Gearing up for STEAM at Montgomery College

I am super excited about the increasing support I am receiving to pursue STEAM initiatives. My colleague and collaborator, Rita Kranidis, of Montgomery College (MD) has invited me to help plan and participate in a Global Humanities/STEAM initiative at the Montgomery College campus.  For the past two years, the Global Humanities Institute at Montgomery College has run a professional development day centered on interdisciplinary conversations. The theme changes each year. One year it was “STEAMED Rice”, a discussion of Global Food.  The next year, it was “STEAM Cleaned”, a discussion of the Global Garment Industry. This year (2017), the workshop will be focused on water. (We are thinking of calling it STEAM Boat”, a discussion of Global Water issues. Next year is also The Year of India, so many conversations will focus on India’s role on the world stage, and India’s role in water (safety, distribution, global navigation etc).  Students from Northern Virginia Community College have been recruited by Art professors to create Art around the topic of water. Their art will complement the discussions at Montgomery College.  This looks to be an insightful, thoughtful event. I’m super excited about it!  Moreover, there are about 10 slots for our own NOVA faculty to attend!  If you are a NOVA faculty, be sure to let me know of your interest, and I’ll send you further information about the date, time, and location.


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Attend a Theater Event (with music!) on STEM issues!

STEAM Events in the Washington D.C. Region

Cultural Programs of the NAS is collaborating with The New Theater of Medicine (TNTM) to present a reading with music of Jeffrey Allen Steiger’s Tangles. The story, told through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl, Tyler, follows her family as they try to come to terms with their evolving roles as caregivers for an aging relative and as navigators of a complex health care system. Tangles will be followed by a discussion focused on finding creative solutions and new paths of empowerment for patients, providers, and families.

The ensemble of actors and musicians are professionals from top theaters throughout the Washington, D.C. region. The performance is directed by TNTM Artistic Director Jeffrey Steiger, who wrote the play and music, with program direction and dramaturgy by Charles Samenow, M.D., M.P.H. It features KashiTara Barrett, Jenny Donovan, James Konicek, and Gloria Makino. Music is directed and arranged by Nathan Blustein, and performed by Blustein on piano; Linda Bard on cello; and Steiger on guitar and ukulele.

Through the collaboration between a theater artist and a physician, TNTM seeks to advance and improve health care through innovative theater, inspired by the real world of medicine. TNTM combines the creative elements of professional theater with the rigorous standards of medical education to create unique theatrical pieces that critically examine the culture, dynamics, and practice of health care through both the lens of the patient and the provider.

Event Details:

NAS Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.
Monday, October 24, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Free. Photo ID and reservations required. Reservations:


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Collaborations make the world go ’round!



Multi-ethnic businesspeople at meeting. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 7 Oct 2016.

Now that we’re well into the semester here in the U.S., it’s easy to lose sight of the wonderful lofty goals we set for ourselves at the outset of the semester. Tedium, routine, and the pressure of covering material in increasingly shrinking time periods makes it difficult to re-awaken the creative spirit. I am thankful for the collaborations I have with other faculty to help me maintain my focus and outlook. It helps prevent me from getting too much “tunnel vision”, and keeps me looking outward, thinking outside the box.

In particular, this semester I have embarked on an intercollegiate collaboration with a colleague from another community college in my region. She and I met at a summer conference (the SENCER Summer Institute, several summers ago. This summer conference focuses on encouraging civic engagement with our STEM education.  My colleague heads a Global Humanities Institute at her college with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, to encourage globalization of the Humanities disciplines. Her efforts encourage faculty to explore ways to foster curriculum development that favors global education. At the same time, at my community college, I was developing our in-house faculty development on incorporating Art into STEM with our STEM to STEAM initiative.  We realized that we actually had a lot in common. I wanted to reach across to my humanities (and specifically art colleagues), and she wanted to reach across to merge STEM faculty, with humanities faculty in the pursuit of global education curriculum development. This past summer, we met again at the SENCER Summer Institute and decided to collaborate our efforts in the hopes that we could use the benefits of each other’s strengths to further encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, and incorporate Art into the STEM disciplines even more, perhaps with more confidence and commitment.

