How Can You Learn Systems Thinking in the Art Museum?

Dr. Paul Fishwick is collaborating with the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) to find ways in which to teach systems thinking principles by using a variety of process models found within software and computer simulation.

Fishwick has partnered with Rob Stein, Deputy Director (DMA), Kimberly Jones (The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas), and Fishwick’s long-time museum colleague, Bonnie Pitman (former DMA Director and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at UTD).

The research method used begins with creating a “model-based understanding” of a work of art. Let’s imagine that a visitor is in front of a 500-year old checkered tunic, worn originally by an Inca. The image of the tunic is seen below:


Students in Fishwick’s lab and class create an interactive experience of objects like the tunic through either a tablet or a fixed interactive touch screen. Touching the screen, the visitor is presented with a “concept map” that shows a diagram containing information on the tunic. Concept maps are diagram-based models of knowledge and information on a subject.

The following figure shows a concept map:


From a concept map, a dynamic process model can be created. The following is an example functional model (a type of process model) capturing part of the textile production system:


The Incas had a culture that was based on thinking about their world through the materiality of woven fibers, with the tunic being one example. Another example is the quipu. A quipu is an object that contains a series of knotted strings, representing numbers:


The figure below is a partial screen snapshot of a computer simulation of quipu manipulation:


The interactive quipu simulation is in the upper-left white square. The model of how the simulation works is present in the Max/Msp patch shown in the interconnected black boxes at the bottom and right of the quipu square.


Integrating Education in the Arts and Humanities with Education in STEM: A Workshop Hosted by the Board on Higher Education and Workforce of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Integrating Education in the Arts and Humanities with Education in Science, Engineering, Technology, and Medicine: A Workshop Hosted by the Board on Higher Education and Workforce of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

This workshop is intended for college and university faculty and administrators, scientists and engineers, health professionals, humanists, artists, federal agency officials, business leaders, Congressional staff, and other stakeholders interested in exploring the benefits of more integrated educational experiences at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

8:30am to 5pm, December 2, 2015

The Conference Center
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Ave, NW | Washington, DC 20036

If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Tom Rudin ( or Irene Ngun (

Key Issues to be addressed at the workshop

  • The value of incorporating curricula and experiences in the arts and humanities–including history, literature, language, philosophy, and the arts–into college and university STEM education and workforce training programs, and understanding whether and how these experiences: 1) prepare STEM students and workers to be more effective communicators, critical thinkers, problem-solvers and leaders; and 2) prepare STEM graduates to be more creative and effective scientists, engineers, technologists and health care providers.
  • The value of integrating more STEM curricula and experiences into the academic programs of students who are majoring in the humanities, arts and related disciplines.
  • Understanding how a more integrated liberal arts curriculum, relative to current approaches, can better prepare students for success as both citizens and workers, and help prepare them to responsibly address the most compelling grand challenges facing our society, such as global stewardship, health care for our youngest and oldest citizens, and gene editing.

Workshop Planning Committee

  • William “Bro” Adams, President of the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Susan Albertine, Vice President, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success, AAC&U
  • Laurie Baefsky, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) and the University of Michigan’s ArtsEngine
  • Norman Bradburn, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the faculties of the University of Chicago’s Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, Department of Psychology, Booth School of Business and the College and a Senior Fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago
  • Martin Chalfie, University Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, and co-recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
  • Richard K. Miller, President, Olin College of Engineering
  • Suzanna Rose, Director, School of Integrated Science and Humanity at Florida International University, and Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies
  • Pauline Yu, President, American Council of Learned Societies

Priming the Innovation Economy: From STEM to STEAM

Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and the Dallas Museum of Art to Present February 2016 Conference Addressing America’s Education Pipeline for Tomorrow’s Innovation Economy

The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) are pleased to announce their co-sponsorship of a major national event to focus educators, artists, scientists, policymakers, and the public on the importance of coupling the arts and STEM in the development of key skills for the 21st century American workforce. The three-day conference, Priming the Innovation Economy: From STEM to STEAM, is being planned in partnership with Syfr Learning and key organizations representing both industry and formal and informal educators.

