STEAM Lab | SEAD Exemplars
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Nettrice Gaskins


Culturally Situated Design Tools (RPI): Boston Arts Academy STEAM Tumblr: House music and dancing fractals by Nettrice Gaskins: Coding, Mandalas and OpenGL Shading by Nettrice Gaskins:

Source of Funding

National Science Foundation (RPI) The Barr Foundation (BAA)

Arts, Astronomy, Chemistry, communicate, Computer Science, design, Education, Electronic New Media, engineering, Express, Female, humanities, Individual, Inspire, Math, Music, Physics, science
About This Project

The STEAM Lab is an exemplar that shows how art and cultural engagement increase students’ motivation to further explore the sciences, engineering, technology, and math. Using computer programming, visual art, and music, the lab has successfully engaged minority students with the STEM fields through interdisciplinary projects that look at cultural artifacts, such as quilt patterns, from the perspective of math and science. This project presents a novel educational practice. STEAM Lab proves to educational institutions that STEM learning can become more attractive and accessible to students through art, design, and cultural relevance.

From the Nominee:

Though a world leader in STEM, several studies indicate that the United States is not producing enough scientists, engineers, mathematicians and other technically skilled workers. Contributing to this problem is the low representation of minorities in STEM disciplines. A 2008 study by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. found that ethnic minorities earned only 12 percent of all undergraduate degrees in engineering. Thus, in order to ease and eventually eradicate this crisis over the long run, educational institutions on all levels must make STEM learning more attractive and accessible to underrepresented minorities. Sociocultural context can be a significant determinant of what students value and want to accomplish, the types of challenges they face, and the resources they can access.

Through arts and cultural engagement we have been able to increase students’ motivation to further explore STEM. Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) developed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) help students learn computer science and math principles as they simulate cultural artifacts such as cosmograms, and develop their own creations. Seeing Algorithms builds on this work by allowing students to computationally make quilts using algorithmic patterns from different cultures.

The Home: The Bacteria Project created a computer game to simulate different processes of the human body, to allow players to learn about how microbes help people digest their food, protect them from dangerous germs, and help their bodies fight disease. All three projects explored Afrofuturism, which is an emerging and evolving cultural and artistic practice that helps artists re-contextualize and synthesize the past, present and future. This includes artists such as Nettrice Gaskins, John Oluwole Adekoje, Barrington Edwards, Xenobia Bailey, Saya Woolfalk, and Sanford Biggers; and Dr. Gaskins’ students from Boston Arts Academy, the city’s only public high school for the visual and performing arts.