Thus, a first regional collaboration of STEM to STEAM has been born across two states, at two community colleges. Currently, we are working together to create a faculty professional development workshop in the Spring of 2017 that will focus on the global theme of WATER. We intend to have round table discussions at a half day discussion around various subtopic pertaining to water. At each table will be a facilitator from a humantiies discipline, and one from a STEM discipline. The other table members will be a diverse group of faculty with expertise across all disciplines. This year, we are also soliciting student ART depicting water as part of this special faculty development opportunity. I am very excited about where this workshop may lead. We are hoping it will generate ideas that faculty can immediately put to use in their classrooms to both increase the global perspective, and to increase the cross-collaborative nature of learning across disciplines. I mean really: why NOT include Art in your science class? or poetry? why NOT include math in your English class? Seems like a win-win to me!


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For this Academic Year, consider teaching students HOW to learn

At our college, a 2-yr community college outside of Washington D.C., our students often come to college classes unprepared. And not just in the “I didn’t do the reading” sense.  Generally, students are underprepared with the skills they need to be successful — skills like HOW to read to the textbook (especially a science textbook), HOW to study for a multiple chapter exam, and even how to take notes. Many students have trouble sequencing events, and understanding the level of detail required to truly understand a concept. Perhaps you have noticed these lapses in students you teach? Now, I am a firm believer that ALL students CAN succeed, regardless of their background and position in society. I also firmly believe that education is THE way to assure upward economic and social mobility, at least in this westernized, fast-paced country. If you cannot make smart decisions, assess your strengths and weaknesses, communicate with people, and know enough about yourself to know what it is you do and don’t understand, then Life is going to be hard.  It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is!

My answer: (And mind you, this is still a work in progress) is to teach students how to learn through introducing them to concepts of metacognition.  For this, I highly recommend the book “Teach Students how to Learn” by Dr. Saundra McGuire, a Chemistry faculty emeritus from Louisiana State University (LSU) Dr. McGuire presents compelling research and user-friendly ways to reach students to teach them about what they know and don’t know.  It’s an easy read.  It isn’t overly preachy and it isn’t too intellectually stiff and academic.  I decided to engage some of her ideas with my students, after the first exam. The first exam is usually terrible. Students are faced with perhaps the lowest grade of their lives and aren’t sure what happened or how to fix it. I seize this opportunity (while they are feeling vulnerable and yet still idealistic about their ability to succeed) to give a 10-minute talk to define METACOGNITION, the ability to identify what it is you know and don’t know. Of everything I presented to students last semester, that 10-minute presentation was the most memorable.

So, I challenge you to do the same. Check out this book. Read it. Then incorporate the ideas into a short presentation to your students. It doesn’t matter what topic you are teaching, or whether you are teaching Science, Math, art, English, History, Music, Psychology or Sociology.  One of the keys of being successful is being AWARE of your own cognition, and that crosses all disciplines.

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Hints for the new semester: Teach Students How to Learn

Welcome to another academic year! I teach at a large 2-year community college outside of Washington D.C. I find that many of my students are not prepared for college work. I’m not talking about not being prepared for class, as in not having the textbook, or not taking notes (though that happens too) but understanding HOW to read the textbook, HOW to take notes, and HOW to study for a multi-chapter exam. Do you have this problem?

I’ve heard all the typical excuses we make for students, how we try to rationalize why their study skills are so weak. But the fact remains: they are in our classes now, and we need to help them succeed.

I am, after all, one of many educators who believes that education is THE path to economic and social upward mobility, at least in this fast-paced, competitive, capitalist Western culture.  And when I say “education”, that is really Education with a capital E.  An Educated person is not just filled with content. An Educated person knows how to figure out what they do and don’t know, how to communicate effectively, how to get to work on time, how to solve problems, and how to identify proper resources and information. I’m sure that there are other skills and values. Feel free to share them with me.

