Art of Science Learning

Have you recently assessed how your students relate to science? I clearly remember when I was young watching old movies and television shows that depicted scientists as older men with glasses, crazy white hair, and lab coats. Have today’s students’ images of science changed? What about artists? Do they all have mustaches and paint on white canvases? These questions arose for me and my colleagues when working with upper elementary students on science, art, and literacy integration. When asked fourth grade students to illustrate and articulate their understanding of science and art, the results showed serious misconceptions. Students cannot embrace the arts and sciences if they cannot to relate to them. This assessment began this MAC (Museum as the Classroom) program investigating the impact of inquiry-based activities on students’ perceptions of science and art. In the process, we discovered teaching methods to engage them in the inquiry process across disciplines.

To begin, museum staff from the California Academy of Sciences, a museum and research center, and the de Young Museum, a fine arts institution in San Francisco, teamed up with a neighboring fourth grade class to experiment with science, art, and literacy integration over a ten week period. This project was born from California Academy of Sciences and de Young Museum staff interest in 21st century skills and how these skills relate to science, art, and literacy. For example, science and art both require critical thinking skills and the application of these skills through the inquiry process. The goals of the program were to research student understanding of art and science, test an authentic integrated curriculum, and develop a successful integrated model for classroom activities and field trips to both institutions. In the first step of the project, we collected data on student perceptions of science and art to help guide our teaching methods. The students were asked to draw a scientist and an artist and to answer a series of questions related to their illustrations. The data was collected from 23 students in the 4th grade and their ideas were as alarming and as humorous as my childhood memory of the crazy white haired scientist.

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Out of the 23 scientist drawings 18 included beakers, test tubes, and chemicals, 10 showed lab coats, and 11 showed goggles. Most of the scientists were working in isolation in a laboratory setting and none were drawn in an outdoor setting. The student drawings represent mostly chemistry which is only of the many fields of science. Over 74% of the students drew the scientist as a man and, when asked why, they all had different answers. Some said they only knew how to draw a man. Others said “I don’t know.” The one answer that struck a chord in me was the student that answered “I drew a man because I have never heard of a woman scientist.” It was quite alarming to think that a young girl in 4th grade had never learned of women in science. In fact, the girls in the class mostly drew men as scientists. In the artist drawings, 42% of the students drew people with berets and 21% actually added moustaches. The students also answered questions such as “Do you want to be a scientist/artist and why?” Examples of common negative answers from students were “Because I’m not that good at science” and “I don’t know if people will like my art.” It was obvious to us that students needed to feel confident in both disciplines in order to pursue them.

After collecting the pre-data, we identified skills necessary in the inquiry process, such as observation, investigation, interpretation, critical thinking, and communication, and developed lessons around utilizing those skills. The use of each skill is important for building awareness of the skills associated with science and art and confidence in these subjects. These lessons used light as the topic of the inquiry. Both the Academy and the de Young museums were used as resources for experimentation about light, and students visited both museums once a week for an eight week period. During these lessons, students participated in inquiry-based activities including color mixing, plant chromatography, light-induced decomposition, and shading. These activities reinforced the inquiry skills across disciplines and had students identifying the skills they were using. As part of these activities, students were introduced to artists and scientists who represented many areas within each discipline. The gender and appearance of the artists and scientists were never addressed and no references were made to the pre-assessment the students did at the beginning of the program.

Student learning was assessed weekly through journal entries. The student journals had sections devoted to vocabulary building, question development, and making observations through sketches and data collection. The journal was also a tool for reflection and analytical thinking. A rubric was designed that assessed student understanding of concepts and whether or not the student demonstrated the use of the skill of the day.

State standards were considered during this interdisciplinary approach to science, art, and literacy and most of our curriculum met the art and science investigation and experimentation standards. Literacy standards around concept development and comprehension were covered during explorations of photosynthesis, decomposition, artistic perception, and creative expression. Although addressing the standards was not a main goal of the project, the assessments and later state testing of the students showed a marked increase in test scores in science and language arts.

