I’ve been working a little with the teachers who run the STEAM program at my school. The acronym, as it’s used in all the literature, is Science Technology Engineering Art and Math. The acronym, as it’s used in my school? Well, we try to keep it amorphous (sometimes that works). We’d love for the S to be Service. Though it’s a word corrupted by mandatory service days into something that just means showing up and doing what is asked of you — instead, we want service to be about solving problems.
Which leads me to the kids in this STEAM program, the Makers and the Computer Geeks, most of whom have spent a whole year tackling a big problem. One group is creating a book that will read itself to a child when the child pushes buttons. There’s an art-bot, now disassembled as its makers focus on code, that was to read the Iliad, parse it for meaning, assign colors to the meaning, and paint a spiralling image across a stretched canvas to show the story. (The artbot may live on in another reincarnation next year, but for now, it’s a visual pathway only.) There’s a group working to 3D model some typical campus furniture to be the props in a newsroom for a school news show, a found poetry group, a computer coder creating black holes and planets on screen. These students impress me, a lot.
There’s one thing we see that they’re missing right now, though. Community.
Our school is really big on community – and the students are nice to each other, to themselves (usually), to their teachers (definitely). We want to see the makers of STEAM linked together, using each other’s expertise and collaborating on ideas, ideating (you’re right, spellcheck, it doesn’t look like a real word to me either) and iterating and making. It doesn’t matter if you’re the kid in the corner who passionately wants to do every bit of programming he can get his hands on or the girl in the the front who would really like to get to the point where they can lift the quadcopter off the ground. We want to see mixing, making, happening.
Sometimes we see this — the past two years, there’s been an installation in the stairwell of our science building right before winter break. It makes noise, it needs kids to help set it up, it’s amazing and annoying and beautiful and weird. This year it was called LEO — Love Each Other. By placing hands onto pads on the walls, you could connect a circuit with your body. If you did it alone – you got a sad song about being lonely to play. If you got a couple of friends to help you stretch to the next pad? You got a love song about how great it is to be with people. LEO was a team-effort. PAM — LEO’s predecessor — was also a team effort. But the STEAM teachers (which I guess I can include myself in now) want to make the ideas that made LEO and PAM work happen all the time.
I guess we, as the teachers, are making as well – making something more subtle, though. Sure, we have our own ideas, our own projects – more on mine below – but who these kids are, and become, when they collaborate and struggle together and try a bunch of ideas and the quadcopter still refuses to lift off – my making is their determination to see their project through.
(I went through an epic internet rampage today, just checking out all of the neat materials that are available and starting to play with ideas. Particularly sparked by Catarina Mota’s TedTalk. Nothing definite that I think I’ll be making right now, but -the excitement of finding PMC going through a 3D printer https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/minimetalmaker-a-small-3d-printer-that-fabricates-with-metal-clay#home led me to analogies and hands-on science things — and a detour towards squishy circuits https://learn.sparkfun.com/blog/1259 which led me to conductive ceramics in general http://www.google.com/patents/US4183830 &http://www.fabricatingideas.com/2008/07/25/electrically-conductive-glaze/ & http://global.kyocera.com/fcworld/charact/heat/thermalcond.html which started to blossom into an idea that looks very similar to a mug that heats itself http://gizmodo.com/5537943/kug-is-a-mug-that-boils-water-like-a-kettle which led me to a possible DIY version http://www.amazon.com/Mokingtop-Travel-Heater-Element-Immersion/dp/B00H4T7E04/ref=pd_cp_hi_0 and other possibilities for heaters http://www.deepskywatch.com/Articles/newtonian-dew-heater.html and finally back to ceramics, in paper clay. http://www.jerrybennett.net/paperclay.html. Long story short — the internet is great, people are doing such awesome things, and I want to make all the things. Oh – also, yay for crowdsourcing! https://www.ted.com/talks/britta_riley_a_garden_in_my_apartment)