When you hear the term STEAM, what do you think of?  Building? Problem solving? Group work? A hot cup of Joe? Getting ready to make spaghetti?

Do you ever think of lights?  

Ya!  Lights!  

At this summer’s Arts Integration and STEAM Retreat, I’m excited to teach a STEAM workshop for teachers titled: Shine Brightly using LEDs in art!  

The retreat workshop will include three sessions of 2D, 3D and fiber-based art-making.  For each project, we will introduce simple electronic circuits that power light-up elements that will bring arts integration and STEAM concepts to a bright, new level!

My favorite STEAM projects involve LED lights because you can feel good about their cool temperature (making them safe to handle) and energy efficiency.  Not to mention, they add an element of excitement, and they are great vehicles for teaching these NGSS science standards around Energy:

Check it out!


Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.


Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another.


First, students can have fun while familiarizing themselves with the way simple electronic circuits function by designing a flat copper tape circuit on paper that powers a diode LED light with a small coin cell battery.

LEDs are inexpensive ways to add an exciting and colorful light element to sculptures. So, when using LEDs in 3D art, I choose to emphasize the sustainability aspect by partnering its use with the re-use of recyclable plastics.

Students can use transparent or translucent plastic recyclables to create a form in which to insert lights. This circuit can be made with the simple and familiar coin cell batteries and diodes.

Once students are familiar with all this and are ready to get a little more serious, I introduce eTextiles or electronic textiles: fabrics that contain embedded electronic components such as batteries, conductive thread and LEDs.

(Using Lilypad Arduino products simplifies the sewn circuitry, which helps the whole process, since sewing isn’t everyone’s forte.)

Conductive thread is made of stainless steel and it can be finicky.  However, the results are so rewarding. One battery can easily power three LEDs. (Grade 2 Student examples shown here)

I would recommend exploring LEDs in your future STEAM projects because they’re inexpensive, energy-efficient, and they will motivate your students to create extremely innovative designs.

Better yet, sign up for the 2019 retreat and join me this summer to create with LEDs!


Stacie Greenland is the Visual Art Specialist for Grades K-5 at the Arlington Public Schools.  She is also a repeater retreater and one of this summer’s retreat presenters.