Training fields

Bringing the arts to STEM fields: Creative ex


As interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) continues to grow, a chapter in a new book features information on how to bring the arts into the world. STEM fields. The chapter describes a creative exercise that used picture books to help first-year students explore their ideas, beliefs, and humanistic impulses regarding their future majors. The exercise also allowed students to examine how representation in children’s books, combined with social class, race, and access, can limit society’s view of who can be successful in STEM fields.

The chapter, written by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), will be published in an upcoming book, Write STEAM: composition, STEM and new humanities. The book examines how writing education, scholarships, and program administration can bring STEM and the humanities closer together in creative and beneficial ways.

“We present a meaningful and reproducible case study in which students at a technical institution explored their chosen field of study by creating a children’s picture book,” said Rebekah Fitzsimmons, assistant professor of professional communication at CMU’s Heinz College, who co-authored the chapter. . “By combining this exercise in artistic expression and storytelling with first-year writing courses such as public awareness, diction and news organization, this assignment merged students’ interest in STEM with necessary communication courses to be effective in these areas. “

Fitzsimmons taught the course in his previous position at Georgia Tech, where students produced a 32-page children’s picture book focused on STEM topics. Students could write about their field of study, an important author or scientific figure, or a STEM-related event, and had to focus their book on children in Kindergarten to Grade 2.

During the course, students engaged in a range of tasks including reviewing scientific discourse in children’s literature and attending workshops on skills such as papermaking. They also “tested” their picture books with Kindergarten to Grade 2 students at a local elementary school, once they were halfway through their writing and once when they were finished. This required the students to “translate” complex scientific concepts to a non-expert audience, and it provided feedback that helped the students improve their final drafts.

The most important feedback, although the authors suggest it was not clearly articulated, was related to performance. Fitzsimmons had raised the point that children’s writers and illustrators, as well as non-animal characters in picture books, are uniquely white, and that in the context of STEM, the lack of women and people of color might suggest children that these populations do not enter or succeed in STEM fields.

But even in such a diverse context as the Georgia Tech student body, some students objected to the idea that diversity was needed in picture books and were not convinced that children could be affected by it. identity of the main characters in the books they read.

The students’ views changed after visiting the local elementary school, which was predominantly black. The enthusiastic reactions of young people to books about scientists and innovators like them, many of which were written and read by students of color from diverse socio-economic, international and cultural backgrounds, seemed to deeply affect many students. As a result, many picture books populated with white characters have been redesigned to reflect various racial and ethnic appearances.

At the end of the term, many students said the assignment challenged them to better understand their field of study and prepared them to better explain the work they were pursuing to a non-expert audience.

The chapter provides an overview of a college course that integrates STEM into the basic writing requirements, adding the A (or arts) to STEM to become STEAM. It also offers ideas on how to extend the course together with others. For example, institutions offering visual arts programs might consider overlapping a writing and illustration course. Schools with teacher training or library programs could integrate the “testing” component into existing partnerships with local schools.

“By developing an artistic path for students to explore their emerging areas of expertise while sharing their joy and passion for their work with others, this picture book project merges the elements of STEAM into a useful project,” rigorous and fun for freshman writing. courses with benefits for students and the community that last well beyond the college classroom, ”says Tamara Pearson, then associate director of academic and community engagement at the Center for Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing at Georgia Tech, who co-authored the chapter and organized the readings for young students.

Support for the course described in the chapter was provided by the Georgia Tech Serve-Learn-Sustain office.

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