The conference convenes at the DMA and the Fairmont Dallas, February 17-19, 2016, and will explore intersections of the arts with STEM education as the crucial drivers of the innovation economy. The interchange of ideas between formal and informal educators will provide the pathways for the successful development of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math) as the educational foundation for our students entering the innovation economy.

As stated in January 2014 in The Atlantic, “In order to bridge the chasm between abstract idea and utility, some educators are advocating for an expansion of the popular STEM acronym-Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—the list of skills many experts believe more students need. They believe STEM should include the letter “A, for ‘art and design’.” As Margaret Honey, CEO of the New York Hall of Science commented in a STEAM workshop at the Rhode
Island School of Design, “It’s not about adding on arts education. It’s about fundamentally changing education to incorporate the experimentation and exploration that is at the heart of effective education”.

According to Richard Erdmann, co-founder and CEO of Syfr Learning, “It is not about just adding more arts courses. The arts-as-a-discipline views the learning process differently than the traditional approach in STEM. Where formal education in science and math tends to explore in order to discover the known, formal education in art tends to explore in order to discover the unknown. Artists are asked to observe closely, simplify observations to abstractions of the original, and combine or connect observations in unique and creative ways. It is time to integrate what is natural in the arts into the learning processes for science, technology, engineering, and math”.

The conference will organize participants to identify new ways that informal and formal educators might work together to equip their students with the skills necessary to fuel their own future innovation. The conference will explore a range of topics from how to engage K-12 learners to how technology can deliver high quality field-like experiences to rural students, connecting educators and students with more real-life learning. Increasing public awareness of the advantages of STEAM over STEM among outside stakeholders like parents and students will be a key challenge addressed by the conference.

While businesses are keenly aware of the shortfall in soft skills, most people are unfamiliar with the term STEAM, let alone its connection to STEM careers and the innovation required to promote the nation’s economic competitiveness.

TASA’s Executive Director, Johnny Veselka, welcomed this first-of-its-kind collaboration in Texas, stressing the connections between the association’s school transformation initiatives, including the work of the Public Education Visioning Institute, and enhancing student success through STEAM curriculum. “This initiative is aligned with TASA’s mission that is focused on creating and sustaining student-centered schools and developing future-ready students”, said Veselka.

“The Dallas Museum of Art is thrilled to present this event with TASA. The connections between the arts and innovation that this conference will highlight are an essential part of our mission at the DMA. We believe that the health of our national economy will increasingly depend on the ability of today’s students to think creatively about the challenges that will face them”, added Robert Stein, the museum’s deputy director.

“To compete in the global market, we must move from STEM to STEAM by adding arts education”, said Mayor Mike Rawlings. “I applaud the Dallas Museum of Art and the Texas Association of School Administrators for initiating this conversation”.

The 2016 event, Priming the Innovation Economy: From STEM to STEAM, will lay the foundation for future meetings to build a national conversation and action plan originating from the Dallas conference. Participants in 2016 will create points of action that can provide tangible evidence of progress toward the integration of creative skills and innovation into public education, policy-making, and the national dialogue about STEAM and our national economic competitiveness.

Reflecting the expansive scope of integrating creativity and innovation into public education, TASA and DMA are seeking support for the conference from major corporations and organizations interested in transforming student learning through the successful implementation of STEAM in public education.

About TASA

The Texas Association of School Administrators is the professional association of choice for Texas’ top public school administrators. TASA’s legislative and policy advocacy efforts, professional learning offerings, and targeted communications support superintendents and other school leaders in all aspects of their key leadership roles, from the day-to-day operations of their districts to the important work of transforming public education. TASA represents more than 2,500 members in school districts and other education entities throughout Texas. Through its work, TASA supports and promotes the development of innovative, future-focused leaders for every public school student in the state.

About the Dallas Museum of Art

Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is among the 10 largest art museums in the country and is distinguished by its commitment to research, innovation, and public engagement. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the nation’s largest arts district, the Museum welcomes over 650,000 visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country. It currently has over 90,000 members. For more information, visit

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of DMA Partners and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

About Syfr Learning

Syfr Learning is a professional development organization focused on transforming learning. Syfr’s principals are the co­-authors of The Art of Learning. To learn more about Syfr Learning, visit

Media Contacts:

Eric Reeves (, Michael Glover (

Amy Francisco, Director of Communications and Media Relations, TASA (

Jill Bernstein, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, DMA (

ATEC Teams up with the Perot Museum with Educational Games!

