“Practice” Makes Perfect in the Intersection of Visual Arts and Science
The concept of “practice” has always been a word attached to my own personal art form of music. But the very verb-ness of that word has taken on a completely different dimension as a noun of serious proportions in my current work with visual artists to develop curriculum to support the new Next Generation Science Standards.
At my work at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, California, I have the incredible opportunity to work with a brilliant faculty of highly trained and creative teaching artists in a program called, “Children Investigate the Environment.” While this program has existed in a variety of forms since 1986, it was the release of the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in April of 2013 that prompted an idea to increase the rigor of the science content of the program.
Working in grade level teams with the teaching artists to create the curriculum, it took a while for us to wrap our heads around each of the aspects of the NGSS – Performance Expectations, Disciplinary Core Ideas, Cross Cutting Concepts, etc. However, the first thing that resonated with all of us was the focus on Scientific and Engineering Practices. In reflecting on our own various practices as artists, we realized that we had found an important connection. It was there that we started.
Yet despite this nifty initial connection, it was clear that the biggest source of anxiety for the teaching artists was the fear of not getting enough of the WHAT (science content that directly connected to the NGSS that could be assessed with a pre and post-test). And add to that issue their need to maintain some kind of balance with the visual arts content, concerned they would lose the emphasis on imagining and creating art. For those of you that work with standards-based arts integration, you may know that this balance is often not easy. But the reflection we did on the HOW of science and the HOW of visual art became a clear substrate of integration between the two disciplines. It was a bit of a “eureka” moment, actually. Thus the concept of “practice” became the very glue we needed.
As we toiled over creating assessment instruments for student learning in science, a question occurred to me. Would the most lasting aspect of the program be because students had more clarity on the difference between erosion and weathering? Or would it be because of the way in which students saw the world with a different “lens”? (That “lens” being the unique way that both scientists and artists approach the world through observation and come up with novel solutions to unique problems.) We think it might be the latter, but how can we “prove” that scientifically? So, based on our artistic gut, we are currently rethinking our assessments of student learning, endeavoring to include students’ ideas and reflections on the comparison of scientific and artistic practices.
Teaching artists provide such a unique role in their work with children that I find it hard to articulate it in a sentence or two. However, the lesson I have learned through this process of integrating science and visual arts has been in my complete awe at the creative genius of the teaching artists. There is no substitute for the exposure of children of the innovation, flexibility, and curiosity of an artist. And having met some scientists in the development of these lessons, I can say the same thing about them. Weird, but not.
And while we can all occupy ourselves with the WHAT of the Common Core State Standards and the WHAT of any number of other standards and initiatives, I invite you to reflect on the HOW of your practices and processes in order to truly hone the hungry masses of creative, communicative, collaborative, and critically thinking youth. But even beyond the HOW, the true crux of it all may very well fall into the WHO - who we are as artist ambassadors and how we share what it means to live an artful life. And we may come to realize that we may have more in common with the other WHOs out there than we had thought!
- What have been your experiences working with standards-based arts integration?
- What issues have you had in striking the balance between your art form and another content area?
- What insights can you share about working with the Next Generation Science Standards?
- How can a reflection on “practices” offer insights into your work?
- As an artist, what do you bring to your work?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below, and join Americans for the Arts (@Americans4Arts on Twitter/Instagram) for a Twitter chat this Friday at 4:00 p.m. on the topic of Teaching Artists.