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Blending art and science through maker activities

Exploring how a maker activity centered around the Moomins was received by children.
Hi, my name is Jackie Marsh, and today I want to talk to you about a research project undertaken by the University of Sheffield in which STEM learning was integrated with the arts. We felt that that approach was the most appropriate for children in the early years and primary phases of schooling. STEAM, as it is known, can be highly effective in offering children opportunities to become excited about STEM subjects. In the project that I’m going to share today, children at Clifford All Saints Primary School in Sheffield undertook a series of activities based on the Moomin stories. If you’re not familiar with those, that’s a series of wonderful stories written by the Swedish-speaking Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson.
The project began with a visit by a travelling theatre company, called Get Lost and Found, and they shared some magical Moomin stories with the children. The actors introduced children to some of the key characters and themes during this performance. The children then learned about Finland from one of the parents at the school, who was herself Finnish. She arranged for the class to talk to children from a Finnish school via WhatsApp video, so they could explore the country in further detail and ask any questions they had about the Moomin stories, and about the author. In one of the first activities in this project, the children were asked to draw some of the Moomin characters.
And then, a local maker, James Wallbank - who you’ll meet later in the course - then laser cut the children’s drawings at his workshop, so that their 2D drawings became three dimensional wooden figures. These wooden figures were then the star puppets in shoebox theatres that the children designed and created. The children learned about electrical circuits as they built their Moomin shows. These stage lights provided a backdrop for the children’s plays. So these activities developed scientific knowledge, as well as developing children’s design, drawing, and making skills. However, traditional literacy practices weren’t forgotten, as children wrote play scripts for their theatres.
And they then used these play scripts to give a performance for parents, who were amazed by the skills demonstrated by their children. So this theme of material transformation was sustained when the children, in the final set of related activities, created a clay Moomin figure. They then used a scanner app, Qlone, to make 3D digital models of their characters. The digital file was then sent to a 3D printer, and the children were delighted to see their 3D printed figures. So here, you can see the clay and 3D printed figures alongside each other. Children then created short animations, using both the clay and the 3D printed figures. And they learned a lot about the properties of the different materials in the process.
So, for example, ears and eyes fell off the clay models, whereas the 3D printed models were pristine at the end of the filming. The digital files of the 3D printed figures were then imported into a virtual reality drawing app, which was Google’s Tilt Brush. So the children then put on a VR headset and created a virtual Moomin wonderland around their Moomin character. So this screenshot provides an idea of the end result. But, of course, it doesn’t give you that sense of full immersion that the children had in their VR Moomin worlds. So as they literally stood in the centre of them, they thought they were absolutely magical.
So to conclude, this rich programme of work involved learning across a range of subjects. But it also enhanced children’s digital literacy skills, which, as we know, are so important for future development in the 21st century. And the seamless blending of science and art in this project created so many opportunities for holistic learning and ensured that children were enthused about engaging in future STEM projects.

Making provides an excellent opportunity to link science and other STEM areas (technology, engineering and maths) with art disciplines to support creativity and promote creative thinking. Increasingly we are seeing the term STEAM replace STEM as this approach is adopted more widely.

As we heard in the video with Professor Tony Ryan during the previous step, combining the arts with science can lead to some exciting and transformational possibilities.

In this video, Professor Jackie Marsh talks us through a maker project in a primary school that combines a range of subjects including theatre, literature and storytelling with material science, electronics and technologies including 3D printing, laser cutting and virtual reality.

This project highlights the rich cross curricular engagement opportunities for children through STEAM and making.

Share in the comments your ideas for integrating arts and creative practices into science and other STEM areas.

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Makerspaces for Creative Learning

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