Seeing the World in a Garden: Science and Art Curricula Synergy

By Fattal, Laura Felleman | Science Scope, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Seeing the World in a Garden: Science and Art Curricula Synergy


Fattal, Laura Felleman, Science Scope


Duke Farms and Gardens, a 2,700-acre estate in Hillsborough, New Jersey, that includes a large greenhouse, was the site of a middle school field trip that provided the opportunity to highlight overlapping science and visual art curricula goals. The diverse and extensive greenhouse gardens explored by the touring middle school students and teachers led by a docent-guide can be seen as a series of encapsulated environments. The discipline of environmental science, which studies the interactions and distribution among organisms and their habitat, is conducive to cocurricular innovations in science and the visual arts. Some of the classroom activities that students engaged in before and after returning from the field trip included creating three-dimensional terrariums with living plants, rocks, and earth, and sketching, drawing, painting, and making prints of the contents of the discrete greenhouse gardens.

Multiple aspects of a middle school science curriculum could be addressed through a tour of one of the many botanical gardens or greenhouses found throughout the United States that display flowers and plants according to climatic zones (tropical, semitropical, temperate, and desert) such as the greenhouse at Duke Farms and Gardens. The American Association of Museums (www.aam-us.org) is a national organization and network of all science, natural history, philosophical, art, children, and history museums in the United States that provides information on the collections and educational programming of its members. Botanical gardens, arboretums, and nature centers are other sites that enable teachers in various disciplines to enliven the study of local as well as global flora through unique experiential instructional approaches.

Though the learning experience at Duke Farms and Gardens focused on students studying science and art, the inclusion of social studies students and teachers could add other curricular dimensions. The main science/art/social studies concepts addressed in this project are the need for detailed observation, documentation, and categorization of the multiple facets of daily life; the recognition of the dynamic of change over time and the non-static quality to all living things; and the understanding that visual culture includes works of art in museums as well as global rural, suburban, and urban landscapes that include human and animal habitats.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

John Dewey revisited--Art, science, and social studies as experience

Prior to the botanical garden field trip, the science and art teachers prepared students with website information and brief descriptions of botanical gardens. Students in the central New Jersey school district do not read widely nor regularly leave their immediate surroundings, so all information about botanical gardens and different types of natural landscape added to their knowledge base. Encountering the variety of plants, flowers, bushes, and trees that could grow in a temperate climate was a welcome addition to students' general education and daily experiences. However, the introductory website information was merely a precursor to visiting Duke Farms and Gardens, where the abundance, diversity, and design of the flora became the "text" of the experience. The gardens' vistas--with the varied levels of plant growth, inclusion of ponds and waterfalls, and shaded and naturally lit paths--were all part of the intricacies of the design of the botanical gardens, in marked contrast to students' quotidian views of a suburban/urban landscape. A continually updated online museum resource, www.greenmuseum.org (see Resources), is a treasure trove of innovative artistic practices from around the world in contemporary environmental art. Some of the most important contemporary works of art concentrate on the emergent need to reexamine artistic materials and installations of works of art to minimize the pace and impact of material consumption of nonrenewable resources.

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