Distinctly Downtown: Illuminating Education at Akron’s Center for STEM Learning

Students linger outside Julie Hogarth’s classroom after the school day has ended. They are eager to get started on their after school project here at Akron’s Center for STEM Learning. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. Hogarth doesn’t teach any of these subjects though, she is an art teacher.

The goal of STEM schools is to teach students how to think critically in order to solve real world problems. An outsider then might wonder what role an art teacher plays at a school with a focus on STEM. Hogarth says that the STEM based learning approach isn’t, “just having problem based learning, but it’s so much more. It’s those 21st century skills. It’s cooperation; it’s that creative side of the kid too. It’s being able to work as a group and collaborate.”

The art projects Hogarth leads the students in accomplishes these things and more. She and her students take abstract ideas and apply the STEM principles to bring them into the real world. Often times these projects also aim to contribute to community needs.

For instance, one recent project Hogarth and her students developed are functional decorations for Downtown Akron events. They created solar powered light sculptures, which they called luminaries, to light the way during Downtown events like First Night Akron and the Akron Artwalk. Hogarth says the original idea was to create lighted cubes, but “we could buy those, and we wanted to be more creative.” That alongside the problem of parked cars being able to block the cubes led to them developing the ideas for the stands. From there she and her students experimented with materials from galvanized tubes to pantyhose. Hogarth says this project is an example of the “entire design process which is what we do in art, but they do that in engineering too. You sketch, you come up with your idea, you try it, you rework it, you go back and redesign.” The results were 15 five- foot floral sculptures that can run off solar or battery power and will mark destinations for Downtown Akron events.  Image

Schools like Akron’s Center for STEM Learning and others are leading the way when it comes to getting more young people involved in the sciences in America. More support is coming from Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds Initiative. The projects goal is to improve perception and participation in the STEM related fields. They do this through PSA announcements, community involvement, and grants that sponsor projects like the luminaries.

By introducing creative and hands on learning into the classroom, Hogarth, teachers like her, and businesses are showing the young students of today that the STEM related fields aren’t dry and boring subjects. In addition these students are realizing that STEM related fields can not only benefit them but those around them in the community.

By: Michael Crossland
DAP intern

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