Deirdre Moore | October 2018

Science, Art and Meaningful Integration

Everyone agrees that science and art are essential, yes? They’re essential to who we are as humans. They help us understand our world. And yet, where is the science and art integration? They are often woefully absent in the daily lives of our students.

Science + Art = Magic 

Done right, they are also content areas that are extremely motivating to students.  And when we integrate them?  Magic and meaning happen!  I have seen how motivating both art and science can be on their own as well. I’ve also seen how powerful they can be when integrated. I recently experienced several things that reminded me of this fact. They reinvigorated me to spread the gospel of the integration of science and art.
One thing I encountered was on one of my favorite NPR shows, Radiolab.  The theme of the show was the Periodic Table of Elements. It opened with a poem about helium by Christina Quintana from two evenings of poetry on the subject.
There is no she-lium
Yet he is pronoun and element
Top right king, the most noble gas.
But, if there was she-lium
How fine, wise, light she might be.
I was hooked.  Throughout the show, there were more poems and some songs shared on the topic.  Not all of them were factually science-based like the helium poem, but they all demonstrated some understanding of the focus element.  I could not find the above poem in any of my internet searches, so I had to transcribe it. But in my searches, I ran across a page called “Elemental haiku” by Mary Soon Lee, created last year.  It contains 119 haiku, one for each element.  When you hover the cursor over an element, a haiku about that element appears.
Tantrums? Explosions?
First step: admit the problem.
Electron envy.


It brought me back to when I was teaching 5th grade. One of my favorite projects was when my students each selected a planet and created a travel brochure for it. Their mission was to make it an attractive tourist destination. We even had a planetary “cocktail” party where the students mingled and took on some key characteristics of their planet. They bragging about what made them so great. (And boy, did they let their creativity shine through!) The poems I discovered about the elements do something similar.  They take an abstract concept and personify it. This makes it relatable, memorable and more accessible. It stretches the mind of the artist to think of the science concept in a new way.
A friend of mine, who is a science teacher, recently shared a video with me – “Chemical Party”. It shows a roomful of people at a party. They are representing different elements and exhibiting how they interact.  It had me laughing out loud!  Neon and hydrogen are dancing but there is clearly no attraction.  Then a carbon enters and is soon slow dancing with hydrogen showing a strong attraction.  Before long, three more hydrogens have joined in the dance.  Meanwhile, the noble gases are off in the corner on their phones not bonding.  Before long an intense fight breaks out between water and potassium. Some of the humor – and the science, for that matter – is inappropriate for younger children. But watching it may inspire you to structure a similar activity in your classroom.  I saw lots of related videos including a high school class doing their own take on the concept. Watching these videos I thought to myself, “If only these actors had some dance and theatre education, the quality of these videos and the depth of understanding could have been so much richer.”  Indeed!

Elements of Fun

Finally, I watched a video of Daniel Radcliffe on a talk show. He was singing a song that set the names of the elements to the Gilbert and Sullivan song “Major-General’s Song” from The Pirates of PenzanceDaniel Radcliffe sang the praises of the creator, Tom Lehrer, so of course, I had to investigate.  Born in 1928, he is a Harvard educated mathematician. He was also a satirist, writing over 50 songs that addressed math, science and how society uses and affects it.
I have shared other science-related art in previous articles because I love it. It excites me! And it is so very important to continue to find sources of inspiration. Our students deserve nothing less than inspired teaching… and the meaningful integration of science and art is just that!
Here are some of those art/science related articles I mentioned that might inspire you too.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.