The STEAM lab is a place for students to play, think, and create across disciplinary boundaries while keeping art central to learning. BAA’s STEAM lab pilots emerging STEAM-inspired curricula and teaching, and shares its findings with the broader educational community while providing students access to resources, tools, and guidance to experiment with STEAM ideas and practices.
STEAM Lab Director, Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, writes about the STEAM Lab on her research blog.
What Is STEAM?
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. According to Ed Tech Magazine, STEAM education is about more than just the subjects in its name. As STEAM consultant Georgette Yakman explains,
“STEAM programs integrate subjects in an inquiry-based, hands-on curriculum (in a way) that more closely aligns with what students will experience in college and the workforce.”
BAA teachers and students have access to customized desktop 3D printers to print objects that bring their imaginations to life. With advancements in 3D technology, students can use scientific themes such as biomimicry and math concepts such as scale and fractions to design, prototype, and build class-based projects.
The BAA STEAM Lab is part of a growing network of educational digital fabrication labs that put cutting-edge technology for design and construction—such as 3D printers and laser cutters—into the hands of high school students. The Lab is unique in that this technology is purposely put in the service of the arts and humanities, as well as STEM. In addition to being a “Fab Lab,” the STEAM Lab is a place to implement arts integration in STEM curricula. According to Dr. Matthew Lynch, “Instead of treating the arts like a separate, distant relative to other classroom endeavors, (arts integration) programs integrate musical instruments, painting, dancing, drawing, singing and more into traditional subjects like science, math and language.” The evidence is clear: the skills required to be truly “college- and career-ready” will only be obtained when students have access to a curriculum that provides ample opportunity to develop higher order skills. These skills require an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approach to teaching and learning.
What Are BAA Teachers and Students Doing in the STEAM Lab?
Visual Art students are designing projects (i.e., puppets, hats, board games) embedded with functionality such as special effects, sensors and other electronics that bring their creations to life. They can model 3D parts and print them or use a laser to cut out different materials. Electronic textiles (e-textiles) enable digital components such as small computers and electronics to be embedded into fabric that can be used to create costumes that respond to sound, light and movement.
Students are learning how to use conductive materials such as paint, tape and wire, thread, fabric, and even graphite. Dance students are designing costumes embedded with these materials and technology such as LEDs and electroluminescent wire or el wire. They will learn how to use a 3D scanner to capture their poses to be 3D printed for stop-motion animation and other projects.
The physical space of the STEAM Lab supports collaboration, group interaction, and independent study. Desks and chairs are mobile, able to be easily moved around and arranged in a variety of forms, for different purposes. There is a 6-seat collaboration station that includes a Smart TV, projection, and speakers.
In addition to using laptops to create 3D models and designs, students can use several iPads over WiFi to work together on virtual murals that can be projected onto buildings.
These projects provide a snapshot of just some of the possibilities to explore in the BAA STEAM Lab. It is anticipated that teachers and students will come up with many other ideas and projects that will take place both inside and outside of the classroom.
How Do Professional Artists Engage STEAM?
Inspiration for the BAA STEAM Lab comes from professional artists who combine found materials from their environments with emerging and new technology to create their projects. The following examples are by artists from ethnic communities that are underrepresented in STEM. Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez combines nature and DIY technology to create cultural narratives that correspond with significant occurrences of tree rings (dendrochronology).
Lynnette Wallworth’s Coral Rekindling Venus is a “visual tone poem” that includes sound and oceanic artifacts presented on dark, draped fabric that trigger 3D animations as Augmented Reality (AR) overlays. Read more about it here. Artwork such as posters or murals can be embedded with AR technology to create digitally-enhanced (personal or cultural) narratives.
Sanford Biggers created the interactive sculpture, Blossom, that incorporates a MIDI controller and motors (actuators) into a player piano. Influenced by a 2006 incident in Jena, Louisiana, the piece evokes the rich cross-cultural symbolism of trees: Biggers alludes to the story of Buddha finding enlightenment under a bodhi tree. This combination demonstrates his interest in multiplicities of both inspiration and interpretation.
Xenobia Bailey is best known for her eclectic crochet hats and large scale crochet mandalas, consisting of colorful concentric circles and repeating patterns. A mandala is a Sanskrit term for a geometric pattern that represents the cosmos, a microcosm of the universe. Bailey’s pieces are often connected to her ongoing project Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk. Her designs draw influences from in Africa, China, and Native American and Eastern philosophies, with undertones of the 1970’s funk aesthetic.
Saya Woolfalk creates artwork using geometric shapes (mandalas), algorithms, and primary colors in the belief that these encourage a transnational, un-xenophobic perspective that would lead us to open-minded future. Pieces such as ChimaTEK™: Hybridity Visualization Mandala immerse viewers in a “scientific folklore where biology and anthropology inform fables of utopia.”
Nick Cave’s Soundsuits are full-body outfits crafted from discarded objects found in antique shops and flea markets. Part sculpture, part costume, the complex, kaleidoscopically colorful works of art can be displayed as objects, and are often featured in solo and group movement performances. Learn more on Artsy’s Nick Cave page.
Former NASA engineer Fred Eversley’s sculptures incorporate parabolic curves that are found in a range of natural and man-made forms including suspension bridges, wind-blown sand dunes, and microwave reflectors. His works operate according to the optical principles of physics that determine the properties of lenses and mirrors.
Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, Ph.D., a recent Georgia Tech graduate, has been recognized for pushing STEAM to new heights. Gaskins targets populations that have traditionally under-performed in STEM using a unique method that she calls “culturally situated art-based learning.” Her research was highlighted by US News & World Report, with support from the National Science Foundation Advancing Informal Science Learning (AiSL) program. Dr. Gaskins worked closely with a team led by Ron Eglash from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI, on a suite of culturally situated design tools that simulate the algorithms in cultural designs. Gaskins is credited with the overall concept and pedagogy for the project.
Currently, professional artists come to the Lab to share their use of STEAM with students, as well as work directly special projects. They engage art students in deeper learning, which motivates them; enables them to think critically and creatively; and activates many opportunities for them to investigate, collaborate, and communicate in new and different ways.
For more information about the Lab, please contact Nettrice Gaskins.