Vol24# 2_At the Exploratorium: Teaching Art and Science, A Chamberlain

Tags: The Exploratorium, observation, art and science, students, sound, EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVES, artists, concrete properties, investigation, special issue, Jeiln Piaget, teachers, Frank Oppenheimer, the investigation, Bernard Zubrowski, resource teachers, colored lights, Science writer, Sir Alexander Fleming, colored light, interactive exhibits, developing materials, interdisciplinary study
Content: EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVES/ 11 AT THE EXPLORATORIUM Teaching Art and Science Ann Chamberlain
The Exploratorium, San Francisco's museum of art and science, is a place where people learn by doing. With the museum's collection of over 600 interactive exhibits, visitors can investigate physical phenomena, experimenting and learning about the world around them. Experimenting with The Exploratorium's exhibits helps people learn about specific things - the behavior of light as it shines through a lens, for example, or the reasons you can't judge a color under flourescent lights. But this self-directed experimentation also introduces people to a process of learning about the world through their own observations and deductions. Since the museum's inception, both ilrtists ilnd scientists have been involved in building exhibits. Frilnk Oppenheimer, the museum's founder, recognized the importilnce of art to the perception of natural phenomena. He once said: "Art is included not just to make things look pretty, but primilrily because artists milke different kinds of discoveries about nilture thiln do physicists or biologists. Both artists and scientists help us notice and appreciate things in nature thilt we hild leilrned to ignore or had never been taught to see." The School in The Exploratorium (SITE) is a training program that introduces elementary school teilchers to the resources ilnd the educational ilpproilch of The Exploratorium. The progrilm, which involves ilrtists, teachers, and scientists, is designed to give teachers confidence in their own ability to learn through observation and inquiry. SITE offers three-day workshops that provide intensive training on specific subjects, such as light, sound, color, or visuill perception. Through these workshops, teachers gilin an understanding of the pilrticular subject, become acquainted with exhibits ill the museum a nd the teaching kits ilvailable through SITE's Lending Library, and learn to use the museum as an extension of the classroom. In addition to the workshops, SITE has resource teachers who give advice and support to teachers in the classroom and help set up materials and teach using hands-on methods. The SITE artists, as well as teaching and participating in workshops, collaborate with teachers, students, and other SITE staff members in developing special projects.
In The Exploratorium's SITE program, we make use of an interdisciplinary study that incorporates both art and science. The focus is not on learning about either discipline, but, rather, on learning to observe, investigate and create - a process common to both disciplines. Objectivity and Subjectivity According to the popular stereotype, scientists are "objective" observers dispassionately recording data, separated from their study by il plate glass window; Scientists are objective observers dispassionately recording data; artists are wildly emotional and subjective while artists are wildly emotional and totally subjective with their work. In reality, neither image gives an accurate picture of the creative process for artist or scientist. A few years ago, we experienced this problem in the course of a SITE workshop on colored light. We had begun the workshop with some investigations of rainbows and the effects of colored lights on colored objects: what color does a green light turn a red tomato? During the afterNoon Session, the artists led the teachers in the creation of a colored light installation. The teachers made colored cutouts. When these colored collages were illuminated with multiple colored lights, the colored paper was transformed. Brilliant reds turned brown under green light, while pale blues became luminous under cyan lights. Each of the teacher's collage cutouts generated multiple colored shadows of cyan, magenta, gold, green and red. The effect of the piece was truly magical and the teachers were delighted. To wrap things up, we asked the teachers what they had observed. All at once the enthusiasm and involvement evaporated. No one seemed to be able to think of anything they had observed. We had just been experiencing light and color
as artists, now we were asking the teachers to be objective observers of that experience. The first was a pleasure; the second, a discipline. The confusion of our teachers raised a number of questions for us. ls obscru111g different from cxpcric11ci11g something? Does observation imply objectivity? What is the difference between observation and play? Does observation imply lack of involvement? Is enjoyment and aesthetic appreciation distinct from or simply an aspect of observation? And, finally, how do we assess experiences of students and teachers other than asking them "what have you observed?" How we observe, how we respond to the subject and what we choose to do with that information are key issues in creative investigation both in art and science. What does it means to say "I observe?" Can observation be thought of merely as a series of pictures, Precise observation in art and science involves putting aside expectation in order to see phenomena for the first time or does it require more involvement on the part of the observer? Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock is a geneticist who singlemindedly pursued an investigation of corn kernels that showed changes which could not be explained by the prevailing DNA model of genetics. McClintock says that she looked for differences, never overlooking details but seeing everything as significant. She believes many researchers overlook differences, calling them exceptions, aberrations, contaminants - and miss what is really going on. Precise observation in both art and science involves putting aside expectation and experience in order to see a phenomena for the first time. The French impressionist Claude Monet's ability to observe, select and follow a particular line of inquiry is an important aspect of his genius as a painter. His repeated studies of light on haystacks at different times of day are examples of a focused investigation, recording variations in the reflective light on one object. Each study is a careful examination of change and difference. Monet had the capacity to paint the same subject many different times; and each time see it as a unique phenomenon.
