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Jessie Nathans 

The Art of STEM Day

The Art of STEM Day

It’s STEM Day at our school! The second floor of our building has been converted to a pop-up makerspace. Teachers are prepared and ready to guide students through a fast-moving day of discovery.  As an art teacher, I look forward to seeing STEM learning up-close. I find learning goals similar to the art studio including hand work, trial and error and a range of 21st century skills. I am motivated to find natural links between art and science, technology, engineering and math; to discover when these fields of study most need each other.

A Democratic Challenge
The challenge begins with a video created and narrated by our STEM coordinator. She lays out the overall objectives and prototype strategies.  Our Grade 5 class is given the topic forward motion and energy.  The assignment is to propel a balloon across a ten foot string (suspended across the classroom). How can we use weight and energy to create motion? Students are asked to use one balloon, tape, drinking straws and beads. I like how the experiment is presented as a democratic opportunity rather than a contest or test.  Everyone is invited and given tools to participate.

Learning from materials
Art Education teaches that materials, with their unique personalities and potential,  are truly the co-teachers to any hands-on project. When organized and presented in a safe, friendly way, the materials have a way of igniting creative curiosity. Today I see that the STEM space shares this approach. Boxes of supplies are available but not spoon fed. We want students to search through and collect, to get comfortable making choices based on their own decisions. The action of rummaging through supplies while contemplating possibilities helps students to behave like innovators. In the art room, deciding on colors, pen types or paper is how we practice artistic behavior.  Did you know that kitchen work, laundry and yard care teach children self-sufficiency through their tools and materials?

Young scientists working to test their prototypes.
A range of feelings from disappointment….
…to joy!









After the prototype is built, the next step is to experiment. Will the balloon rigs travel across the long string? The set up is thrilling. Makers are working at desk level with testers standing on chairs. Balloons are flying, or not, across the string.

A natural rhythm of trial develops: build, experiment, re-do the prototype (also called reiterate), stop, observe. We are a community of tinkerers and testers in a shared workshop. We are aiming to succeed but know it will probably take a few tries. A student runs back to the supply area with a matter of fact response when I ask him if his experiment worked.  “No, it didn’t work. It was too heavy. I am going to take out some of the weight and try it again.” What a day.


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One thought on “The Art of STEM Day

  1. andreahernandez

    Thank you for sharing STEM day from the art teacher point of view. I’m interested in your use of the word “democratic” to describe the challenge because I’ve never thought of it this way before. I think that democracy, or everyone having equal opportunity to participate, is one of the important ingredients to innovating in order to solve big problems. Because everyone brings a different perspective to a situation, it is really only through merging those perspectives that different ideas begin to take shape.

    I also appreciate the connection you’ve described to art through making choices and exploring different materials. I always get a feeling of excitement (mixed with overwhelm) when I go to the art store (which I do quite often because my daughter is an artist). Just looking at the range of materials ignites in me a strong desire to make something. I actually wrote an article on the importance of constraints in order to cut down on the overwhelm that can take place when there are too many choices available (like when I walk through the art store). Here’s a link to that post.

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