Monday, July 7, 2014

STEAM Institute takes botanical immersion to new levels

The second STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) Institute kicked off today with 25 participants gathered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for a botanical immersion.

Staking out study plots in the forest and attending classroom sessions, the STEAM attendees began a two-week workshop that is likely to energize and possibly revolutionize K-12 classrooms in Alaska.

Areli Miller (green jacket) places her hoop on the forest floor while Janice Dawe observes. In the background is Zachary Meyers.
"We'll be looking at many different ways of collecting and identifying plants and insects," said Janice Dawe, director of OneTree Alaska and instructor of record for the STEAM Institute. "It's going to be such an intensive experience, all day every day for the next two weeks."

Participants, who are teachers, students, community members and university faculty, took hula hoops 42 inches in diameter to the north campus trail area to mark their study spots. Leaping right into the adventure, they made maps of what exists inside their circles, drew pictures of plants and collected specimens to take back to the classroom.

On the forest trail, instructor Chris Pastro said, "Pick a spot that speaks to you. Look for diversity, interesting textures and colors, particularly things you're drawn to. Find a spot and start recording."

Hannah Hill (far right) contemplates all that lies within her hula hoop in the woods July 7. From left are Janice Dawe, Chris Pastro and Zachary Meyers.
STEAM scholars will return to their hula hoops every day this week. "They will find a place, come to know it, identify the plants, mosses, mushrooms, lichens, flowers," Dawe said. "Exploring is great. This is a pretty magical area."

When the institute ends July 18, Dawe hopes that everyone will feel more comfortable in the woods. "They can take that knowledge with them. They will have a baseline for comparisons and contrasts in other places," she said. "Those who are teachers can share this approach with their students."

Participants are learning biology, drawing and writing, all based on observations of the boreal forest. In addition to Dawe and Pastro, instructors are Karen Stomberg (art), Margo Klass (art) and Zachary Meyers (technology). Guest lecturer is Frank Soos, who is teaching writing skills.

By the end of the workshop, everyone will have created a portfolio with an original piece of their own artwork and copies of their classmates' work. Meyers will enhance each piece technologically by using a program like Aurasma to add a layer of data to each picture. Students will also write essays.

The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell is a resource for STEAM throughout the workshop.

Funding for seven scholarships was provided by the UAF Office of Sustainability.

"We hope they leave here with rich experiences of their own and something to take back for the school year," Dawe said. "This should whet their appetites."
Janice Dawe prepares samples to take back to the classroom so students can draw the different shapes.

From left, Karen Stomberg, Chris Pastro, Janice Dawe and Margo Klass (along with Zachary Meyers, not pictured) worked for months to prepare the curriculum for the STEAM Institute.

Further reading:
Teachers trek to the forest to study plant life, SNRAS Science & News, July 9, 2012, by Nancy Tarnai

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