Leadership magazine May/June 2018 V47 No. 5 | Page 33

cilitator . She beams at them from the side of the room , clasps her hands in front of her , and asks for attention . She already has it .
The session is held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art , more commonly known as LACMA , the largest visual art museum west of the Mississippi and a jewel in the crown of art museums throughout the world .
The facilitator directs the group ’ s attention to the photograph she has projected . As the lights dim , the image becomes clear . It ’ s a huge , granite rock . Huge , as in the size of a trash truck . At 680,000 pounds , this “ Levitated Mass ” sits atop a polished concrete trench on LACMA ’ s campus , not exactly levitated as in the magical sense , but supported by concrete and steel shelving .
Some participants express doubt about its artistic value , while others find exquisite beauty in this chunk of desert landscape set within this ultimate urban setting .
The rock was famously hauled by transport truck through 22 cities and four counties , attended by crowds of admirers , critics , the just plain curious , and of course , the media – this is Los Angeles , after all .
Now the lesson begins .
Levitated Mass
The lesson is built around the environmental sculpture and the substantial engineering effort required to move and install this megalith centerpiece . Participants are provided a brief overview of the rock ’ s 11- day journey from the desert and the structural challenges faced – and compromises made – to safely position it to allow viewers to walk beneath it , while retaining the intended aesthetics .
The participants are encouraged to work with a partner to discuss what they see , wonder , and think about the elements of construction of Levitated Mass both as an engineered structure and as a work of art .
From brief discussion , three essential questions emerge to guide the upcoming activity : What role does geometry have in creating a structure that can support a weight ? Can this structure be aesthetically pleasing as well as strong ? Can the elements of art and principles of design be incorporated into an environmental sculpture / big rock ?
Educating students in the arts through single-subject application and also through integration with other content areas opens doors to learning for students who have previously lacked access
With these questions , the group has begun the approach that grounds much of STEAM education , the engineering design process . The problem has been defined , and questions have been asked . Next , in teams of three , they move through the cycle , using their knowledge of geometric shapes to sketch a design for a structure made of popsicle sticks , tape and glue that will support two rocks in two separate trials , one the size of a baseball and a heavier softball-sized rock .
If the structure cannot support the first , re-design is required . Structures that support the first are tested with the second , heavier rock . A scale for determining weight sits on the cart near the rocks .
As the participants work through the lesson , drawings are produced , measurements taken , and data entered into charts amid chatter , laughter and focused problem solving . It is not a quiet activity . Rocks clatter on the cart as structures cave in and groans are heard .
Revisions are made . Now there are cheers , fists are tapped , and high fives exchanged as structures stuck together with glue and tape hold the first , then the second rock .
As the afternoon activity winds down , the workshop leader allocates time for clean-up and reflection . They return to the essential questions , and most agree that the triangle provided the greatest support , that it was very difficult to create anything aesthetically pleasing given their supplies , and that given the lack of drying time , the wood glue was useless .
There was agreement that shape , line , color , texture , form and balance were clearly apparent in both Levitated Mass and the rocks they had used , and ultimately , these works of nature were indeed works of art .
A participant asks , “ Is this a STEAM activity ?” – meaning the intersection of science technology , engineering , art and math concepts . Opinions are solicited , and there are those who say “ no ” because there is no clear use of technology .
Questions arise : Does technology have to be present ? Is the science the engineering ? How can we be sure to cover all five areas ? Does STEAM learning require all five areas be integrated ?
There are no clear answers , not in this workshop nor in the educational community at large . What is agreed upon is that STEAM lessons must be built upon educational standards , whether two , three or five of the disciplines are addressed . For “ Levitated Mass ” to be a true STEAM lesson , authentically aligned grade-level standards must be taught and assessed . That can come later – today , we ’ re just getting started .
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