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RISD’s new lesson plans on PBS LearningMedia draw from collections at the Nature Lab and RISD Museum. | photo by Erik Gould, RISD Museum

Just in time for the new academic year, PBS LearningMedia, a rich repository of free, classroom-ready digital resources for teachers, has posted the first of two RISD STEAM lesson plans online. Written by a team of RISD educators, the lesson plans for upper elementary and middle school grades draw on expertise and inspiration from the Nature Lab and the RISD Museum.

A small but growing movement, STEAM advocates for adding art and design to the current national emphasis on STEM education (STEM + A = STEAM). Educators who take this approach agree that today’s students are best served if they’re encouraged to develop the creativity and critical thinking, making and problem-solving skills needed for the entrepreneurial and innovation-driven jobs of the future.

“RISD’s new STEAM lesson plans focus on the importance of object-based learning in encouraging the research, close observation and critical analysis that both artists and scientists share in common,” notes Dean of Faculty Tracie Costantino, who helped write the new curricula along with Neal Overstrom and Melita Morales from the Nature Lab and Sarah Ganz Blythe and Mariani Lefas-Tetenes from the museum.

“The demand for STEAM resources has picked up in the past few years as teachers recognize the importance of incorporating creative thinking and visual learning into their classrooms,” Costantino points out. “Working with PBS LearningMedia, we are now able to begin to satisfy their hunger for connecting the arts and sciences in ways that resonate with students of all ages.”

Based on the approach to problem solving used in RISD studios, the first two RISD STEAM lessons – called Attention and Perception and Discovery Through Juxtaposition – emphasize close observation of objects as a means of analyzing and understanding the world. Looking at objects from both artistic and scientific perspectives helps students to recognize relationships, connect the dots and see a larger picture. Through the process of critique – another essential component of a visual arts education – students learn to better articulate their own ideas, incorporate critical feedback and contribute constructively to discussions about the work of their peers.

“The blending of art and STEM into STEAM offers student experiences that are both inspirational and integrated,” saysRachel Connolly, director of STEM at PBS LearningMedia. Given the goal of delivering high-quality digital media to teachers, “we are thrilled to have RISD – a leader in STEAM – as a new partner and content contributor,” she adds.

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