Art & Science Grow Together

Article excerpt

Byline: Pat Stellflue, Marie Allen, and D. Timothy Gerber

Photo courtesy of the authors

When a science teacher, an art teacher, and a botany professor team up to talk about-plants, of course-things really get growing! As part of a longstanding partnership with the biology department at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, our school has been involved in numerous successful plant projects over the years. But, by far, the most exciting and creative project we've collaborated on was our recent integrated science/art study, "Plants, Pots, and Paints." This interdisciplinary project was successful in connecting content across disciplines (science to art) and for motivating fourth- and fifth-grade students to create something beautiful both they and our entire community can enjoy.

Photo courtesy of the authors

Planting Bulbs

It all began with an August meeting where we brainstormed core science and art concepts. In science, we emphasized the idea that plants have structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction. In art, we focused on understanding and applying media techniques and processes, and using knowledge of structures and functions. We then identified different hands-on experiences students could participate in based on these core concepts, such as growing, drawing, painting, and dissecting plants. We also created a timeline to coordinate our overlapping project activities (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Project timeline.




Oct - Nov

Bulb planting in schoolyard and science experiment setup



Clay pot construction in art class


Dec - Feb

Bulb cold treatment



Planting cold treated bulbs in pots


Mar - Apr

Plant growing, observing, and dissecting in science class


Apr - May

Drawing, painting, and other media in art class

Fourth and fifth


Plein Air artists visit


Our focus was on upper elementary students because they would have the requisite skills for creating the artwork. Our fourth-grade science curriculum includes detailed instruction in flower and plant parts. What the students learn in fourth grade would be applied in work with visiting artists in fifth grade.

We chose bulbs for this project because they are perennial, they bloom during the school year, and they can be "forced" to bloom in containers with proper cold treatment (see Lawniczak, Gerber, and Beck 2004 for more information on cold-treated bulbs).

Following instructions supplied with the bulbs, during October and November fourth-grade students planted an outdoor garden (an area of the schoolyard tilled by the district's building and grounds department) with crocus, iris, and daffodil bulbs purchased from a local garden center. We funded the first year of the project through two grants and a bulb sale.

The outdoor gardens would be an "outdoor art" installation and also supply cut flowers in the spring for the science and art classrooms. The outdoor gardens were also the site of a science experiment.

To provide plants prior to spring blooming, we planned to "force" daffodil and tulip bulbs for indoor blooms. In December, we placed bulbs in egg cartons and covered them with damp (not wet) newspaper strips. Students took the cartons home and refrigerated the bulbs for a 12-week cold treatment.

Utilitarian Art

The art portion of the project focused on clay pot construction and plant illustration techniques. In addition to being artwork themselves, the pots would also conveniently serve as containers for the forced bulbs.

While the refrigerated bulbs were being "cold treated," students made clay coil pots using clay rolled into long tubes that were then coiled to make the body of the pot. …