The Art of Science Learning

I wanted to call your attention to a new initiative, The Art of Science Learning, through a grant from the National Science Foundation to the Steifer Associates. The grant will explore the impact the arts can have on science (STEM) literacy and creativity in the workforce through a social network for teachers, 3 conferences in Spring 2011 (in DC, Chicago & San Diego) and a research report.

Knowledge of this initiative was received from David Green via an email on the NARST email list just today. According to the websites that are linked from David’s email, The Art of Learning Science:

explores ways in which the arts can help improve how people of all ages learn the sciences. Hands-on, imaginative approaches to science education, using many of the methods used in the creative arts, have been shown to attract and retain young people in the fields of Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (sometimes known as the STEM disciplines).

Responding to concerns that the U.S. risks lagging behind other nations, in both the scientific literacy and the innovative capacity of its workforce, the Art of Science Learning is convening scientists, artists, educators, business leaders, researchers and policymakers in three conferences in Spring 2011 to explore how the arts can be engaged to strengthen STEM skills and spark creativity in the 21st-Century American workforce.

For many years we’ve advocated the notion of teaching as an art (The Art of Teaching Science), and this new NSF initiative offers teachers and researchers an opportunity to look at science teaching through the lens of the arts. In our book, we connected with the views of Jacob Bronowski, in his writings, and his video program (The Ascent of Man), suggesting that artistry in teaching is related to human imagination and creativity, and one’s willingness to expriment and play. Throughout his professional life, Bronowski drew similarities between art and science, and used examples from the history of science to help us understand this. Here, Bronowski offers this pedagogical suggestion:

Many people believe that reasoning, and therefore science, is a different activity from imagining. But this is a fallacy, and you must root it out of your mind. The child that discovers, sometime before the age of ten, that he can make images and move them around in his head has entered a gateway to imagination and to reason. Reasoning is constructed with movable images just as certainly as poetry is. You may have been told, you may still have the feeling that E = mc2 is not an imaginative statement. If so, you are mistaken.

Eliot Eisner, an advocate of the arts in teaching, in his book Arts and Creative Mind, suggested we might think of (science) education reform in a different way, as in this thought:

It may be that by shifting the paradigm of education reform and teaching from one modeled after the clock-like character of the assembly line into one that is closer to the studio or innovative science laboratory might provide us with a vision that better suits the capacities and the futures of the students we teach.

Years ago, I formed a discussion group that met every Thursday at a coffee house in Atlanta called the Common Cup. Although no longer in business, the Common Cup became the meeting house of a group of teachers, professors, and researchers interested in humanistic education, science and the arts. The group met over coffee for many years, and explored new ideas, and how these could be applied to the classroom. At about the same time as the Common Cup coffee house experience, I met Professor David Finkelstein, professor of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology. I had interviewed him for a book I was working on about science education, and attended some of his community forums on physics at Georgia Tech. He invited me on several occasions to join a group he had formed that now reminds me of the London Coffee House group. Professor Finkelstein had organized a group of people from different disciples (science, art, music, philosophy, psychology, education) that met over coffee and food to discuss ideas relevant to the group. The few times that I attended were thrilling, and provocative.

I hope the new intiative, The Art of Science Learning, will be as provocative.