The lessons began with glow sticks, straws, balloons and Life Savers. They ended with a dance party and a car race across the school gym.
In between, the fourth and fifth graders in Tracy Fowler’s class at Rainier Elementary School in Lakewood, Washington, learned about energy and heat transfer, writing and testing hypotheses, chemical reactions, and engineering and design.
Thanks to the Science of Art program at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, students in kindergarten through middle school and their teachers have been experiencing new and fun ways to learn about science and art since 2002.
Based on Next Generation Science Standards and Washington State Arts Standards, five teaching units cover scientific principles and creative processes while encouraging critical thinking, teamwork and problem-solving.
For more than a decade, Tracy and her classes have participated in the museum’s on-site program, which includes classroom visits from an art educator and a field trip to the Museum of Glass, where students tour the Hot Shop as artists demonstrate glass blowing and casting.
When the pandemic hit, the museum closed to the public for a year. During the shutdown, the staff redesigned the curriculum and added a virtual option for those who cannot attend in person due to distance or other barriers.
This year, Tracy and her class signed up for “A New Ton of Energy.”
“It’s a wonderful program whether you do it virtually or in person,” she says. “The kids love it.”
The Virtual Science of Art program includes lesson plans for teachers and the same opportunities for activities and experiments as the on-site program. It also includes links to videos featuring the museum’s art educator, interviews with artists and the Hot Shop.
Each unit costs $75 for a class of 30 students. Schools in the Tacoma area can also purchase a Creativity Trunk with all the supplies needed for the experiments and demonstrations for $100 and have it shipped. Teachers can also obtain the list of household supplies to buy themselves.
Rainier Elementary School students learned how chemical reactions create different colors in glow sticks and then fashioned the colorful wands into accessories to wear as they danced to “Macarena” and the Taylor Swift hit “Shake it Off.”
Energy and heat transfer were the focus as students designed and created balloon-powered cars from straws and cardboard and set them racing off on Life Savers candy wheels.
The lesson included calculating the distance and speed the cars traveled.
“If their car didn’t go straight, they had to figure out why and make adjustments to their prototype,” Tracy says. “They did it until their balloons burst because they’d blown them up so much. It was a lot of fun.”
The educational videos featuring the museum’s Hot Shop also were a hit.
“It was a great opportunity for the kids to learn about blowing glass, how they add the colors, the different temperatures they use and to watch them cut pieces of glass,” Tracy says. “All those reactions that were going on when we were in class were also going on in the glass blowing.”
The Science of Art curriculum challenges students to think as both artists and scientists.
“We believe in the holistic, interdisciplinary experience of teaching,” says Susan Warner, the museum’s curator of education. “We experience the real world through a combination of different disciplines.
“For a student to have the experience of art and science together is a natural world situation. It allows students who are stronger in one or the other of the subjects to appreciate and learn about how the commonalities of the disciplines make our world what it is today.”
That sort of excitement, passion, inquiry and initiative is going to be required of the 21st century workforce, she says.
“When I think about the sciences, we do see that there are less girls and diversity in the workforce,” Susan says. “I hope that this program encourages those who have not pursued the science fields, for whatever reason—that this program is also a doorway into seeing how exciting it is and how one can be successful if one looks at the sciences through a different lens.”
AT A GLANCE:
This year, the Museum of Glass has introduced its Junior Curator Academy, which combines social studies with art and focuses on objects and installations at the museum.
It includes interviews with artists, museum staff and subject matter experts as they explore the influences, materials and creative processes used in individual works of art.
Each episode features hands-on project ideas.
The content is aligned with Washington State Learning Standards.
For more information about the Science of Art, Junior Curator Academy and the Museum of Glass, go to museumofglass.org.