IOWA CITY — Teachers from Iowa and Minnesota watched intently last week as members of the Lasansky family — Tomas, Charlie, Rory, Heather and Diego — inked intricate prints with a 1970s-era press.
The teachers, mostly math and science instructors attending the STEM Innovator program at the University of Iowa, were looking for ways they could incorporate the arts and entrepreneurship into their lessons.
Their visit to the Lasansky studio on Benton Street came about thanks in part to Leslie Flynn, a clinical assistant professor of science education at the University of Iowa, who first met Tomas Lasansky in 2011 and now helps the family make Dutch mordant used in the etching process.
“If you mix it wrong, it can be a problem,” said Flynn, a trained chemist. “The first year, I made it myself, then the next year, I had my graduate students help me make it. Then this year, when (the Lasanskys) came calling again, I got my students and I said, ok, Diego and Emiliano are old enough now, so we taught them how to make it.”
Flynn said watching the printmaking process, she realized how many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills were involved. Plus, the Lasankys could link such skills to the arts and enterpreneurship, since they are transferring all those skills into a business.
“I pretty much said to Tomas, ‘quid pro quo, I helped you, now how about you help the teachers” by opening up the studio for a tour, Flynn said.
The teachers who toured the studio last week, including David Elmore, who teaches science at Sudlow Intermediate School in Davenport, said they saw many lessons they could take back to their schools.
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“Talking about changing just one thing on the copper plates, or repurposing them for later,” helps illustrate variables, Elmore said.
“Or the way they make the ink,” using pig bones is another lesson Elmore said he could impart. “That’s neat, what they use to make it with,” he said.
Teachers taking part in the STEM Innovator program also were touring the Merge space and the Iowa Advanced Technology Lab in Iowa City, the National Driving Simulator on the Oakdale campus, and the State Hygienic Lab in Coralville, Flynn said.
“Our big emphasis is that teachers are developing a model for innovation that works for them in their community,” Flynn said. “This is not a curriculum or something you can replicate.”
The STEM Innovator program started in 2013 and 175 Iowa teachers have taken part so far. Funding comes from the Iowa Department of Economic Development, and this year, the program partnered with the Iowa Governor’s STEM council.
“This project is our own startup,” Flynn said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’m just excited to see where it all heads.”