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Youth in Arts and STEAM Learning

artist Phil Hansen

How can you make a paper rocket fly? How can you support the social emotional needs of students? How can limitations drive creativity?

political analyst and author Heather McGhee

These were some of the topics Youth in Arts staff explored at a STEAM conference held by the California Department of Education. Youth in Arts staff members Suzanne Joyal, Kelsey Rieger and Cathy Bowman attended the virtual conference, which was held Dec. 11-13.

Keynote speaker Phil Hansen was one of the highlights. After developing a tremor in his drawing hand and permanent nerve damage years ago doing detailed artwork, a doctor advised Hansen to “embrace the shake.” Hansen changed the way he works and has been inspiring audiences ever since (watch his TED talk here). 

Hansen discussed what he calls “systematic creativity,” and showed ways educators can inspire students to think outside the box. He also encouraged them to understand that limitations, such as working with unfamiliar and unexpected art tools, inspire creativity and encourage play.

Other engaging speakers included Heather McGhee, author of the soon-to-be published book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”  McGhee spoke about the hierarchy of human value and what is lost when discriminatory practices drive policy.

Breakout sessions included maker labs and different ways to engage and support students in STEAM learning.

One session from the Exploratorium in San Francisco focused on a “science snack” involving color, light and after images. Participants stared at a colored bird for 10 seconds, then looked at a white space and saw a bird of a different color as a ghost image. Why? Because of how the eye’s receptor cells (cones) work. 

“It was really helpful to spend the weekend looking and thinking about art through a science lens,” Cathy said. “I feel more confident finding ways to explore STEAM learning with my students, from building rockets to color experiments.”

Building a paper tower sculpture with a leftover painting

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