Georgia School Mixes Art, Mini Golf and Robotics to Strengthen STEAM Learning

Students at North Gwinnett MS

Earlier in the year, Infinite Energy gave $48,000 in grants to 11 Georgia schools in Gwinnett County. The money, part of our commitment to childhood education, helped pay for projects in science, technology, education, art and mathematics—STEAM.

This week, we’re taking a look at North Gwinnett Middle School and a project we helped fund that pairs science and engineering students with those studying visual art. It’s called Full STEAM Ahead.

The project lets students design and build miniature golf courses based on the work of famous artists—in 3D! And then, in lieu of golf balls, students use Sphero robots they’ve programmed to navigate the course.

The science and engineering students engineer the course, handling the various technical requirements. And the visual arts students serve as art history and architecture experts, helping to conceive and construct the sculptural aspects.

We got more details on the project from one of the teachers in charge, NGMS art teacher Dannica B.:

I understand you’re still in the early phases of these projects?

Last spring, we had a group of students who volunteered their time after school to build a full-size model. It was used for students and parents to view during our recent 10-year anniversary celebration. That’s where we’re at now. The model, which is about 5 feet long, will be used as a reference once students begin working on this again in the fall. We’ve made quite the buzz surrounding the project. Students and parents are excited.

Which artists did you choose as inspiration for the courses?

An assortment of artists were chosen for the projects. The model was based on the work of artist Keith Haring. But we’ve also included artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Edvard Munch, Jasper Johns, Salvador Dali and Georgia O’Keefe.

For the model based on Haring’s work, students built a structure out of recycled cardboard and covered it in white and black paper. The white sections were covered in maze-like illustrations, similar to Haring’s work. Students also built three-dimensional figures out of poster board, party cups and plaster—all painted in bold colors—as part of the model. These figures are also characteristic of Haring’s work.

How did you come up with the idea? It’s very creative.

Some time ago, school officials chose myself and another teacher, Cheri N., to attend a STEAM conference. We were inspired by a project exhibited in one of the workshops there. In that project, an art teacher had lined her school hallway with paper covered in large globs of wet paint. Students then used Sphero robots to manipulate the paint to form an action painting similar to the art made by Jackson Pollock.

I liked the project, but I wanted the art portion to be more controlled. It made me think of a project I’d seen a few years ago where students played miniature golf through a course modeled on the work of famous artists. We wanted to pair that idea with the Sphero robots, especially considering how much success Cheri N. has had with our school’s use of robots in STEM.

How are the students liking the project? What are they getting out of it?

Middle school students are always excited to paint and to manipulate materials. And it’s also a great way to get artistic for students whose schedule—due to other classes—doesn’t permit them to take art. And vice versa for the more art-minded students. They get a better feel for programming and the engineering process (STEM). This project also shows that these two disciplines, while sometimes treated as two separate course paths, are very much related and intertwined.

Truthfully, art already exists in STEM (STEAM minus the ‘A’ for art). Visual design is integral to engineering, and art fosters creativity and sharpens critical thinking skills. Pairing these two disciplines helps students see how truly integrated they are in the real world.

You’re beginning the main phase in the fall, but what happens after that?

The aim is to make this an annual collaborative project each school year. Some new artists may be added. But each of the artists chosen have produced multiple artworks that can be used as a design focus. The course designs are also unlimited when you factor in different groups of students, their individual strengths and the artist selected.

 

At Infinite Energy, we’re thrilled to see teachers getting so creative with student projects. And we’re proud to help play a part. Stay tuned for more STEAM blogs in upcoming weeks!