A Teaching Experiment with Science and Art

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Alison Martin

This fall during my SOP practicum I began to experiment with integrating art and science learning. One project developed from the natural elements we were exploring. Our theme that week was water, and so the students and I collected fresh water from our one-acre pond and salt water from the harbor (where we got to see whale fins bobbing around in the bay!). We also collected leaf samples of plants that we learned about during our activity “Each One, Teach One,” in which we travelled the skinny paths winding through the forest, each student taking a turn as an “expert” and teaching about a particular plant native to the Puget Sound region.

At the end of the day, when the feet were tired, the rain gear was wet, and the stomachs hungry for cookies, we combined our natural treasures into a comprehensive visual art piece. Over cookie munching, I taught them how to make botanical prints using print rollers, acrylic paints, and etching presses. Then we did an experiment with watercolor, using salt water for one half of the space surrounding the botanical print and fresh water for the other half. I was delightfully surprised at how immersed each student was in the process and at their range of artistic expression. Balancing the bold color of the prints of the plants with the translucent colors from the water was its own endeavor in artistic expression. While some students were more comfortable experimenting with color and design, giving a more impressionistic touch, others were more conservative in their approach, using colors more true to the actual plants and water. The room filled with the quiet hum of the creative process, a stark contrast to the excited shouts and constant chatter of a SOP day. A sense of pride was tangible as you could hear the quaint exclamations of excitement and looks of awe as they uncovered their botanical prints.

Their curiosity had been heightened in the process of applying the two different types of water, as a potential discovery awaited them. Simply the act of wondering how salt and fresh water might interact differently with paints created tiny hypotheses that were easily tested. I heard wondering such as: “Maybe there will be little speckles in the salt water paint from the salt!” or “Do you think the fresh water will be lighter or darker than the salt water?” The water paint experiment yielded results that were met with a combination of surprise, disappointment, and intrigue. The project served as a reminder that hypotheses are not created to be proven right, but a method in trial and error to learn more about the world.

At the end of our time that day, the group posed for a picture with their works of art. You can see the exhaustion from their long trek to the harbor that day, but you can also see a glimmer of contentment as they pose with something they made from elements they had collected, piece by piece, during a day in the woods.