Observation and Investigation Through Materials Within our teaching team of artists, teachers, and scientists, the artists exemplify a process of inquiry based on observation and manipulation of materials. For example, in developing materials for a sound workshop, Bob Passig, a SITE artist, started with a reed of grass. When he put the reed between this thumbs and blew, he created a high-pitched whine. He continued the investigation by collecting a variety of things that could make the same sound: a nail file and piece of paper, two pieces of cardboard, a comb and paper. He learned how to position his lips and blow to create sounds from these things. He found that blowing on very different materials could create similar effects. Through his investigation, he became more and more intrigued with sounds around him and noticed many things which vibrated, creating high-pitched sounds: telephone wires in the wind, a eucalyptus tree, and palm fronds. This sort of experience made the conceptual information about vibration and sound much more relevant to the world in which we live. Jn the workshops at The Exploratorium, we repeated this process of observation and investigation with the teachers. Each teacher had to find objects in their everyday environment and then think of five ways to "play" them or create different sounds with them. For children, this is a natural relation to the world: their most compelling learning takes place through experiencing. Bernard Zubrowski, a scientist and sculptor at the Children's Museum in Boston, points out: "It has been my experience working with children that they are more interested in what can be done with materials than what can be learned from them. The tangible concrete properties are more likely to elicit role playing or projection of personal emotions than an explicit attempt to gain cognitive control of the situation or to understand an abstract concept."1 Not only does the child learn through concrete examples but, as Zubrowski points out, this process is subjective and personal. In science and art education, as stressed by Zubrowski, there is a need to work with and appreciate the materials at hand and allow them to teach us rather than devising experiments or activities which illustrate certain concepts. Zubrowski elaborates: "Bubbles, spinning tops, rolling marbles down tracks are what I would call intrinsically interesting phenomena. They are hypnotic in their engagement with the activator. The properties give rise to an emotional involvement and offer possibility for aesthetic expression. Given the open-ended nature of these materials and their accompanying reactions, they are good media for the
artist, and full of opportunities for learning basic physical science."2 It is the compelling aesthetic quality of materials and their availability in art class that prompted Chris deLatour, physicist at The Exploratorium, to comment that "It may well be that we need to teach science in the art room. What better place to talk about color or light or vision than where materials are available." In the SITE program, the teachers, with help from the artists, provided students with activities and a focus for observing and experimenting with sound in their daily lives. The students kept sound journals over a period of a month. Sometimes they were given specific exercises in listening, and other times they were asked to listen to whatever they wanted to. One student noticed the difference in the sound of birds, cars, and other environmental sounds in the morning and evening. Another student, af!er experimenting with sound vibrations in class, tested all the objects in the house for vibration while a bulldozer was working outside on the street. In each instance, the Stude nts were observing and testing their own environment and developing, from these experiences, ideas about how the world works. This sort of observation requires discipline, but it is also pleasurable; it creates a sense of involvement and participation in the physical world. Play in Art and Science Play is a necessary and natural aspect of engaged observation. The world is not simply observed, we are participants in its working. Piaget defines play as an activity which is an end in itself and involves assimilation of objects from the external world into the child's activity. Play and imitation are, in Piaget's view, essential aspects of the development of intelligence. Play is important not only in the de velopment of intelligence of children but emerges again and again as an important step in invention and discovery. Cyril S. Smith, a metallurgist at MIT, has researched the history of technological invention. His findings are inte resting. "Historically, the first discovery of useful materials, machines or processes has almost always been in the decorative arts, and was not done for a perceived practical purpose. Necessity is not the mother of invention, only of improveme nt. A man desperately in search of a weapon or food is in no mood for discovery; he can only exploit what is already known to exist. The wheel first appeared on toys, the automata based on hydraulic and mechanical trucks that were used in Greek temples and theatres foreshadowed the water wheel and the dock.''3
