Adding art to educational basics can be scientific approach

Representatives of the National Science Foundation were in Philadelphia Monday to present a report on how to more successfully teach math and science to schoolchildren. A local initiative aims to throw art in that mix.

At a conference called “STEM Smart: Lessons Learned from Successful Schools,” teachers and administrators gathered to discuss what works and what doesn’t in the STEM programs—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Those are four areas in which American children are lagging, according to the NSF report.

“Science isn’t one of the subjects tested in the way math or English language arts is tested,” said Joan Ferrini-Mundy of the NSF. “There are some differences in the policies of schools and states around the country, around STEM.”

If you take science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and add art, then STEM becomes STEAM. The Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership pairs artists with science teachers and the results are now on display at the Esther Klein Gallery in University City.

The work includes suspended Earth globes with interpretive sculptural elements such as caulking and colored sand. Artist Ben Volta worked with seventh-graders at Grover Washington School in North Philadelphia. They mapped out their individual travels experiences on a two-dimensional map, folded it along the travel vectors into a 3-D polygon, and constructed wooden, stemlike infrastructures to create a 15-foot-tall polygon bouquet.

“All of his work focuses on his work with youth, and designed empowering projects that can impact their lives that can be aesthetically moving,” said EKG gallery curator David Clayton. “It takes a special artist to capture that in youth.”

Clayton believes the future of science education will involve an art component. So far, however, its success relies less on replicable policies and more on the innovations of individual artists such as Volta.

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