My Art 30 students have finished their paintings with narratives about water. The UV light has worked better than expected, with students frequently coming up to myself or Ms. Moe and asking us to take a look at their artworks. Today their paintings were installed in the Warman High hallway along with UV lights so viewers can explore the various layers of their paintings. They will be up for a couple weeks, and all are invited to come check out their exhibition. Ms. Lebiszczak's class came by after my art students had critiqued it and I heard comments like "These are beautiful" and "I wish school wasn't always so academic so that we could learn about subjects this way".
Water Narratives: An Art 30 & Environmental Science 20 Collaboration
“For many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it.” - Marcus Samuelsson
Water is essential to life as we know it; indeed, the human body is constructed of 60% water. There is a limited amount of clean water on earth and human beings do not have equal access to it.
This project was a collaboration between Ms. Lebiszczak's Environmental Science 20 class and Ms. Gerrard's Art 30 class. Warman High School received 2 water testing kits from the Safe Drinking Water Foundation (SDWF) this fall. SDWF is an organization "which was founded in 1997 by five international scientists (from Canada, Russia, Scotland and Japan) in order to assist rural communities in developing countries with their water treatment issues. However, it was soon discovered that there are many issues in terms of drinking water quality right here in Canada, primarily in rural and First Nations communities, so SDWF focused on those issues. SDWF became a registered Canadian charity in January 1998" (Hancock, 2018, personal communication).
Science students tested a variety of Warman's water and presented their results to Ms. Gerrard's art students. The tests revealed that the waters in and around Warman were very clean. Some of the main chemicals students examined were nitrates, which can promote eutrophication or massive algae blooms in freshwater ecosystems, arsenic, which is extremely toxic, hard water, which affects tastes and scaling on pipes, and copper and other heavy metals which can create health problems.
The Science Students tested Warman tap water, local water from Prairie Oasis pond, rural treated water and rural untreated water. They found that all of the water samples were very safe. They expected the rural untreated water would have higher nitrate levels in it because it comes from a farming area. However, it was lower than the required amount. Students found that all of the samples tested high for hard water, but that is to be expected given that there is a large amount of calcium in the bedrock in Saskatchewan. Students did notice that the Warman tap water was higher in copper than we expected, but they realized that this was likely due to experimental error or that copper pipes can leach copper into the water. To remedy this, it's recommended that people with copper plumbing run their water to flush the copper before they drink it.
Both the science and art classes spent time discussing water availability in Saskatchewan and read that many First Nations communities have been under boil water advisories, some for years. Science students discussed how people often think about how they need to address water scarcity in developing areas, but forget to look within our own province or country to address the needs here. Students talked about water treatment and what could be done to ensure all Saskatchewanians have easy access to clean, safe water.
Subsequently, students from the science class shared their findings and various facts about water with the art students, and they teamed up to discuss what messages about water should be communicated to Warman High Students in each of the artwork. Ms. Gerrard read the picturebook "The Water Walker" by Joanne Robertson to the collective group, so as to include an Indigenous perspective about the value of water. Art 30 students subsequently studied various artworks by Luba Lukova, and emulated her style by limiting their colour palette to three colours and employing clip-art style symbols to convey meaning. Finally, art students applied special invisible phosphorous markers and/or paint to their artworks that only show up when ultraviolet light illuminates them - in doing they are able to convey a double narrative within their artworks.
In art, media is sometimes important to the artist's message. This is true in this exhibit: the use of UV is symbolic in that UV light systems are one way that water is disinfected by water treatment plants since UV light kills bacteria. Next to this sign are several UV lights that can be switched on to explore the hidden messages in the artwork. Please return the UV light at the end of the exhibit. A safety reminder never to point UV light in people's eyes.
Thanks to some local moss donors, today after school we began experimenting with moss paint. We whipped up several variations and painted them onto an up-cycled wood cabinet and will begin spraying them several times a week to see if we can generate some growth. I've read more about moss paint and I'm cautiously optimistic, since some bloggers note that it can take upwards of 2 months to grow moss. We also discovered that chia seed requires little soil to grow, and so we are going to experiment with wall/clay art and chia seed as well (like this person’s instructables).
Today we learned about the proportions of the body (adult humans are typically 8 heads tall) and practiced blind contour, contour, and gesture drawings. Everyone took turns posing, which is always lots of fun. Then I rolled out our new skeleton - students named it Alex - and our manikins and womanikins (my made-up word for the female forms) and we practiced drawing the human body by breaking it down into basic shapes. It was amazing to see students' growth in just one class. We even had time to watch a quick blurb on Cirque De Soleil performers and understand through MRI scans how contortionists' bodies differ from the average humans.
Before I learned about Arduinos I had read about Makey-Makey boards. I had read about this project in SchoolArts magazine. It was the lightbulb moment that, for me, made me think we could create interactive art at Warman High. I loaned a kit from the Saskatoon Public Library to try out with my daughter so I could better understand how it works (they have awesome tech kits that they loan for 3 weeks at a time). The library kit came with a starter "how to" guide that led us to this website so that we could make our own piano out of celery sticks. We had to do a little bit of trouble shooting (the tinfoil needed to be tighter against her wrist to ensure contact) but what I loved was that she naturally problem-solved and figured out solutions as we went. After the celery experiment we tried the same thing but with pencil around the edges of a paper. We found that we had to draw pretty dark lines with a pencil (a 6B would probably create a much stronger connection than our household HB pencil). We also experimented with silver and gold sharpie, but there was no conductivity with those mediums.
