Where Science and Art Meet: A Week at Oaklea Middle School

By Katie Schuessler

When I stepped into Jen Wolf’s 8th grade science class at Oaklea Middle School, she already knew what she wanted to do with arts integration, an approach to bridging the arts and science modeled on the “deep dive” learning experience she’d had during ArtCore’s 2017 Summer Institute for teachers.

As students learned about different types of chemical bonds, Ms. Wolf and I worked together to refine and implement a fully arts-integrated curriculum unit.

Our goal was to see students demonstrate an understanding of the physical representation of chemical bonds and the principles of design through a sculpture and written reflection. Furthermore, by participating in a classroom-wide critique, we wanted to see students engaged in meaningful, respectful dialogue about their processes and what they learned.

  Students envision ideas for their sculptures using white boards.

Students envision ideas for their sculptures using white boards.

Through hands-on, group-based activities, we hoped students would discover the relationships between the scientific concepts they’re studying, and the principles of design.

After learning the basics of ionic, covalent and metallic chemical bonds, we introduced the class to the principles of design. Then, each student, or pair of students, was secretly assigned one principle, such as balance or contrast, and they worked with recycled materials to create a sculpture representing that principle. We took turns guessing which principle each sculpture represented, and discovered that there is often overlap!

  Students used recycled materials to create a sculpture representing the chemical bonds present in water.

Students used recycled materials to create a sculpture representing the chemical bonds present in water.

It wasn’t just about introducing the principles of design, though; students had an opportunity to become familiar with the materials they’d be using in their final sculptures, so when it came time to envision their finished product, they knew what they would be working with.

“I really enjoyed seeing how creative the students got in recycling the materials and re-purposing them into some quality sculptures.  There were so many moments that I was blown away in how they used ‘junk’ in creative and purposeful ways,” Ms. Wolf said.

For their final sculpture, students worked in groups of four to represent a specific chemical bond. Each group member had a specific role that was relevant to completing the project, such as recorder, visionary, and materials manager. In addition to representing a chemical bond, they were also required to use at least three principles of design in their final product.

  Students used recycled materials to create a sculpture representing the chemical bonds present in hydrogen peroxide.

Students used recycled materials to create a sculpture representing the chemical bonds present in hydrogen peroxide.

On the last day, students showed their final sculptures in a gallery walk, and had an opportunity to give feedback to one another. They each completed the following sentences: I see…, I think…, and I wonder… Each prompt was designed to assist students in developing skills of observation (I see), interpreting (I think), and asking questions (I wonder).

  Students used recycled materials to create a sculpture representing the chemical bonds present in steel.

Students used recycled materials to create a sculpture representing the chemical bonds present in steel.

After the gallery walk, groups returned to their own sculptures to look over the feedback. Then, each group member got to choose a question that had been asked in the “I wonder” portion of the responses, and answer it to the whole class. It was incredible to see how, because they were invested in their own questions and answers, students were deeply engaged and respectful during this step.

Finally, the group had to answer reflection questions and complete a written self-assessment.

Many of the sculptures are now on display in the front lobby of Oaklea Middle School.

“To me, the most successful part of the lesson was that the students were able to point out how their sculptures represented their chemical bonds and were able to form creative associations between unobservable chemistry concepts and their experiences and understanding,” Ms. Wolf said.