By Amanda Peñaloza-Banks
“CoTA’s STEAM Institute truly was a remarkable experience, and has sincerely changed my scientific instructional life for the better!”
CoTA’s second STEAM Institute was held across four Saturdays in February and March 2019. 18 teachers and educators, from 10 schools, spanning kinder through 7thgrade, came together with five artists from three art disciplines to explore how arts integration can support student learning of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
From classroom teachers, resource teachers and instructional coaches, to a visiting teaching artist, to CoTA’s staff, everyone involved was the epitome of commitment, engagement, thoughtfulness, appreciation, generosity and passion. Together, we made it a joyful experience that I, and I hope others, will remember for years to come.
Witnessing teachers courageously throw themselves into the midst of a new learning experience was incredibly humbling. We forget, until we take the plunge, just how challenging it is to step outside of our everyday comfort zone and explore something new. Suddenly, childhood fears of inadequacy and “I can’t do that!” can pop up out of nowhere, stifling our ability to be creative and go with the flow. And yet, here was a room full of teachers doing just that. With a focus on the NGSS ‘Science Practices’, the teachers asked questions about phenomena which they translated into visual art pieces, choreographed dances to portray hypothetical explanations, carried out investigations incorporating storytelling and visual art props, developed models using movement and visual art to describe and explain phenomena, and theatrically communicated scientific information. Of course, some were comfortable with visual art, some with creative drama, and even a few with creative movement, but no one was in their comfort zone with all three art forms, let alone with the NGSS standards and their three-dimensional complexity. The teachers took risks, explored, improvised, problem-solved, designed, created, collaborated, shared, presented, reflected and formed connections.
From my perspective, as a creative movement artist, who is also in love with science, nature, the universe and all things phenomenal(!), being involved in planning, designing and creating our STEAM institutes has been a highlight of my last six years with CoTA. Only when you work behind the scenes do you experience just how much thinking, detail, problem-solving, collaboration, energy and creativity goes into making this type of training event. It is a challenging yet fulfilling endeavor.
Looking back, it is not the complexity of the work but the little, simple things that feel the most profound and rewarding. These simple things are highlighted in the bold type words sprinkled throughout this article. They include academic, scientific, artistic and social-emotional language and, collectively, they represent some of the attributes, feelings, skills and abilities which we hope to foster in all learners, young and old. I feel grateful to have experienced these simple things by being involved in CoTA’s 2019 STEAM Institute, and hope that all the educators who attended feel the same way.