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Full STEAM Ahead


April Bernier, a science teacher at Beacon Charter High School for the Arts in Woonsocket, RI, works on her design of a bird’s nest with RISD student Kristen Harada 14 ID.

Most visual artists intuitively understand that many subject areas, including science and math, are inextricably linked to the fundamentals of design. But try telling that to your typical science or math teacher – which is precisely what Industrial Design Critic Amy Leidtke is doing, thanks to funding from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. On two consecutive Fridays, April 27 and May 4, she is offering STEM to STEAM mini-institutes for SmART Schools, a research-based K–12 reform initiative that fuses rigorous core academics with dance, theater, music and visual arts.

The first full-day session ran last week in RISD’s Nature Lab, where Leidtke – assisted by RISD students – presented hands-on, lab-based, nature-inspired challenges to middle school and high school teachers, helping them understand how they can present meaningful and integrated design content in their own classrooms.

“By classroom, I mean anywhere learning can occur,” Leidtke says – “even outside the walls of the traditional school setting. Formal and informal settings, indoors and outdoors. We work together to make solid and meaningful connections to the Common Core academic standards as well as to the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Grade Span Expectations for multiple academic areas.” These include the STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – all of which can benefit from an influx of Art, as RISD’s STEAM initiative is intent on showing.

In Leidtke’s second STEM to STEAM workshop, Seeing and Making Mathematical Paper Structures, she’ll work with math teachers at Brown University’s new Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM). “Visualizing polyhedra is actually fun, and makes it possible . . . to make sense of spatial and structural relationships in our world,” she says, adding that “no one will go away without making her own mathematical toy, [or without] renewed insight on how to ignite the curiosity in the minds of students.”

As a seasoned designer and experienced educator who loves teaching both RISD students and K–12 teachers, Leidtke is a natural at getting math and science teachers excited about art and design. Bob Mackin, SmART School’s new director of secondary schools, is equally enthusiastic about the focus of her workshops. “In the past, SmART has appealed most often to arts and humanities teachers,” he says. “Hopefully this will be the first among many SmART Schools professional development opportunities for Rhode Island science and math teachers, and will provide them equal inspiration in improving their practice in and through the arts.” 

related links:
SmART Schools mini-institutes
RISD’s STEM to STEAM initiative

tags: academic collaborations, local/regional, Brown, faculty, interdisciplinary, Industrial Design, partnerships + collaborations, STEAM

The façade of the Chace Center, a new multipurpose hub that opened
in 2008, offers an interesting contrast to the historic campus
buildings that surround it.