How to inspire STEAM learning based on Leonardo da Vinci - Strategy and Lesson Ideas

Updated: Apr 26

Leonardo Da Vinci was encouraged to explore, experience and express, living at a time when interdisciplinary learning was treasured. His approach to perspective, for example, was based on knowledge from optics and geometry. During the process of painting the Mona Lisa, da Vinci thoroughly explored how to present the human face, perceptive to details. He asked himself questions like: Which nerve brings about a smile? Da Vinci didn’t paint many paintings during his lifetime. Yet he experienced continuously, examining what he painted and elevating it. In art, as in science, da Vinci observed, hypothesized and experienced.

How can we dissolve the walls built between disciplines to give room for interdisciplinary learning inspired by this kind of curiosity and creativity? By STEAM education. Let's nurture curiosity for science, art, nature and environment all weaved together, from early age.

Here is the 5 E’s strategy to simplify STEAM learning integration:

  1. Explore – Help students find interest and relevance in learning by offering more options and more choice. As da Vinci was quoted: “Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.” Moreover, direct kids to research what they are learning from multidisciplinary aspects.

  2. Experience – Invite students to play with what they learned, asking questions and drawing on their own ideas. Encourage the children to become perceptive to details and to try out new directions. Remind them that a mistake is just a mis-take that leads the way to a better take.

  3. Examine – Check the ideas with the kids and recommend how to develop them.

  4. Elevate – Grow the children’s perseverance to keep on elevating their exploration and experimentation. For da Vinci a question often led to a new question. He was quoted: “Learning never exhausts the mind.” Support the students in making their ideas into finalized products.

  5. Express – Sit back and enjoy while the students present their products. Express your pleasure at their curiosity and innovative achievements. Know that you paved their path to success. May we raise children that surpass us. Quoting Da Vinci: “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.”

Remember to instill a safe environment. Imagine a “friend” made fun of Leonardo da Vinci the kid for drawing a flying man. We all have a story like that. Someone once mocked our idea or something we made, and we never tried again. We kept our ideas to ourselves. What if someone laughed at a drawing by Da Vinci the kid, and he’d never continue exploring his ideas breaking through with technological innovations, scientific discoveries and impactful art? What if today there is such talent in kids, but they keep it to themselves? To stimulate expression set the rule that the following words do not exist: "nonsense" and "wrong". Teach students sentence starters like: "Great idea, I'd like to add that..." or "Interesting, it made me think...". One question leads to another. A thought by a student channels another's. We are in a collaborative creative process.

Let's make learning fun, not in a sense that is related to consumer society’s basic belief that buying would make us happy. This is our tendency today, thinking if studying was fun, children would join in. What we need to do is make learning intellectually challenging and curiosity nurturing. Studying based on the 5 E’s is stimulating educational fun driven by intrinsic motivation.

Finally, here are some ideas for STEAM learning around the theme of "light":

1) Energy sources such as coal, petrol and even wind are the outcome of light. Without light interacting with other substances life on earth wouldn't have developed.

2) We have much to learn from the process of photosynthesis. We have yet to explore and experience on how to produce energy from the light of the sun.

3) Plants react to the changes in light: night and day, and winter to summer. Subtle changes in light clue them as to when to flourish.

4) In photography the use of light can give life to a plate with fruit.

5) Light is a common theme in poetry.

6) Light and dark are common concepts in art, but also in music. "Light music" would be higher and in major scales, while "dark" music would be low and in minor scales.

7) Check out images of beautiful lighthouses from around the world. How do ships navigate today? How did ships navigate at the time of Da Vinci? Explore his visionary approach to making flying machines, at a time it was impossible.

8) Explore with the students the kinds of light sources people can make today: from matches to lasers.

9) Chapels in the past were designed to exploit light from the outside. What if architects designed buildings that used the light of the sun better nowadays? Would there be less need for air conditioning? Would the people living there be happier due to more exposure to the light of the sun?

10) We need light to see. Attach interesting stickers to the inner side of an empty shoe box. close it with tape and poke a hole at the side. Invite the children to peek inside and try to identify what they see. They will be very engaged but will find it difficult to see the stickers. Invite them to peek inside again lighting the hole with a flashlight. Scientists today can see deeper into the universe trying to detect life. Invite students to explore how telescopes are evolving.

You’re most welcome to check out my best STEAM and social emotional learning book!

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Michelle Korenfeld

Raising Creative Thinkers 21st Century Project-Based and Social-Emotional Learning lesson plans, stimulating teacher training, teaching tools, and best children’s STEAM book

The insights in this blog post are based on the National Geographic articles: 1) Why Leonardo da Vinci’s Brilliance Endures, 500 Years after his death.

2) Life probably exists beyond Earth. So how do we find it?

and on the Hebrew book: The Poetry of Science, by the Weizmann Institute of Science, 2018.