The sort of "purposeless" play in the arts has allowed for many inventions. Science writer K.C. Cole states: "Play means trying something just to see what happens (or often doesn't happen). It is particularly important because it develops perhaps the most important scientific tool of all - intuition."4 Curiosity, play, following hunches just to see what happens has led to some important discoveries in science. Sir Alexander Fleming followed a surprising clue in the abnormal growth of certain molds. This caused him to change the course of his research and led to the discovery of penicillin. SITE artist Dan DiPierro worked with one class on creating sound instruments and toys. On the first day of investigation, children were asked to bring in materials which were cheap, durable, and safe. By playing, students made numerous discoveries about the sound potential of Play is a necessary and natural aspect of engaged observation the materials they had brought in: some pieces of metal created ringing sounds, others rattled, some dunked. The children de vised a varie ty of ways to make sound with these objects. As DiPierro stated, "The important thing during this noisy period of play was to explore the rich realm of possibilities before fixing on one particular solution. Out of this seeming chaos, an organic growth of ideas and solutions emerged." From some old lumber and a pile of junk discarded from the janitor's office developed a "Sound See-Saw.'' Students used simple tools such as hammers, saws and nails to attach bolts suspended by wires. The bolts hit the pavement as the see-saw rocked back and forth, creating wonderful ringing sounds. Teachers and artists were active participants and collaborators in this process of play, encouraging the students and helping them when they got stuck. The artists acted as catalysts when students didn't know where to go next, not telling the students what to do but encouraging them to try other possibilities, to look at what other students were doing and to be willing to throw their own ideas out and start over if they weren't working. As SITE artist Bob Passig said, "I watch all the
time. I'm checking what other kids are doing. I show kids that are stuck when someone's on to something." When one class got to an impasse, Bob talked about his own process as an artist: "Sometimes I mess up, get bored or frustrated or just plain have lo start over. And that's okay; it's part of the process." This encouraged the kids to return the next day with new materials and develop ideas which went far beyond their initial investigations. During this sort of play, students shared and learned from each other. In one class, students were using colored filters to change the way the world looked. One child made colored glasses out of cardboard. Another expanded this idea and created a movable pinwheel which changed the filters in front of his eyes. In another class, the students had "sharing time" when they would show each other what they were working on and then give each other suggestions as lo other possibilities. This gave the Like play, appreciation of beauty requires the actual participation of the observer students a chance lo look at their projects from various points of view, to give criticism to others' projects, and to enlarge their own investigation and vocabulary. The teacher observed that the classroom investigations took on a new energy and d irection after these sessions. Aesthetics in Art and Science Like play, appreciation of beauty requires the actual participation of the observer. To some people, aesthetics seem foreign to the world of science; yet, in recent years, numerous scientists have discussed aesthetics in science - both on the level of quality of materials and of the quality and appreciation of ideas. C.S. Smith, in his History of Technology, examines the fact that artists were often the first to be aware of the properties of metals. He says, "The very nature of discovery derives from aesthetically motivated curiosity and is rarely a result of practical purposefulncss."5 In science, the quest for beauty extends into the realm of theory. Says physicist Paul Dirac, "It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiments."6 But why should beauty become a criteria in theoretical physics? K.C. Cole suggests that
beauty is important because it transcends logic. "Science alone logically leads us only to our own perceptual limitations, our inability to imagine the unknown." Robert Root-Bernstein, a Los Angeles scientist, advocates the teaching of art for scientists as a way of learning to visualize. He says, "Science is not dry-as-dust facts and immutable logic, but insight into the causes and shapes of unknown things."7 He sees the arts as a way of developing the imagination. "The fine arts are not just a source of values. They are useful because they embody tools of thought that help us learn how to perceive, order and understand our world."H Aesthetics, to many scientists, has come to mean the capacity to transcend logic; the ability to come up with a truly original idea. "A new idea is difficult to think of. It ta kes fantastic imagination,''9 says physicist Paul Feynman. In the process of creating special projects for the classroom, SITE teachers and artists work on nurturing the imaginations of the students. In generating the ideas for the "Sound Garden" and "Color Garden," the artists and teachers started with the students' ideas. The students had already been introduced to concepts about color and sound through their own classroom experimentations. For the "Sound Garden," the artists and teachers asked the students to imagine the things they could hear in a garden: such as birds, or the sound of wind in the trees, or their own feet on gravel or grass or dried leaves. This led to considerations of the various ways sound could be generated in a garden, through wind, or by walking and touching. The students thought of inexpensive things which would hold up outdoors, and would be safe for other children lo play with, and cheap. From this discussion sprang ideas: a sound sandwich, something that made sounds when walked on, and a scarecrow which, when touched, made sounds. In one class, a student remarked that he liked the sound of the hose on the grill and windows when his dad washed the car. This resulted in "Sound Sprinkler," a garden hose which sprayed everything from an old car door to kitchen bowls. It took a willingness of both the artist and teacher to accept the comments and interests of the class and nurture the development of these ideas into final projects. Through this process, both teachers and students benefited tremendously in learning to believe in their own ideas, and in the possibility of more than one solution to a problem. Phil Lopate, writer and educator, discusses the necessity of developing a capacity for uncertainty in education: "Keats speaks of 'negative capability' as the rare gift of being able to hold several contradictory
