Monday, September 10, 2012

Art Aliens Invade! or, How a craft program accidentally becomes a STEAM program

The assortment of things shown below this paragraph may look to you like nothing but space junk. Last week at the library, however, these random recycled bits made up our craft supplies for Art Attacks! The scenario: aliens are landing at the library. The mission: use the materials on hand to create models of aliens.

After my brief introduction of the scenario, the open art time began. School-age children and a few younger siblings scoured the supply tables to find the perfect pieces for their alien creations. Most of the craft supplies were recycled things--tin cans, plastic bottle caps, film canisters, and the like. There's this little shop in my county called Leftovers, and they have rows and rows of donated recycled things that are perfect for craft supplies; a brown paper grocery sack full of items is $8. I added some chenille sticks, pom poms, and googly eyes from our library craft cupboard, and then the alien parts tables were ready.

Attendees spent about 45 minutes assembling their various aliens. Craft glue didn't work on all of the materials, so a teen volunteer and I broke out the hot glue guns--that did the trick. Pretty soon aliens were taking shape left and right, with some children making multiple specimens while others focused their full attention on a single creature.

I noticed that the kiddos were putting the finishing touches on their creatures with about 10 minutes still left in the program--and not wanting the program to go short when everyone was so engrossed, I asked everyone to sit in a circle with their creations. The children introduced their alien/s, and then I started asking some broad questions about the aliens' anatomies. How did the aliens move around? Did they have feet? Most did, but two hovered without feet. How did the aliens navigate the world around them? All the creatures had eyes (such is the appeal of googly eyes in craft programs), but there were only a smattering of noses and ears.

What ensued for the final few minutes of our program, then, was a discussion about how body parts have functions--and by looking at what parts make up a creature like a dolphin or a cat or even an alien, you can tell things about how and where that creature lives. Through this discussion, we "discovered" that all our aliens came from only two planets: one where sound was very faint so the creatures' ears needed to be large or antenna-like, and one similar to Earth but with more hovering. And that's how this simple, labor-light program ended up having a really strong science bent. Not only did children create aliens, they got to reason through why their aliens looked the way they did.

Art Attacks! turned out to be a full-blown STEAM program--STEM plus "A" for arts--a term I first heard at ALA Annual in Anaheim. After seeing the huge success of this program, I'm going to think about more ways I can deliberately incorporate free art/creation time with simple STEM concepts in order to offer more STEAM programs at my branch.

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