So many of my students are doing exciting work these days that could be categorized as STEAM-based; education inspired by intersections of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. They are interested in maker culture, functional folks art traditions, and D.I.Y. aesthetics. I’m naturally drawn to their ideas as so many fall outside the traditional bounds of our field. In the very the near future I hope to share more thoughts and resources on this topic. Today I have a few new picturebooks to share that capture the spirit of the maker movement and STEAM-based education.
The Most Magnificent Thing (Spires, 2014) is a story about tinkering, a popular concept amongst the Maker/STEAM set. It refers to acts of thinking with your hands in order to come up with new (to you) ideas, understandings, and, sometimes, magnificent things. In this book a girl and her dog set out to make just such a thing but they hit some bumps along the way. While unhappy with her initial attempts, the girl keeps trying until she finally comes up with a good enough version of her vision. It is, as we say in our house about imperfect projects, full of charm. It shows the mark of her hands and evidence of efforts she went through to create it. This is a great book to inspire imaginative play with found materials and to encourage perseverance in the face of “mistakes.”
Art educators who work with students around 9 years old and older often struggle to get them to try work through challenges they face in the studio. By this age kids have started to develop a sense of who is “good and art” and who isn’t. Two books by author/illustrator Peter Reynolds have been widely used over the past decade to encourage all students to see themselves as capable artists – Ish (2004) and The Dot (2003). Both books present definitions of what counts as art that defy traditional, representational definitions. They speak to the intention of invention and experimentation of artists; to a love of observation and media exploration.
Reynold’s latest title Going Places (2014) takes this concept one step further and challenges readers to consider new ways of approaching projects that seem to have finite conclusions. It is an invitation to question the rules and think differently. In the end, the main characters work together to come up with an idea better than either could have come up with on their own. The book reads like a PSA for The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization which promotes creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration as key skills for living and working in society today. (While I thought this was merely a coincidence, it turns out there is a real connection between the two.) All too often picturebooks written with a particular message in mind are dull and boring but Reynolds has proven, once again, that it is possible to capture our hearts and minds all at once.