In “Gravity Defense”, students move their bodies to pull asteroids from a collision course with the Earth. Just one of many installations featured in the Perot’s “Game Lab”, where visitors can play and learn!

If you think museums are boring, just take a trip over to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, where you can save bee colonies, defend against feral hogs, and even give your Bruce Willis impression a try while defending Earth from asteroids.

Through a nine-month collaboration with the museum, Arts and Technology (ATEC) students have created a series of educational games that both highlight the importance of STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — and bring to light some interesting real-world issues that these fields can solve. This, of course, contributes to the growing campaign of integrating Art into STEM education! The games produced by ATEC students are on display in the Perot’s Game Lab: a dedicated space in the museum that allows visitors to play.

The goal of these games is to provide not only a learning experience, but a space that utilizes fun to enhance understanding of applications in science and math. Some scholars have begun hypothesizing that one of the key qualities of educational games comes from engagement and interest, rather than just replacing conventional teaching models. Perhaps this newest installation in the Perot Museum will bring this engagement and interactivity to bear in teaching visitors about STEM applications in real-world problems.

The organizers over at the Perot certainly believe in the ability of these games to garner interest in the addressing of real problems. “Over the last several months, our teams have collaborated to create video games we believe can be fun, engaging platforms for exploring important real-world science topics,” said Steve Hinkley, vice president of programs at the Perot.

The games at the museum include: “Gravity Defense,” a game in which users save the Earth from asteroids using their own bodies to pull asteroids out of a collision course with Earth; “Pollen Nation,” which asks players to battle colony collapse disorder while using a bee colony to pollinate the United States; and “Stop the Hogs,” which challenges players to control the population of feral hogs while working to protect local farms from damage.

Through the spring and summer semesters, ATEC professor Dr. Timothy Christopher and Bonnie Pitman, distinguished scholar in residence and co-director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Museums, worked with students to take 20 ideas and refine them into focused, fully-developed games. The class is currently spending the fall semesters on testing and implementation.

This collaboration has been mutually beneficial, giving students “an opportunity to work with a nationally recognized science museum” and leading to “the development and evaluation of new resources using technologies for teaching science in the museum,” says Pitman.

Qualcomm Making $20M Alignment with STEAM

While one of the primary concerns of the STEAM movement has been alignment with big businesses and engineering firms, that worry may be soon to fade. Technology giant Qualcomm has thrown their support in with with their CEO making a $20 million donation to Berkeley’s College of Engineering for the purpose of expanding art and design in engineering education.

CEO Paul Jacobs said of the donation:

“In our interconnected innovation economy, it is not enough to provide our future engineering leaders with technical skills…. they must also learn how to work in interdisciplinary teams, how to iterate designs rapidly, how to manufacture sustainably, how to combine art and engineering, and how to address global markets.”

Qualcomm additionally hosted a forum for STEAM Connect earlier this month, aimed at educating and informing the community on the importance of STEAM, and what the movement is about. They spoke to the rising initiative for California to enhance creative schools, how teachers can use art to teach traditional STEM topics, as well as interesting new NSF projects, such as:

  • Balboa Park’s experiment to create an incubator for schools via art-based STEM education
  • SEAD – an educational initiative aimed at elevating the role of art in science
  • other projects such as teacher training, the creation of higher education programs, and more

While the donation of $20 million and the event itself are important movers and shakers in the world of STEAM, most important is the attention they are drawing to the initiative. In countries around the world, other communities are working to change their schools so that young minds are taught these new methods of creative and critical thinking. Arts and culture organizations and business executives are now meeting with higher frequency to collaborate on what happens when art and science are merged together.

Getting huge businesses such as Qualcomm on the side of STEAM is a step in the right direction, and it keeps the idea of STEM reform on the public agenda. Hopefully there’s more like this in the future! Hats off to you, Qualcomm.