So here we are a week after our second Skype session. My teammate Jenny and I had a discussion. As I mentioned in my previous blog, we are looking at STEM subject matter from a perspectives perspective. Let me draw your attention to this picture.
What do you see? If you know this picture, what did you see when you first saw it? Did you see a vase? Did you see two faces? Did you see one or the other, or did you see both immediately? If you only saw one, when did you see the other? Did you see it by chance or did you see it after someone mentioned there was more than one image? Do you see both now?
Here is the powerful thing about this little exercise is once you see both images, you can never un-see them. You will forever be able to see both images. You see, being able to see an image is dependent on the perspective of how you see the picture. Your perspective has forever been changed.
So as educators, are we so much teachers as much as perception changers. Research suggests students who have negative perceptions of themselves academically are more likely to facilitate their own expectation in their work. Can art be used in combination with sciences to change a person’s perspective of their own abilities? Once a person’s perspective has been changed of themselves, they would never be able to un-see their ability and potential to understand higher level concepts.
Another question is how can we use art and a person’s spatial awareness to advance higher level concepts in science. If you look at pointillism, a portrait on a microscopic level might seem like a random collection of dots. But as you step back and look at things from a broader perspective, one see the dots are part of a larger image.
This is not unlike scientific concepts. Why do students start off taking general physics or general biology? They are learning “dots” which are fundamental concepts that must be understood to realize the much larger picture. Physics and chemistry students much take algebra and trig before they take general physics and chemistry classes. Why? Because without those “dots” one would not able to the “physics picture” nor the “chemistry picture.”
If this analogy resonates with you, congratulations, your perspective has been changed, and you now see a new image, and you will never be able to un-see it. I should assert, seeing a new image does not mean you agree with it. You simply can see the perspective. That in itself is powerful.
This week, my teammate gave me deeper appreciation of how spatial awareness might help people see concepts in new ways and overcome barriers to understanding. We touched on a few different concepts, including the concept of imposter syndrome, different teaching styles, and creating exercises that might encourage students to play with concepts to challenge assumptions or reveal their unique grasp of the material.
For me, imposter syndrome is something I associate with graduate school, perhaps because I still hadn’t fully internalized my identity as a scientist (can other SciArtists relate? I always felt pushed to one side of the fence). When I was younger, I assumed I was naturally bad at math because I didn’t always succeed. I essentially counted math as a loss and focused on success in other academic areas. Later, I took calculus and excelled, which I attributed to having an easy teacher at the time, but in retrospect, attribute to her adaptive and kind teaching approach. Many classmates weren’t so lucky at my school, and were given deeper imposter syndromes by biased teachers that prevented them from thriving in the classes in which they would have otherwise excelled.
Kent and I explored the role of teaching styles in breaking down imposter syndrome by discussing the disadvantages of two poles of teaching within STEM, one that encourages students to figure everything out for themselves (giving the advantage to students with prior STEM background), and the opposite, where students are given all the information by teachers expecting that the students will not be able to reach mastery of concepts without being told the answers. Teaching STEM successfully might mean that students are given the tools to understand while being challenged enough to feel a sense of accomplishment. This kind of teaching doesn’t have to mean that concepts are “dumbed down” concepts may be simplified without necessarily teaching in a patronizing way. One moment of early success in math or science in which the student feels a sense of achievement might be enough to convince a kid that they belong in STEM, that they too can be successful in the world of STEM.
Exercises in exploring different artistic mediums in relation to understanding scientific concepts– even as general or abstract as understanding scale, gravity, or physical space can potentially help empower learners through the act of creating. We discussed a few ideas related to visualizing concepts through sound and 3d. Last week, I stumbled upon this sound map (my words) of places visited, and Kent threw out the idea of making a musical scale relative to visited continents. I haven’t been to very many continents, but I applied it to my own life and made a 27.4 second audio example using a hexatonic scale fitted to the continents. In creating this example, I explored an assumption of my own related to continental land masses. The idea of Europe and Asia being separate continents is not based on any physical definition of a continent, and says more about how our physical understanding of the world is influenced by political factors than about plate tectonics. Given this, I used a hexatonic whole-tone scale organized around A440. Here’s the piece, and the documentation.