Thursday, May 5, 2011

Drawing on Student Experts

A classroom visit from a guest speaker is a time-honored way to kick off a project. Ideally, the guest will spark curiosity about the subject in which he or she has expertise. Sometimes, guests are so passionate about their topic that students are similarly infected, in a good way, and ready to dive into an inquiry project.
But how often do we invite students to fill the role of guest expert?
A program called eXpressions, designed and funded by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, taps student expertise with powerful results. The goal of this ambitious effort is to expand the pipeline of students preparing for careers across the health services spectrum, from nursing to research to medicine. A cornerstone of the project is a student research internship during the summer. But that's just the start. What makes eXpressions stand out from other STEM initiatives is the addition of arts and creative writing to the equation. Once summer scholars complete their research, they present their findings to art students--who then take up the challenge of interpreting science through the arts.
I go into more detail in this Edutopia post, but the two images above offer a hint of the creativity that this project is unleashing. At right is summer scholar Charles Hayes's project about patients' experiences with blood transfusions. At left is artist Kate Humphrey's interpretation of that research in an intricately woven piece of wearable art. As she explains in her artist statement, "I almost wanted my dress to seem pained and exhausted from giving and receiving blood so often, like it had been pricked by a cold medical syringe one too many times and was wary from the whole experience."
I'm willing to bet that both students came away with a deep understanding of the related science content, as well as a new appreciation for each other's ways of understanding the world.