State standards were considered during this interdisciplinary approach to science, art, and literacy and most of our curriculum met the art and science investigation and experimentation standards. Literacy standards around concept development and comprehension were covered during explorations of photosynthesis, decomposition, artistic perception, and creative expression. Although addressing the standards was not a main goal of the project, the assessments and later state testing of the students showed a marked increase in test scores in science and language arts.

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This experience began with student assessments. By assessing students’ perceptions of art and science we were aware of where the students were starting from, and thus what we had to do to get them to where we wanted them to be. The key areas of focus were the students’ lack of identity with science or art and their lack of confidence with these subjects. With this information we created an integrated approach making multiple entry points to the skills and subject matter. This was necessary for inquiry based learning that incorporated different learning styles to engage all students. After the experience of the science, art, and literacy integration program students were drawing pictures of themselves and their classmates as artists and scientists. They also demonstrated understanding of the process of inquiry in their journals by identifying skills while investigating light. The unexpected outcome of this project was that
these fourth grade students increased their scores on their state standardized tests. Due to the success of this approach, a curriculum has been developed by California Academy of Sciences and de Young staff called “Where We Meet” and teacher professional development around it has been offered in various venues from conference short courses, to teacher workshops, to online learning courses. The next steps for education staff from the California Academy of Sciences and de Young is to continue working together to integrate science, art, and literacy and to seek funding to do more research around integrated curriculum, skill development, and teacher
pedagogy.

Comments

  1. #1 R. Gordon
    March 16, 2011

    The assumption that scientists all work inside, in labs, is an interesting point. I went to a college with a reputation for turning people on to the sciences–and one major influence was the time spent in the field. Students took soil samples, tracked down animal spore, dug up bones… It was a much more active process, and one that doesn’t show up at all in the stereotype.

  2. #2 Dr. Sanford Aranoff
    March 17, 2011

    To begin,we need to know what is science. Science is based upon mathematics plus empirical verification. What is math? A collection of arbitrary consistent statements. Students must understand the principles. Initially, science is collecting facts; however, to have a theory, which is an explanation, we need the mathematical framework. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better”. To go further, we need to understand rational thought. Irrational statements are not part of science. See the new book, “Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living”. Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles.

    Teachers need to know how students think, and build from there using the principles.

  3. #3 christine
    March 21, 2011

    I am only slightly ashamed to admit that, as a female PhD candidate in biophysics with three Masters degrees and two publications to her name, I would also draw the average scientist as a man (because it’s faster when you don’t need to add the female characteristics of eyelashes, long hair, certain contours, etc) with lab coat, beakers, and erlenmeyer flasks. goggles optional.

    I applaud the study for getting kids exposed to education beyond the classroom, but wouldn’t draw so many conclusions from drawing alone. The study would have been more valuable had it been repeated at the university (or even graduate school) level.

  4. #4 tatil
    March 21, 2011

    Your post is surely going to help me. Keep us posted with similar information. Thanks

  5. #5 tütüne son
    March 25, 2011

    The assumption that scientists all work inside, in labs, is an interesting point. I went to a college with a reputation for turning people on to the sciences–and one major influence was the time spent in the field. Students took soil samples, tracked down animal spore, dug up bones… It was a much more active process, and one that doesn’t show up at all in the stereotype.

  6. #6 Kusadasi
    March 31, 2011

    I definately agree.. Thanks for the support.

  7. #7 Tatillive
    May 5, 2011

    Tatil, Tatiller, Otel, Vize, Uçak Bilet, Tur ve organizasyon. Ayrıntılı bilgi için sitemizi ziyaret ediniz.

  8. #8 Sylvia Hill
    February 5, 2012

    After reading the article, I really I immediately visualized how I what I would draw to depict a scientist. I would draw a man with wild hair, with a thick mustache, wearing a lab coat, holding a test tube. I asked my 5th grade students to draw a scientist and all of the drawings were similar to my description. I think art can help science students get more involved in taking a closer look at concepts that should be learned. Dr Aranoff stated that….Teachers need to know how students think, and build from there using the principles.

  9. #9 afrika mangosu
    February 7, 2012

    The assumption that scientists all work inside, in labs, is an interesting point. I went to a college with a reputation for turning people on to the sciences–and one major influence was the time spent in the field. Students took soil samples, tracked down animal spore, dug up bones…

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