This past semester, I participated in a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics ) education project at Morgantown’s North Elementary School. Sponsored by a grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, this project had three primary components, one of which was to create a garden environment for attracting regional birds. My WVU School of Art and Design colleague Joseph Lupo helped the North students use their bird research to create mini comics, while my sculpture students and I focused on designing and building a birdhouse structure.
To begin the birdhouse component of this project, my sculpture students were tasked with creating steel butterflies, flowers, snails, and leaves, which tied into our classroom study of forging, welding, and other metal fabrication techniques. Meanwhile, 4th grade students from North were utilizing their bird research, drawing these creatures onto steel panels with chalk. I took these panels back to our studio and cut them out with a plasma torch, and then these bird panels and my sculpture students’ flora and fauna were cleaned up and painted in multiple bright colors.
I set wooden posts in concrete and built the final birdhouse structure with my friend Aaron Lutz, a WVU forestry program student working at North this year with the AmeriCorps VISTA program. The completed piece contains approximately nine birdhouses, 33 steel bird panels, 33 steel items created by my sculpture students, and a stainless steel nameplate. This project gave my students and I the opportunity to collaborate with students, teachers, and administrators at North in a truly unique manner, and out of the things I did in this amazingly busy school year, this was probably the most enjoyable project to take on.