Balance is a pillar that we hold dearly, recognizing that it is often hard to achieve. During this time of the year we are reminded how important balance is as we spend time with friends and family.

At SOTA, SAMI and IDEA, we work to teach students that there needs to be a balance between the analytical and the creative, work and play, certainty and ambiguity.

As students learn to work in teams and accomplish various projects it is critical that they recognizing the importance of various approaches to processing and connecting information.

The analytical person might often appear quieter than others. They might seem unapproachable at times, focusing their communication on the here and now. Tending to emphasize planning and wanting their communication to be with precise language and a focus on research, data and analysis.

While the creative person tends to be very expressive, looking for feedback and collaboration. They are often seen and personable, talkative and persuasive. They are also skilled in looking at the big picture and can sometimes overlook detail as they move through projects at a quick pace.

At SOTA, SAMI and IDEA we work to build on student’s strengths rather than try to fix the perceived weakness associated with various approaches. We want students to learn how to recognize the dynamics of various styles and then learn to work and communicate effectively with all types. This enables students to play to their strengths and the strengths of team members, allowing students to complement their style with those of other students. Students then learn to build strong teams resulting in high quality collaborative projects.

As we celebrate the holidays with family and friends, let’s celebrate each other’s strengths and recognize how important balance is in each of our lives.

Happy Holidays,


Jon Ketler
Co-Director and Founder, SOTA, SAMI, IDEA


Mari Thiersch speaks passionately about accessibility in science education. She was one of the 100 trailblazers of SAMI’s first class and is currently studying science education at College of the Atlantic in Maine. Her studies have encouraged her to think deeply about how to make science accessible for all students, largely influenced by her own experiences at SAMI.

Her passion for science started in the second semester of biology with Johnny Devine. She says that she had ho-hum feelings about the material in first semester and didn’t go into second semester with great expectations. That changed when one of her friends was in her class and asked a lot of questions. Mari says, “Once I learned that I could ask questions, the whole world opened up. I realized that science was about asking questions and making observations.” Through projects like the water quality testing programs, she grew to love science because she felt like “I’m actually DOING science!”

Science at SAMI was experiential and fun. She spoke fondly of an experiment in physics where they timed all the cars coming into the park to figure out who was speeding. She says, “I’ll never forget the equations for speed and velocity because they are directly tied to an experience outside the classroom.” Science was also integrated into other classes. Humanities teachers would note when a Latin word crossed over with Latin words in science. Dance teachers would reinforce anatomy and physiology curriculum through dance. The end result was that science was more accessible for her and the students around her because it was not a one-sided experience tied only to high-level concepts in a textbook, but instead was a balanced approach that incorporated experiential labs and other disciplines. No matter your post high plan, the attitude was that science was for all students.

As an educator, she is excited to provide the same experience for her students. She believes that accessibility comes from taking science out of an ivory tower and making it part of everyday life. Balance is about leaning into the paradox and tensions that develop: doing science vs. content in the textbook or artistic process vs. scientific process. Instead of asking how things are different, ask how they are similar. It’s finding where the two ideas or disciplines intersect and then pursuing a balanced way of thinking about them.

That approach requires that teachers decode terms for students so that they can understand the underlying ideas and concepts. She notes that sometimes educators mistakenly assume that we need to simplify out complexity so that students will understand. She says, “You have to show students the competing interests in detail and be explicit about the tensions. Most scenarios are both/and, not either/or. Right now I’m working with students in a climate change class. There are a lot of interests involved and it’s important to think about win/win scenarios. To show students that two things can be simultaneously true and that you have to deal with that complexity.”

Mari is excited to come to SAMI this January to help with a mini-term class called Scienceology. She’ll finish up her teaching program in June and then hopes to find a job at one of the Elements of Education Partner Schools. Mari says, “I’m excited to apply what I learned at SAMI by making science accessible and fun for all students and showing them how to integrate science into all parts of their lives.”

As an 8th grader, I was scared of what I heard most high schools were like: loads of homework, staying up until midnight every night to finish projects, and tests that made passing classes seem impossible. Additionally, grades are suddenly really important in high school, which was intimidating. I went into my 9th grade year at SOTA unsure how I would fare. However, I was pleasantly surprised at what I encountered. While high school is still a huge transition wherever one goes, the integration of art and creative thinking into regular academics at SOTA created a balance that made school fun and engaging while still learning all the necessary “core” content.

Before SOTA, I never felt particularly good at math or science. However, SOTA took me by surprise during my first semester of Freshman Biology. The curriculum integrated arts alongside the sciences, which was more engaging for me. One of our early projects was a cell analogy where I was asked to compare the components of a cell to something completely unrelated. We were asked to draw a labeled diagram of this object with written responses to back up why each part was related to the cell. One student compared a cell to the Hogwarts castle in which Dumbledore was the nucleus and the castle was the membrane. To this day, the detailed picture of Hogwarts and Harry Potter characters comes to mind whenever I hear the word “cell”. I can still remember that the nucleus is the head commander of the cell because I can easily remember that Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts. Not only was this extremely engaging and fun, but it also helped me to learn in an innovative and creative way.

This is just one example of the many creative projects I have done at SOTA, but it is projects like these that capture how integrating art projects into academics creates a balance for students. When school becomes about high-pressured tests and hours of homework, it serves to create an environment that no learner would enjoy or thrive in. While students at SOTA still have tests and a fair-share of homework, it is the balance of art integration and creativity that keeps students engaged in their classes and creates an atmosphere that is easy and fun to learn in.

I am lucky to go to a school where creativity is valued and teachers put thought into how to balance their material with what students would find intriguing. I feel that SOTA has prepared me well because I’m not bound to a textbook, but rather, encouraged to think outside of the box and pushed to make innovative work for school. I feel like I can succeed in any subject, not only a select few, because they were taught in an accessible manner and include a wide range of artistic projects. Going to SOTA where a balance between art and academics is valued made my high school experience extremely positive and made me feel empowered to try new things. I went into high school thinking I hated science; however, Biology is one of the classes that I think of most fondly. Engaging students through striking a balance between art and traditional academics has the power to completely reshape any high school experience.