possibilities in mind without jumping to a conclusion. Schools, in their encouragement of the first student with the right answer, do little to build a tolerance for this sort of creative tension." 10 Working with the teachers in an open-ended situation and developing a project through a process of brainstorming enabled the teachers to begin to endure uncertainty and value the questions and process of inquiry as much as the final product. In one class, the teachers asked the students to draw up a design for their planned constructions at the "Sound Garden." Once the students had begun their construction, they often saw where the plan for their sound structure needed to be changed. The teacher asked the students to redraw the plan for their sound structure as they continued to construct their piece, enabling the students to see the ongoing development process as the idea adjusted to materials and needs of construction. The process of development and adjustment continued into the installation of projects at the "Sound Garden." Assisted by the teachers and the artists, the students determined the best way to display their sound structures so that they would be accessible to others, function well, and create the best visual display in the garden. The final "Sound Garden," an outgrowth from Sound Workshops at The Exploratorium, was a public display generated by students in five different classes. Each class produced an array of objects which reflected diverse concerns regarding the nature of sound. F.ach piece reflected the students' understanding and application of basic concepts about vibration, pitch, volume, and resonance. A garden of "vegetation vibration" was a group of wobbly "plants" made from stalks of thin wooden planks and floppy branches of sagging coat-hanger wire. These plants grew out of students' noticing that the bend (and the rate of vibration) changed as a wire got longer, and it also changed as they hung more and more weight on the wire. The plants resulted from experiments with different lengths and different weights. Little bottle caps skewered on the wires made a buzzing noise as the wires vibrated. A small bracelet - a cardboard ring adorned with buttons, wires and tacks - rattled when shook as if it were a mariachi band instrument. A teacher said the bracelet was made by a particularly slow student - a young girl who showed almost no power of abstract thought and who rarely was able to participate in class activities. One boy walked around leading his "Sound Dog" on
a leash - a cookie tin filled with nails and metal objects which rolled along on the ground like a wheel, jangling as it went. At the opening of the "Sound Garden," students brought their parents, sisters and brothers, and escorted the visitors around explaining their projects and answering questions. The students were equally interested in the projects and discoveries made by those students in other classes and went around reading and trying out other projects. The "Color Garden" had a similar impact on children who attended. A color canopy or color carwash attracted tremendous attention in one class. Kaleidoscopes, colored glasses and filters dangled from a canopy suspended in a tree. Students could look through these glasses and filters and with each one see a different colored garden. One classroom teacher developed a smaller version of a color The current cultural split does not lie between artist and scientist, but between those who create and those who do not garden at her school (as a spinoff) from their study of color. Another teacher, after going through the workshops at The Exploratorium and working on the "Color Garden," said, "I realized the sky was the limit. I could come up with a diversity of solutions and each was okay.'' Perhaps the ability of both teachers and students to teach their parents and friends, learn from each other, and apply what they had learned are the most appropriate measurements of what they had observed. In The Exploratorium school program, teacher training workshops and outreach projects function as an interrelated whole. We teach a way to investigate and observe the world and a method of application to a focused project. It is an interdisciplinary study - not art or science, but both; it is a process of learning to create. As well, we're working on expanding the capacity of teachers to observe and become engaged in play and experimentation. We hope to encourage the teachers' ability to endure the uncertainty of inquiry and develop a sense of personal participation and wonder in the physical world in which we all live. These are valuable skills for all of us, as individuals and as a culture. The current cultural split does not lie between artists and scientists, but between those who create and those who do not.
Photo from Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu. Hawaii
FOOTNOTES 1Bcrnard Zubrowski, "An aesthetic approach to teaching sci1mce," in /111m111l of Rcscarclt ill Sc1c11Cl' Tcac/1111g, vol. 19. 1982, PS· 411. 21111d., pg. 413. 3/bid . pg. 412. ~K.C. Cole, "Things your teilcher never taught you about sdcncc," in 111e News Day Magawu·, March 23, 1986, pg. 28. 5I111d., pg. 31. 611>1d. 7Connie Zweig "Exploring the link between arts and <;(i1mces," in Los A11gclcs T1111cs. part v. February 7, 1986, pp 6-8 . 6/btd., pg. 6 'iCole, "I'·cit, pg 31 10rhillip lopatc. &illg Witlt Cl1ildreu. Garden City, New York . DoublL'Yale University Press, 1985. Anthony Komer, "Aurora musicalis," in Art Fornm. Summer 1986.
Frank Oppenheimer, The Expforati'111 Maga:im·, Special Issue, March 1985; (Frank Oppenheimer, 1912-1985). Jeiln Piaget, Play Dreams and lmitati
A Chamberlain

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