Carlisle School promotes STEAM power

by Karina Coombs


Carlisle School art teachers Courtney Longaker and Rachel Levy taught a class for other faculty members exploring how the scientific process relates to art production. Participants included (left to right) science teacher Wendy Stack, math teacher Susie Brinner and Longaker. (Courtesy photo)

For nearly a decade, the Carlisle School has offered a number of after-school programs emphasizing the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Having grown in popularity as a way to encourage students to pursue the topics and create a skilled and competitive workforce, STEM programs can be found in grades K through 12 throughout the state. Educators have found that adding art to the mix (STEAM) encourages creativity and innovation.

Elementary Principal Dennet Sidell is the coordinator of the current program and shares the responsibility with Administrative Assistant Bev Willard. Registration for the winter session of STEAM classes is already underway and the school is offering art, music, chess, jump rope and computer game programming. 

Sidell acknowledged there is a lot of competition for student time after school and the STEAM classes coincide with other music and sport programs, but he still sees steady enrollment in the classes offered. The programs are geared to be self-sustaining so there needs to be a certain number of students registering for each class in order for it to be held. Sidell also thinks this may be an opportunity to shift some of the class offerings to the younger grades in the chance they may not be as involved with other after-school activities.

Parent involvement encouraged

Sidell and Willard would also like to encourage more parents to propose STEAM class ideas of their own. They are creating a list of ideas for parents who would like to run a class, but who are having difficulty thinking of a topic. 

Carlisle’s history of STEM/STEAM

Sidell and Willard explained that the program was formed in 2005 as a collaboration among parents, teachers and the Carlisle community. The STEP program as it was then called (science, technology and engineering program) allowed students to have hands-on experience with robotics, computers, and electricity and let them explore a number of scientific principles in a variety of classes. The program also tried to identify Carlisle residents with a scientific and engineering background who could work with the school. (See, “Carlisle kids enjoy after-school science and technology classes,” November 11, 2005.)

Early classes were taught with parents and teachers together and were advertised in the school newsletter, The Buzz. Parents or teachers then ran later classes, with both groups coming up with topics and course descriptions. The program was renamed STEM in 2008 to emphasize mathematics. Under the STEM umbrella, classes in art and music were also offered and recognizing this, the program was renamed STEM and MORE in 2010. During this time, grades K through 8 could continue to study weather, architecture, astronomy, flight, computer programming, learn to draw portraits and dozens of other subjects after school.

The year 2010 also saw the introduction of the popular jump-rope class and competitive team run by two parent volunteers. The Hopping Huskies as they are called attend an end of the year competition and performed at the Carlisle Teacher Association basketball fundraiser. Sidell said the class continues to be well attended and is confidence boosting for the participants.

Art makes STEAM

While art had been a part of STEM since at least 2008, it was formally recognized in 2012 when the program was renamed STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math). Sidell explained that after researching other districts to see what they were doing with their STEM classes, he went before the School Advisory Council to request the name change.

Middle school art teacher Courtney Longaker is a strong believer in the inclusion of art in the program, explaining that its presence adds depth and breadth to any curriculum. Like science and engineering, explained Longaker, artists also have to understand basic principles for their craft. Artists will also look for new and different ways to use materials, and experiment with ideas and processes all the while looking at the world in unique ways. Longaker emphasized the process requires critical thinking as well as creativity. “We need art in there,” she said. “If you’re not including art you’re leaving out an entire portion of your brain.”

Carlisle College—teaching teachers

Last year, Longaker was awarded a scholarship from the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) to attend the 2013 National Arts Educators’ Convention in Fort Worth, Texas. Elementary art teacher Rachel Levy joined her. Of particular interest to Longaker and Levy, were sessions that matched the visual art department’s professional goals, including strategies for interdisciplinary learning, assessment, curriculum and instruction.

Upon their return, the two teachers created and taught a course for their colleagues that used the scientific process to look at art production. The goal was to show the relationship between all of the disciplines that STEAM represents to ultimately help students understand particular concepts. Longaker explained she had teachers of various disciplines working to create art projects that also incorporated engineering, math and science. One project involved the creation of a mobile that required teachers to perform mathematical equations for it to balance correctly. She explained that it gave an opportunity for teachers to see art in terms of science and math and vice versa.

The course was offered this past fall through Carlisle College, which provides opportunities for teachers to share what they have learned during professional development opportunities. Longaker also conducted a workshop for special educators and classroom teachers. While noting that her students have yet to make art’s connection to STEM, Longaker is convinced they are getting there. “The more ways you have to teach something,  the more successful for the kids,” she explained. ∆