STEAM-Powered Notebook Practices

December 05, 2013
By Educator Innovator

by Jennifer Dick, NEXMAP Program Director

For many years, policy makers, employers, and other stakeholders in the sphere of education have expressed concern about ensuring our youth are adequately prepared for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

There are those, such as John Maeda of RISD, who argue that STEM education alone is not enough to keep American youth competitive in a global workforce. There is a growing movement to add the arts (A) to STEM, creating STEAM. Maeda argues that creative competence in conjunction with technical expertise are essential to producing the kind of innovative thinkers and doers needed in the twenty-first century economy. A demonstration of what is possible when art, design and science intersect can be seen in the beautiful, playful paper circuitry of artist-engineer, Jie Qi, a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab.

Storybook hacking 2So how might educators introduce STEAM-powered learning into their classrooms? One approach is to add a STEM practice, such as paper circuitry, to a familiar instructional tool, such as the notebook. Integrating light, sound, and art into the student notebooks provides opportunities for learners to prototype circuits, document their processes, play and conduct systems explorations with simple materials such as copper tape, LEDs, and watch batteries. Creativity and content drive the hands-on STEM know-how necessary to make the learner’s vision come to light.

NEXMAP (New Experimental Music, Art, and Production), an arts non-profit organization based in San Francisco is working with CV2, an educational developer, the National Writing Project (NWP) and Jie Qi and a cadre of other artist-engineers to explore different ways that learners can hack their notebooks and change the way they think of documenting and processing their experiences. The team presented a hands-on paper circuitry workshop at the NWP Annual Meeting recently. The mini-educator guide to paper circuitry explores connections between this practice and educational standards and policy; provides simple step-by-step templates from Qi, and breaks down what a class project might look like.

Feedback from participating NWP educators was positive and suggested deep learning experiences with scientific concepts, instructional design, executive function, and creative competence. Many were struck by the similarity in process between making and writing: the need for pre-planning, iteration, and consulting with peers.

More resources, including tutorials and more sample projects, will be available on in the coming months.

Storybook hacking 3