Coding and art inspire STEM students – School News Network

West Middle School’s art and STEM classes collaborated to learn how to build simple machines, with artwork-inspired design and decor.

Byron Center — West Middle School art and STEM students recently joined forces to create simple machines inspired by paintings.

Janine Campbell’s art students formed small groups with their peers from STEM teacher Trent Veldhouse’s classes and all received the same instructions and materials to make automata. The cardboard creations allowed students to explore simple mechanical elements, such as cams and levers, while creating a moving sculpture.

Each group chose artwork from a Scholastic Arts magazine to influence their creations. For example, one group made a three-tiered cupcake and a plate of playdough cupcakes, based on a painting by artist Wayne Thiebaud, known for his colorful depictions of everyday objects like pastries and desserts. Another duo said they chose a photograph of an elephant to reproduce because they really loved elephants.

Campbell said this is his third year teaching art and STEM students how to create automata.

West Middle School art teacher Janine Campbell guides her student in building an automaton machine

“We want students to understand the mechanics behind creating simple machines as well as how to interpret a work of art in a different medium,” she said. “It’s also a really fun, challenging and engaging way to collaborate and solve problems in our classes.”

Inside her group’s bakery-inspired machine, eighth-grader Quinn Middleton said they used cardboard circles for the cam and cam followers — the circular or oval-shaped parts rotating in a linear movement to create the desired effect – and thin wooden dowels for the axle and handle.

“The cam moves it up and down, like gears, but they don’t fit together,” she said. “The cam followers rotate and hit the cams to move the characters up and down.”

Several students reported learning that the oval-shaped cam made their characters spin higher and the circle-shaped cam spun faster.

An art and STEM collaboration

“This project demonstrates coding in a different way for students and connects art and STEM standards throughout the process,” Campbell said. “Students must use the cams and cam followers to code their machines so that they move the way they designed it to move.”

For their decorations, eighth-grader Cora Ball said she twisted different colored wires together to make it look like the machine was covered in icing.

Seventh grader Josie Spykerman added, “The art is in the decorating and the STEM is in the cams. The art is the fun part because it makes it look cool.

During the final showcase, art and STEM students presented their completed automata as well as the artwork that served as their muse.

Seventh-grader Brylee DeMaargd said her group chose Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with a Monkey” because of the details in the painting.

“We used plastic discs that Mr. Veldhouse had in his classroom to move Frida’s head and her little monkey up and down,” she explained. “We made both with playdough.”

Veldhouse said the project and final presentation were the result of great collaboration between the art classes and STEM classes.

“Our goal was for students to understand the concepts of cranks and cams working together to achieve a common motion,” he said. “They also learn about different artists and learn how to turn art into simple machines.”

Find out more about Byron Center:
History class becomes a travel fair, with tasty dishes
Young ‘makers’ create handmade games to help STEM lessons stick