Hanna Lee ’16 is an art teacher and art therapist at an elementary school in Fairfax, VA. She works at a Center there for students whose emotional and behavioral disabilities impede them from succeeding in a general education setting. Lee, a candidate in Moore’s MA in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations program, has been exploring how STEAM-based art lessons can help these students with “emotional regulation,” or calming themselves down when they get frustrated or angry, instead of acting out.
Her findings led her to develop Moore’s first thesis on the STEAM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math – which she will be presenting before graduating next month.
Lee has incorporated STEAM into several different lessons with her students, including stop-motion animation and using simple circuitry with LED lights and hobby motors. She also did a sewing lesson using a conductive wire thread, an LED light and a battery. “This population has less developed fine motor skills than their general education peers, so this exercise works with those skills," she said.
For the sewing lesson, students had to connect an LED light to a battery with a thread and the end result – if they sewed correctly, the LED would light up – motivated the students to independently overcome an obstacle, “which is unusual for most of them,” Lee said. For a third lesson, the students used recycled objects with a motor to build their own robot.
“With all of these lessons I found that when the students were self-confident in a skill that they weren’t confident in before, it led them to be more resilient and more likely to overcome obstacles on their own,” Lee said. “Their behavior really improved. I also found that this led to more collaboration among the students without the need for teacher prompting.”
Even though her thesis work is coming to a close, Lee -- who also earned her undergraduate degree in Art Education from Moore in 2012 -- plans to continue thinking about the relationship between STEAM and emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD).
“I think it’s important for art teachers to know about this, but also the people who write the curriculum for art teachers, so they have access to this knowledge and the materials as well,” Lee said. “It’s important for kids to have access to technology, but not every school has access to it. I was lucky to have PTA funding to get the LED’s and motors.”
Lee is one of three art teachers at her school. She has been working full-time while completing graduate program courses online during the school year and on-campus during the summer. She is the only MA student doing a STEAM-related thesis, and she said a lot more research still needs to be done. “There’s a connection with technology and these students that hasn’t been fully explored yet.”
Lee said she enrolled in the graduate program because it is unique and specific to the needs and interests of art teachers working with students with disabilities. It was a logical step for her to continue Moore’s program after graduating with her bachelor’s degree. She initially chose Moore because of the small, tight-knit community. She had attended the University of Maryland in Baltimore County as an undeclared major but then transferred to a community college to develop an art portfolio before coming to Moore.
“I always liked art. In high school I worked with the Best Buddies club, which connects the general education population with the special needs population,” she said. “That’s where I first got exposed to this population. Even before then, in elementary school my mom worked with Koreans with disabilities. I would attend weekly meetings with her. I learned sign language and that they are just people who have different needs.”
At Moore, Lee was a student leader, resident advisor, resident director. She also founded the Craft Club because she noticed a lack of enjoyment from the creative process when her fellow students were focusing solely on art assignments with no time for personal projects. She produced fleece or cotton “fabric monsters” in her spare time, and wanted others to have a space for short but fun art activities as well. Her fabric monsters are sold in The Art Shop and were part of her undergraduate thesis.
“One student taught in a community with a low socioeconomic level, and I found that the children needed hugs. The policy was they shouldn’t be hugged, but the fact that they were reaching out meant they weren’t getting that at home. I made a giant “hug monster.” I always wanted to challenge the “don’t touch anything in a museum” mentality. (At the senior show) I had to put a big “hug me” sign on the monster as well as photos of others hugging the monster by the monster because at first nobody wanted to approach it. They felt weird.”
Lee said she hopes to pursue art therapy in the future, possibly obtaining another master’s or a doctorate degree.