An innovative approach to STEM learning has teachers encouraging students by using art to teach science.  Students are encouraged to use multiple subject areas to find solutions to 21st century problems in design and manufacturing. 
 
Challenges typically handled by NASA are being assigned to the students.  The most recent one is for them to design a garment that can withstand a level of intense heat.
Using Art to Teach Science

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But next school year, Palm Bay High students will be the ones trying to find the solution.

Thanks to a partnership with NASA, students will be designing prototypes in engineering classes, deconstructing space garments used in fashion design courses, testing material in chemistry labs, and writing about the project for English assignments.

Across the nation, many schools are taking steps to integrate different academic disciplines, part of a growing effort to better connect science and technology with innovative thinking.

In Brevard, four schools are rolling out new “STEAM” magnet programs. The acronym takes STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — and adds an “A” for Art.

Teachers say STEAM programs are about exploring students’ creativity. In biology class, for example, teacher Lauren Feronti asked students to create models of DNA after extracting it from a strawberry, or draw the anatomy of a fetal pig before they dissect it.

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“It’s more fun,” says freshman Micheal Mingo of the hands-on assignments. “It grabs your attention.”

While there’s a place for textbooks and structured labs, the initiative breaks away from traditional methods to more fully engage students.

The idea is to nudge students beyond their comfort zones, to not limit themselves to just being “analytical” or “creative,” or only “left-brained” or “right brained.”

“We want our kids to use all hemispheres,” said Cari Kupec, Brevard’s magnet school program director. “Even if you don’t go into STEM fields, you’re designing and innovating.”

Teaching creativity, at its root, is about teaching the ability to think divergently: To not only know your facts, but to find new approaches and solutions to existing situations.

“It’s about looking at problems, turning them inside-out and thinking about them differently,” said Thomas Dana, associate dean at University of Florida’s College of Education.

With heavyweights like the National Science Foundation throwing their support behind the initiative, STEAM appears to be picking up speed. Even two members of Congress have gotten involved, forming the Congressional STEAM Caucus to lobby for the initiative.

Proponents point to how innovation and technology have boosted the economy of late, creating new jobs — even new sectors.

With Central Florida on the path of becoming a tech hub, Neil Levine, the executive director of the Brevard Cultural Alliance, sees STEAM initiatives as critical to the area’s economic future.

This article contains material originally published in Florida Today

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