Earth Without Art is Just Eh
From June 18th through the 23rd, 18 teachers from across the country gathered in Washington, DC, to learn about biodiversity at this year’s Biodiversity Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers, or SSEAT. The participants went behind the scenes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, spent time in the museum’s Q?rius Lab, and traveled to Edgewater, Maryland, to visit the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Throughout the week, teachers were able to explore fields such an entomology, paleobiology, ecology, scientific illustration, and ornithology with Smithsonian scientists and researchers as well as experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
An important theme throughout the Biodiversity SSEAT was how numerous fields of study are interrelated with the sciences. In particular, there was a focus on the integration of the arts with STEM (the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which creates the concept of STEAM. Although the concept of STEAM was present throughout the week, it was most prevalent during Sally Bensusen’s session called “Integrating STEM and the Arts.” Working as a scientific illustrator for over 30 years, Ms. Bensusen had a variety of techniques and activities to share with the teachers.
Sally Bensusen instructs a participant on how to use a microscope for scientific illustration.
In particular, teachers enjoyed Ms. Bensusen’s warm-up activity, which required the teachers to split into teams and describe an object to a designated group member. The teachers were not allowed to show the object to the designated illustrator, nor say directly what the object was. When time was up, each artist displayed their work and the subject was revealed to them. This activity enabled the groups to work cooperatively and problem solve, exercising the same skills their students must develop, in a creative setting.
A group of participants displays their speed drawing of a fossilized jawbone.
Once the warm-up activity had concluded, teachers were able to utilize dissecting microscopes within the Q?rius Lab to examine Smithsonian specimens. By having the opportunity to examine specimens at an enhanced magnification, the teachers were able to illustrate at a level of detail previously inaccessible. The results were highly detailed drawings of leaf veins, insect hairs, and much more. This activity truly demonstrated how interconnected the arts and science are!
Participants utilize the microscopes within the Q?rius Lab to examine specimens and illustrate them.
Although many teachers stated that they currently use journals within their classroom, all stated that they learned new techniques and activities to bring back to their students. Additionally, teachers discussed applying Ms. Bensusen’s lessons at home to expand upon their personal use of scientific illustration.
Teachers utilized their newly acquired artistic skills throughout the week during activities such as Nate Erwin’s sessions exploring the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden. Teachers were able to apply their skills of observation and illustration while examining how time of day and light alter the ecosystem of the Smithsonian’s garden by examining a particular spot across time.
While in the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden, a participant applies her scientific illustration skills in her journal.
Being able to participate in the 2017 Biodiversity SSEAT was an amazing experience. I was able to connect with educators from around the country and hear their stories about their passions, their educational backgrounds, and most importantly, their students. Every teacher brought a unique story to the SSEAT, but they all shared a common goal: enhancing their STEAM knowledge in order to ultimately enhance the classroom experiences of their students. This collective selflessness and desire to positively affect the lives of their students was incredible; this type of attitude is something I believe is exclusively held by educators. After working on the Biodiversity SSEAT, I have a heightened level of respect for educators because of the attitudes I witnessed. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience planning and participating in the SSEC’s Biodiversity SSEAT.
The participants of the 2017 Biodiversity SSEAT pose with Henry the Elephant in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.