Enhancing Science Education through Art

By Merten, Susan | Science Scope, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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Enhancing Science Education through Art


Merten, Susan, Science Scope


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Augmenting science with the arts is a natural combination when one considers that both scientists and artists rely on similar attitudes and values. For example, creativity is often associated with artists, but scientists also use creativity when seeking a solution to a problem or creating a new product. Curiosity is another common trait shared among scientists and artists, who are both interested in finding answers to questions and wonder about the world around them. In science, students are encouraged to wonder and ask questions, seek answers, try new approaches, provide honest evidence for claims they make, and create new understanding about the world around them. Practicing these attitudes will help middle school students develop their critical-thinking skills along with science literacy.

Whether you have in-school resident arts teachers available to collaborate with, or you need to rely on your own creativity, the arts adapt easily to a middle school science curriculum. Below are simple art activities that allow students to express their science understanding and creativity in ways other than traditional paper-and-pen tasks.

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Introducing the relationship

Students new to middle school science often begin the year with a mix of anticipation and anxiety. To ease their transition and help students see the connection between science and art, I use one of the Benchmarks for Science Literacy, "habits of mind" (AAAS 1993), to link science to art early in the school year. The habits of mind are common values, attitudes, and skills necessary to promote science literacy and help students prepare for "life beyond school" (AAAS 1993, p. 281). In addition to "attitudes and values," habits of mind address "manipulation and observation," "computation and estimation," "critical-response skills," as well as "communication skills." I emphasize the natural connection between science and art by pointing to the values and attitudes employed by both: curiosity, observation, creativity, and skepticism with open-mindedness (NRC 1996). In class we discuss how both scientists and artists might use habits of mind in their work. Initially I ask students how scientists and artists might be alike, such as similar attitudes, similar values, or similar skills. This introductory activity can be done as a think/pair/share activity, in small groups, or as a whole-class discussion. After students have had time to brainstorm their ideas, we collaborate through whole-class discussion. I emphasize the natural connection between science and art by pointing to the values, attitudes, and skills employed by both scientists and artists, both of whom

* show curiosity and are observant of the world around them,

* value honesty and creativity,

* use tools to help them in their work, and

* use communications skills to express their ideas and record their observations.

Throughout the year, I refer to articles about art in newspapers and magazines. For example, articles regarding masterpiece restoration may address chemical breakdown of paints or canvas, often employing a forensic approach. In my classroom, I display posters of art that are connected to science. For example, Katsushika Hokusai's "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" is inspired by a force of nature, and art photographs of the Grand Canyon exhibit sedimentation, erosion, and rock age. Photographs of volcanoes can connect to plate tectonics, and those of lightning or storms can be connected to energy in the atmosphere. Watercolors can be used to discuss natural phenomena and energy found in nature as well as chromatography, light absorption, and reflection of pigment. There are many science-related art posters available to choose from and accessible through the internet or when visiting an art exhibit.

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Using art for assessment

Weaving arts into science assessment is usually met with enthusiasm among middle school students.

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