Up for a challenge? Try downloading the Scratch program developed by users at MIT, and navigate to this pre-coded Piano. Follow step-by-step instructions from project 12 in 20 Make Makey Projects for the Evil Genius.
The first time I ever heard of Arduinos was at the National Art Education Association's 2018 conference in Seattle. It was there that I attended a session on paper circuits and realized the potential of interactive art. One of the session leaders sensed my interest and told me, "if you want to take this further, you should look into Arduinos."
A chance e-mail earlier this month from our school division informed us that Saskcode was offering PD surrounding Arduinos at zero cost to school divisions. I could not have been more lucky as I had thought I'd have to teach myself using online tutorials. Off Ms. Fishley and I went today to attend an introductory session on how to program Arduinos. It is mind boggling what a little bit of software, coding, and components are capable of creating. In the Arduino level 1 workshop we barely scratched the surface, but managed to program speakers, blinking LEDs, and a motor. I stayed for the Arduino level 2 workshop in the afternoon and learned about Lilypads (wearable Arduino Unos) and programmed a remote control car. This year Saskcode is funded by a grant they received from the federal government; they provide programming for K-12 teachers and loan classroom kits out to teachers once they've been trained for one month at a time. The presenters even had a slide about STEAM in their introduction, and noted that one of the key initiatives is to get girls and non-Euro Canadians interested in technology - they noted that current research illustrates that by grade 3, girls do not see themselves in tech fields and noted this needs to change as the tech field is dominated by white, middle-aged, men. Diversity is needed in the tech field to spark creativity and innovation.
All in all it was a fascinating, brain-growing neurons, kind of a day. I learned that e-bay has Arduinos for a fraction of Amazon's cost, and that creating my own classroom kit is within my budget.
In my grant proposal I budgeted $500 for a 3-D printer - I knew that would allow me to get an entry level printer since many sell in the $400 range now (I was looking at a model like this one). Since receiving the grant I did a lot of research about which printer to get. The more I learned the more I wondered if the school had funds to add to our initial investment, thus supporting us getting an even better printer. Ms. Bitner and Ms. Handwork both said they’d use a printer in their respective robotics and drafting classes, so I knew a demand for a 3-D printer existed in our school.
Yesterday Randy from Wave of the Future 3D came out to Warman to give us a 3-D printing demo and answer all of our questions. Cool side note: his company is known for 3-D printing the largest object in the world out of recycled pop bottles (a camper trailer). The machines he sells are clearly advanced. They have a warm bed, which means the print sticks to it, they have a large printing area, and they print a wide variety of filament. My research centred around plastic filament (PLA) but Randy explained how the industry is now making filaments that include: wood fibre filament (porus), nylon (bendable), silver-nitrate infused filament (it stops bacteria growing), steel, etc. The PLA he stocks is made out of cornstarch and sugar, which Randy informed us composts in 42 days. I love that he recycles old projects so that it doesn’t hurt the environment. The machines run on minimal power and consumes about the same energy as a small lightbulb. The possibilities are endless.
The demo was great, and I feel so good about buying local from Randy as it’s nice to know that when we have questions (or run into technical difficulties) there’s a real person who can help us troubleshoot and who is willing to come and service the machine.
Ms. Lebiszczak suggested to me that we partner to create a moss art installation. My mind is buzzing with ideas. Neither of us has ever done this before, so there is lots of experimenting to do. First we need to find some moss. Then Ms. Lebiszczak is going to get her class to test out ways to cultivate moss and then my class will create paint out of it using a recipe like this apply it to recycled wooden cabinets.
This week the collaboration between science students and art students began. Two groups of students from Ms. Lebiszczak's class came to present their Warman water testing findings to my Art students. My students were interested in the results. As an observer, it occurred to me that the collaborative process that is beginning between the science and art class adds a sense of purpose to what is being learned and shared between groups. Having an audience matters and knowing that one science student's work has implications for an art student's work creates purpose and adds meaning to the learning process.
Yesterday we gathered our two groups together and the science students shared facts about water with my art students, who will now create acrylic artworks that express clear messages about water. These artworks will line Warman High School's hallway as an art exhibit and collectively communicate messages about water back to Warman High School's student population. Some of the artworks' messages will be literal; for example, raising awareness about the average Canadian's water consumption per day (329 litres); others will communicate a social justice narrative about water; for example, there are many boil water advisories today on reservations across Canada - access to water is not equal amongst Canadians (you can see a boil water advisory map of Canada here). Art students will be creating works in the style of Luba Lukova. When they are finished we will meet up with the science students one more time and together apply UV media to the artworks - the UV media allows students to further communicate their narratives, but only lights up under a blacklight which means viewers must interact with the art if they want the full experience and, in doing so, they become engaged in their own learnings.
We finished yesterday's lesson by reading Joanne Robertson's picturebook The Water Walker, which is a true story about Josephine Mandarin, and Ojibway woman who loved Nibi (water) so much, she walked over 10,900 miles to raise awareness about the importance of it.
These are some of the key STEAM projects we will be focusing on this year:
I found out this week that Ms. Lebiszczak, Ms. Fishley, and myself received a grant from the Prairie Spirit Schools Foundation to infuse our classrooms with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). I am thrilled. I decided to document my STEAM journey for a few reasons: I want to remember where I found resources, I want to have an online place to collect and store ideas for projects, and I want to remember what I did this year STEAM-wise with students. In my mind, a blog is an easy and accessible way to help share my experiences and learnings with others.
Sarah Gerrard teaches Visual Arts 9-12 at Warman High School. She recently received a grant from the Prairie Spirit Schools Foundation to infuse her courses with STEAM.