I have been using STEAM long before it had a name. All lessons I teach have some tie-in to core content, some more than others. This happens to be an example of a lot more. Every year I do one sculpture project that requires some amount of biological research. I find that organic forms can allow students to be looser with their work. When a portrait is "wrong," it's obvious, but when I leaf or tree is a bit "off," it still looks like the organic form that was intended. Often I focus on plankton, viruses, or microbes, but this year we focused on pollen and seeds.
Students began with some writing. They wrote down their cultural origins--Irish, German, Native American, etc. They also listed their birth date. We took this information to the library and researched what flowers coordinated with their birth month, some birth days were associated with specific flowers too, and most countries have a national flower. With these in hand, students researched image databases to discover what the pollen and seeds of those flowers looked like on a microscopic level. They took note of the ones they felt were most interesting, and printed them out as references.
We looked at the forms and students tried to determine the best materials to use in building their models. Some used cardboard, some foil, others paper, another used wire to engineer an armature to be both strong enough to hold materials, and be light enough to remain portable. Students had to create a labeled x-ray sketch before they could begin with actual materials. Once this was approved by the teacher, they were able to set up their workspace and begin to gather materials.
Most students chose to work with plaster over their forms. One worked with raw foil. We also used hand mixed plaster powder in these sculptures in new ways. Most students used a thin layer of liquid plaster to smooth their plaster bandage forms. Texture was something to consider. We discovered that if we put plaster into small bottles, it could be dispensed onto a dry plastered surface to add additional texture. This applied texture sets up very fast and worked very well. The only problem was that the bottle had to be filled with water and flushed out into a bucket every 10 minutes so it would not harden in the bottle and ruin it. We used fabric paint bottles, the kind used for puffy paint worked best.
When forms were near complete, we had had additional discussions. I made it clear that these were not to become clinical models, but works of art. Art, by definition needs to be expressive. So they had to find a way to connect themselves to the work they were making. I also stressed that we would be adding layers of embellishment. They could use colors from the flag(s) of their countries of cultural origin, colors associated with their birth month, or colors that expressed their own emotional values. (Detailed in my book, "The Emotional Color Wheel.") This ensured that colors are not arbitrary and are based on specific choices. I let them know that when we grade the projects, they need to explain their choices, and that the worst possible answer would be, "'Cause I like it." Even if they do like it, choices need to be based on expressive decisions they could explain that also follow their sketching and writing process. They were allowed to make broad deviations when they shared their thought processes.
As the project neared completion, students completed a critiquing form for their own work, and the work of a neighbor. They shared their information and were allowed an additional day to complete work in light of the critiques. Students shared their successes and struggles with the process, and as you can see, ended with some very interesting works of biologically inspired sculpture with a personal twist.