Robots, Bookmarks, and Guitars, Oh My! Fusing Art and Design into an Upper-Elementary Electricity Unit

By Maguire, Cindy; Kang, Emily J. S. et al. | Science and Children, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Robots, Bookmarks, and Guitars, Oh My! Fusing Art and Design into an Upper-Elementary Electricity Unit


Maguire, Cindy, Kang, Emily J. S., Hogan, Tracy, McCarthy, Mary Jean, Science and Children


In a rapidly changing world, it is important that we educate well-rounded global citizens who have the imagination and skills to conquer new challenges. The A in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) integrates Art + Design, sparking the creative interplay between convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is associated with "solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer," whereas divergent thinking "leads to no agreed upon solution" (Csikszentmihalyi 1996, p. 60). Divergent thinking is often associated with creativity. Yet the ability to discern and choose across a range of quality, creative ideas necessarily involves convergent thinking. Both are valued in a STEAM approach. Art + Design has emerged as a critical component to transforming our education system and economy in the 21st century, fostering such skills such as creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, and problem-solving (Starko 2014). Incorporating STEAM curriculum into in-school and after-school programming is in line with the new National Core Arts Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It promotes deeper understanding and the transfer of knowledge across all of these subjects (Starko 2014). The arts also increase motivation levels and attendance rates with at-risk students (Catterall, Dumais, and Hampden-Thompson 2012).

In this article, we present three STEAM projects integrating all five disciplines within the context of a fourth-grade electricity unit. Design, engineering, and scientific practices are at the forefront as teachers and students learn together and space is created for directed and nondirected learning and experimentation. In addition to meeting the NGSS (see Connecting to the Next Generation Science Standards, p. 75), the projects also address the process standards found in the new National Core Arts Standards and Common Core math. These include processes such as imagining, investigating, constructing, and reflecting. Moreover, when students work collaboratively, they foster essential science discourse and communication skills.

Specifically, the projects all center on energy (see Table 1). Thus, a teacher might consider introducing each project at different points within a unit on electricity. The first project focuses on how to incorporate a simple circuit (i.e., a battery, wires, and motor) into a moving robot. Through the next project, students construct a circuit with an LED light. The final project demonstrates the transformation of energy from one form to another (chemical to mechanical to vibrational) to generate sound. The projects seek to engage students in such a way that they make links between the science concepts of electrical circuits and design products. The concepts that are shared across each project include the importance of design thinking, form, function, prototyping, and the fostering of creativity as a means of addressing a variety of standards cutting across the STEAM disciplines.

STEAM Projects Overview

In each project, students create a simple circuit using analog and digital technology through the engineering design process: Students test and redesign components to build their projects. They solve problems, work collaboratively with peers, and communicate ideas. Each project allows for the possibility of extending the lessons into more complex applications. Each project can spur curiosity and deepen knowledge around the concept of electricity and the multitude of outcomes that can occur within an electrical environment, while asking students to engage in the design process.

Doodle Bots

Our first project, the Doodle Bot, is a low-tech robot that can be made from found objects and recycled materials put together using tape, glue, or glue guns. We begin with Doodle Bots because the processes and the resulting product (the Doodle Bots and drawings) provide a hands-on process for an introduction to circuits and a final product that engages and motivates the students for further learning. …

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