa Capron, guided participants through the two-day practice.

Both women said they learned while facilitating.

“What gets tamped down in a science model is the dreamer,” Schroeder said, referring to the Disney protocol, in which group members assume the roles of dreamer, realist or skeptic to attack problems from distinct angles. “I’ll see if I can release some dreamers next year.”

Second-year participants Cheryl Thomas and Mary Kinsella, who teach sixth grade and art respectively at St. Ann Catholic School, noted that they plan on using the practice problems in the classroom and would spread them out by grade level.  

Carol Hodson explained how children with different styles of learning—like the VAK Learning Styles—visual, auditory and kinesthetic—all require unique teaching methods. An auditory learner needs to be able to look down in order to absorb information and a kinesthetic needs to be able to move but neither may be allowed to in the classroom.

As an example of good multi-modal teaching, she cites her daughter’s experience in the Webster Groves schools. Her teacher taught poetry with both an exam and a creative project—the creation of a literal poet tree, with leaves made of original poetry.

“None of this is new to [Webster Groves or Webster University],” Carol Hodson says. “What is new is a conversation about [STEAM] with a bunch of people from different areas. What is also new for them is an official position for them to embrace it and to push it in your district.”

STEAM is also an opportunity for the arts to be integrated into curriculum within individual subjects, Ms. Hodson notes, which she views as critical because “the arts have been slowly and systematically decreased in all schools.” She made the point that the arts and STEM fields weren’t always separate with the example of Leonardo Da Vinci. The famous Renaissance painter of the Mona Lisa was also a scientist who studied anatomy and flight.

Educators and others curious about the workshop or STEAM methods can find information on the protocols, problems, reflections and photographs by participants and additional resources at webstersteam.com.

Or those interested can sign up for the 2016 workshop.

Webster's Hodson hopes that additional funding, volunteers and participants will expand their reach. “I can’t see the future,” she says. “I just want to make sure whatever effect I have is a pretty good trickle.”

Story reported and written by Jessica Rogen, MFA student in Webster's Arts Management and Leadership program.

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