For this month’s Muse of Nerds, I quickly grabbed onto the STEM to STEAM movement (adding ‘arts’ to the technical.) Creativity is the foundation for advancement in all fields. The arts — writing, music, art, theater and dance — paired with science, technology, engineering and math, foster a relationship between both sides of the brain for maximum human innovation potential. Trying to place STEM at the top of the educational plant stifles growth.
In 1858, Friedrich Kekule published a paper that showed, visually, how atoms bond chemically. He continued to play with the design until in 1865, he put carbon as a six-sided ring (hexagon) with chains and links, which gave rise to organic chemistry. Kekule started out as an architect before switching to the new science of chemistry. The visualization of chemical bonding didn’t come out of experiments in the lab, but a daydream while riding the bus. His brain looked at chemistry with an architect’s eye.
Daniel Tammet holds the European world record for reciting pi from memory. Daniel can “sense” if a number is prime. I think it’s important to mention that Daniel has high-functioning autism because many educators tend to steer children on the Autism spectrum towards STEM fields. However, Daniel uses the arts to “see” numbers. He is a lucid writer with his book, Born on a Blue Day. The way he was able to memorize pi was by creating a visual landscape in his mind. Clearly, art and math are tied for him.
Science News had a special issue on August 14, 2010 devoted to our minds on music. It was a fascinating look at how music influences our growth emotionally and mentally. In it there was a quote from Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, “In terms of brain imaging, studies have shown listening to music lights up, or activates, more of the brain than any other stimulus we know.” That’s just listening! As Daniel Levitin, director of the music perception, cognition and expertise laboratory at McGill University in Montreal explained, “Music processing is distributed throughout the brain…and playing an instrument, in particular, is an ensemble activity. It involves paying attention, thinking ahead, remembering, coordinating movement and interpreting constant feedback to the ears, fingers and, in some cases, lips. It is one of the most complicated tasks that we have.”
How could that kind of thinking be considered extracurricula? That’s the saddest part. STEM in education is not just getting the funding for special programming, but amazing mental tasks like music aren’t even in the BASIC CURRICULUM!
This very morning I was teaching a creative writing class to some junior high students. The stories will be used to later design and program robots (based on challenges the writing students come up with). The writing students have to be creative to make their challenges cohesive with their story lines. The robotic students have to be creative in designing and programming robots. Tying the two endeavors together gives the project more weight.
Have you ever been to a science museum? Did you attend any of the fantastic theater shows? Watching a story unfold is basic human communication. Lecturing is not.
My children were taking a botany course and convinced their teacher to demonstrate their plant family identification ability using interpretive dance. Seriously. Their teacher was cool about it and let them try. They took all the information they knew about these plant families (memorizing), decided on what was the most important and distinguishable traits (critical thinking) and then came up with movements to convey the information in a clear way (innovation.) By using their full body to translate the concepts, more parts of their brain were used. Do you think they will remember the information better than if they wrote it out on a test? Can your fingers remember a song on the piano from when you were a child? Muscle memory is a powerful tool.
My husband teaches genetics and is frustrated at the lack of “creative and independent thought” the students portray. Students walk in the classroom lacking good reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. The scientists getting prizes don’t spit out what they were taught. They dream, they doodle, they hum, they dance their way to success.