Our deepest thoughts

my unconventional journey towards art

Aug 26, 2016   written by John Lamerand
I had thought that art students were not serious about making a difference in the world. By a strange twist of events I found myself “doing a 180”. I started a career in STEM and found myself in a career in STEAM.

At high school I’d dabbled with tech pens, entered the odd design competition and won a few, but it was nothing serious.

Earning real money from graphic design was so far from my mind that I enrolled in engineering and my first job, in 1987, was to redraw mine designs that were in imperial measurements into a metric format. I’d been toying with CAD for a couple of years by then but in 1985 just designing a printed circuit board was a big deal. Well, it was for a fifteen year old. When the board went into production and the mine maps were pressed into service the thrill of designing something practical set in.

Despite having Fortran shoved down my throat I knew that the way to create exciting graphics was through writing code. I taught myself Lisp on an Indigo and found a lab on campus that had Quark.

It was learning how to use Quark that really started to make a difference. Suddenly I no longer had to work out the maths in order to draw something. So engrossed was I in Quark that I started skipping lectures.

The slide continued as I changed courses so I could spend more time with crystallography. The studies in geology also required a trained imagination to join the dots in the available data. Back in the 80s geos used Derwents, with each Derwent colour having a specific geological meaning.

Before I completed my science studies I insisted that I be allowed to enrol in photography. The Discipline Head resisted but I kept pushing. The pushing was making waves but I did not care. Things were coming to a head. When the Head relented it was as though a floodgate had been breached. I spent night after night developing film, catching, photographing and releasing animals.

Then my photography lecturer told me that my work was “boring”. I met the challenge by going all out – doubling my efforts and really pushing some boundaries. I would not say that I got arrested because no charges were laid, but let’s just say the local police took a keen interest in a perceived threat to local koalas. Sadly the photographs from that session were confiscated as evidence.

But I did not back down. I got hold of a big lizard, chilled it in the fridge, starched some jeans and underwear and did a new shoot with a rather angry animal coming out of the clothing. When the photo was used nationally by a clothing brand the Head of Geology declared in the local rag that I was an example to other students who wanted to pursue their passions and become well-rounded scientists.

That image was the key to a career in commercial photography, illustration and web design.

From time to time I also picked up rocks for money. Sometimes I photographed them, but I was always grateful for the opportunity to “go bush” at someone else’s expense, with a 4WD, a camera, a fridge and a sometimes foolish desire to catch, chill, shoot and release the wild animals around me.

Le dernier cri

Aug 8, 2016   written by John Lamerand

Some people see STEM as the latest fashion in teaching. They are right and they are wrong.

“The last cry” in teaching should be balance and by focusing narrowly on STEM we run the risk of providing an incomplete education. The same goes for the so-called “common core”. 

So what to do about the latest fashion in science and maths education?

We should encourage students to see the creative aspects in science and maths, and for that reason we favour the use of STEAM (with Arts) over STEM. What we are wary of, however, is that in rushing onto the bandwagon every teacher is trying to incorporate STEAM or STEM in some way. The result is often little more than a nod in the direction of this trend. 

A policy analyst in our government sees a laptop and a SPRK and says “That’s it, that is what we will do to satisfy schools’ cravings for something new”. Of course, we understand at the school level, that the last thing we want is yet another set of guidelines and subject names to come to grips with. The last thing we want is massive spending on tools that are next to useless without professional training.

Toys look good in photo opportunities and it is comforting for newspapers to report on what our state is doing (read spending) to bring education into the 21st Century.

What we need, more than anything else, is an understanding that the subjects that we grew up with still matter. History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Geology, Maths, English, LOTE, Fine Art, Drama – these subjects still matter no matter what we call them.

The danger is, if we treat STEAM as a fashion trend, that we will miss a great opportunity to teach and enthuse our students and we may continue to experience declining enrolment in science courses at a tertiary level. There has been a steady decline over the last twenty years in science participation. We need more than just a catchy name for what we will do to reverse this trend.

Finally, the potential for STEAM is somewhat like the potential within a friendship;  it’s not about what one discipline can do for another, it’s what the two disciplines become in each other’s presence. The promise of STEAM education is that subjects that were once treated in separate silos might be allowed to mingle.