So, what’s the answer?  Well, I’m sure that no one approach fits all situations or students. I’m just going to share one strategy that worked for me. I recommend reading “Teach Students How to Learn” by Dr. Saundra McGuire, a Chemistry professor (emeritus) from Louisiana State University (LSU). Her book is easy to read and contains lots of useful tidbits, as well as specific research citations to back up her claims. Her premise is that students are never taught HOW to learn.  They suffer academically because they are not self-aware.  They don’t realize what they are doing to study doesn’t yield results. They aren’t self-reflective, instead preferring to throw around external excuses.  She discusses the art of Metacognition, the ability to know what it is you know and what it is you don’t.  Dr. McGuire proposes that we need to teach students HOW to learn. We need to present them with strategies to encourage them to be self-reflective.

Typically, students do very poorly on the first exam.  This is a good time to have them do some self-reflection.  At this point, when they are feeling vulnerable, but still have a whole semester ahead of them, I took 10 minutes of classtime to discuss the definition and application of metacognition.  Of all the presentations I did last semester, the metacognition session was the one that students remembered. Plus, the skills of metacognition aren’t specific to one discipline. Professors in chemistry, geography, English, math, history, art, music and others can ALL use this information to help our students learn what it is they know and don’t know.  I’m more and more convinced that academic success is tied to habits of mind more than pure I.Q.  You don’t have to be smart IN school, you have to be smart AT school.

Try it. Read the book. And coach your students on how to think. And good luck!


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STEAM is billowing!

image1Greetings from Chicago, where I am at the SSI2016 conference. What is SSI? It stands for SENCER Summer Institute, a summer conference designed for undergraduate professors to discuss how to make their science courses more engaging, and relevant.  SENCER (Science Engagement for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities) is a community of professors who are committed to cross-disciplinary intentionality in their science classes. Science is, after all, a way of knowing  and is very important for all our citizens to have a working knowledge of.  And part of the large questions that we struggle with today requires a strong scientific foundation. And this year, one of the themes is integrating humanities and science.  Because again, today’s major issues require a strong foundation in…..economics, politics, social science, geography, and communication (both written and oral).  And Science. My challenge to you is to find a way to incorporate humanities, ANY humanities into your science classes, and to incorporate science, ANY science, into your humanities courses.

And if you aren’t teaching, my challenge to you is to name an issue and then dissect the issue into the various components that make that issue compelling….let’s talk Water for example. Did you know that over 2 million (or is it billion?) people don’t have access to this precious, life-giving resource? And it is getting scarcer. With depletion of aquifers for agriculture, and the inevitable climate change, water is quickly becoming a commodity.  Also, we need CLEAN water to drink. Not to waste. How do we solve the problem of having enough water for everyone? It’s about engineering, geology, biology, chemistry, physics, economics, geography, politics, even religion and social norms. Other issues you might consider are things like the Economics of Food, the rise of Cancer in the Western World, and others.

We are living in a multidisciplinary world. Isn’t it time we recognized that in our educational system?


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Scientists and Artists: More Alike than Different

I don’t do science. I’m an English major. I like art. Science is too hard. Heard these things before? Well, it now seems that excuse is unfounded. Check it out.

What do you think? Is your brain hardwired to EITHER do Art OR Science? Or is there an overlap? Are Artists really scientists and scientists really artists?

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STEM to STEAM: Where is it happening? What is it?  SteamHi! Welcome to Northern Virginia Community College’s STEAM forum. What is STEAM you ask? SteAm stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, ART and Mathematics. Our goal is to integrate Art into the STEM disciplines. This work is supported in part by a grant from SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities), and has so far resulted in 2 Honors student independent study courses, 3 poster sessions, 2 presentations, and 2 faculty workshops. Are you interested in the initiative? We are going to use this blog to showcase STEAM initiatives both at NOVA and elsewhere, and to provide a forum to discuss various STEAM projects. We also wish to use this site to collect the names of interested faculty mentors. For this purpose of this blog, you should be an adjunct or full-time faculty mentor at Northern Virginia Community College in any of the following disciplines:
Environmental Science
Visual Arts
Performing Arts
Creative Arts
All campus affiliations are welcome!

Join us!

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