Putting the “A” in STEAM

Nests hang from a tree in Costa Rica. Photo by Erik Kellison

Nests hang from a tree in Costa Rica. Photo by Erikkellison, Flickr

Nearly fifty pendulums hang down from the branches of an isolated tree in the middle of a farm in Costa Rica. From a distance you might think they are vines or even branches. But as you approach you see movement in the tree. A giant bird flies overhead. The pendulums are actually a large colony of nests belonging to the Montezuma Oropendola, a bird species known for its intricate nest-building techniques. Standing under the tree now, you look up to admire their complex architecture. The colony is a beautiful work of art.

Art is a major component of nature and, like the Oropendola, each species has its own unique style. Teachers have been working to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) practices into their curriculum for years, and recently there has been some shift to STEAM, which includes the arts. Whether you prefer STEM or STEAM, the connections between science and art in the natural world are easy to draw. Natural art, like the colony of pendulum-like nests, can spark students’ creativity and inspire them to craft their own artwork, helping to develop a deeper connection to and understanding of the natural world. So the question is, how can we take advantage of these connections and bring together art and STEM in our curricula?

Art engages students’ senses and is an outlet for their creativity to flourish. So what types of projects might you incorporate into your lessons?

A student builds a nest

A student builds a nest

Consider a small scale version of Kelly Brown’s Bower Bird Sculptures. Taking inspiration from the unique nesting behavior of the bower bird, Brown creates magnificent sculptures for many occasions, including a natural playground for children to connect with nature. At school, you can encourage students to build or replicate their favorite bird nest out of the natural materials they can find around the playground.

Collaborating with other teachers is another way to emphasize connections between art and STEM in your curriculum. Doing a lesson on bird communication? Work with music and art teachers to  use bird songs as inspiration for students to create their own music. Not only will this familiarize students with bird calls, but it will also spark an interest in the bird species they decide to use. You can have students complete species profiles on the birds who inspire their music.

Check out this video of how one DJ is incorporating bird songs and beatboxing to create music that has education impact.

Engaging students in the art of nature and providing opportunities to create their own artwork strengthens their appreciation for the natural world and offers a deeper connection to classroom lessons. You do not have to stand under a tree in Costa Rica to see beautiful nests or other natural art. The trees in your school’s playground are full of artistic inspiration that your students can use to unleash their creativity and connect to nature.

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