Science and Poetry

by Laura Compton, Science teacher at Willard Intermediate School (Santa Ana, CA)

Though one will be hard-pressed to deny the importance of the arts in a school’s curriculum, its place in the worlds of science, math, technology, and engineering may be more difficult to pinpoint. Volcano projects, habitat dioramas, jello mold cells… is that all that arts integration within a science curriculum is? While these projects do bring an art component to the curriculum, they fall short of showing mastery of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

How can art be integrated into science curriculum to effectively show understanding of the NGSS performance expectations?

The answer lies in collaboration.

As a middle school science teacher, I need STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to manifest into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math): in which art must work side-by-side with one or more of the disciplines in the acronym. As arts integration educators, we incorporate art within math and technology, just as we do with science.

While planning my Evolution and Extinction curriculum, I wanted to make science and art work together to enhance the students’ learning experiences. I began to research, scour the internet, and seek advice from my coworkers for ideas on how to effectively integrate art into science.

I found my answer on one of my Facebook group pages: a fellow science teacher posted her students’ poetry that she had them create to show their knowledge of space. They were beautiful and truly showed her students’ knowledge of the content. They were called Blackout Poems.

“Blackout Poetry uses the pages of an existing text to isolate, then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces. Creating a blackout poem involves steps that are all about deconstruction then reconstruction.”

– John DePasquale’s Blackout Poetry

 

I needed to incorporate Next Generation Science Standard MS-LS4-4 into my lesson. According to NGSS, students who demonstrate understanding in this standard can “construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.”

The students needed to understand natural selection before they could explain it, and if they were able to do so successfully, then they could construct a piece of poetry to showcase this knowledge.

With a high population of English Language Learners (ELL) and low lexile readers, I began the lesson with a whole group reading strategy using Naturally Selected to Survive an article found on Readworks.com.

Using a reading comprehension strategy similar to Marking, we were able to:

  • Review important vocabulary words.
  • Highlight the author’s claims.
  • Annotate these highlights.
  • Connect highlights to our Next Generation Science Standard, MS-LS4-4.

Using this strategy ensured that the students were familiar with the text. In addition, by asking the students to isolate the key words and themes from the reading, and then piecing them together, I could assess the student’s knowledge of natural selection!

I instructed the students using these steps:

  1. Scan the text for anchor words, one word on the page that stands out because of its meaning or significance. Select three to four anchor words that convey understanding of natural selection.
  2. Read the article in its entirety. Circling words that relate to the anchor words chosen.
  3. Using a new blank piece of paper, write the words in the same place they appear on the text.
  4. Here’s where the creativity begins: select words, without changing their order, so they can be pieced together to create a poem.
  5. When the poem is completed, return to the original text. Erase the circled words that are not used for the poem and emphasize the words that are going to be highlighted.
  6. Draw over “blacked out” words with an illustration that emphasizes the meaning of the poem.

My students couldn’t get enough of this project. Some of them made two, three, even four pieces of poetry! The best part? Students had to read the text three to five times. They were reading it, learning about science concepts, and loving using art and science together!

See below for students’ written statements about their Blackout Poetry, where they reflect on their science and art learning from the project, and articulate how the arts deepened their motivation and interest levels.

I would love to share and collaborate.

Twitter/instagram: @Compton1206, @WillardInt

A Happy Black History Month

“Our community needs two things: inspiration and information” – Mr. Hughes, Resource Specialist Teacher at Warren Lane Academy of the Arts, a Turnaround Arts partner elementary school located in Inglewood, California.

Warren Lane’s recent Black History Month Showcase stems from both.

“The most rewarding thing about the showcase is how excited our students get. They’re excited to learn about this history. I call it the ‘missing pages’ of history – the facts and stories that are not widely known, yet have impacted our community.”

During Warren Lane’s recent Black History Month showcase, Black and Forth, TK to 6th graders took to the stage to share their knowledge of Black history.

Words of wisdom from Maya Angelou, Sinte dance of West Africa, and songs of resistance graced the stage.

“We were absolutely packed! There were at least 250 people in our auditorium.”

Warren Lane has put on a Black History Month Showcase every year since 1999. For these 19 years and counting, families – even alumni and parents of children who have graduated – visit year after year to support the students of their community. 

This year, students at Warren Lane had a guest arrive just a few days before their showcase: none other than award-winning actress and Turnaround Artist, Kerry Washington

“The students really felt touched with how personable Kerry was with them. She led them through performance warm-ups and coached them through their stage performances just a few days before the show.”

“Her coaching – giving advice on confidence, discipline, and how to get beyond the normal nerves that everyone encounters – that was remarkable. It gave the students confidence to move forward and to know that they’re going to be okay regardless of what happens on stage.”

After previewing the showcase and viewing their most recent artistic creations, she gifted each student at Warren Lane a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther comic book. “When you watch Blank Panther, remember that it all started from an idea that someone wrote down to share with others,” says Washington. She emphasized how important the students, their ideas, and their ability to read and write were.

The students were over the moon.

“I liked the fact that she tuned into what they need – something that hones in on the importance of their academics as well as the excitement of the Black Panther experience. That, for me, shows how thoughtful and relevant she is: focusing on the students and furthering their education.”

*All quotes are from Mr. Hughes, unless otherwise noted.

Envisioning the Future with Avenal Elementary

Here at Turnaround Arts: California, we host regular professional development (PD) for teachers across our 17 schools. This is because we know that increasing the use of the arts as a learning and engagement tool increases the confidence and academic success of our students.

During our latest PD adventure, we partnered with P.S. ARTS to host an interactive training with the teachers of Avenal Elementary School. P.S. ARTS’ Darryl King, who serves seven Turnaround Arts: California schools as a Regional Coach, shared:

“At the heart of the arts, is love. P.S. ARTS believes that differentiating learning opportunities for teachers is how we communicate that love and hold space for educators to develop as committed practitioners of the arts. It is our unique ability to customize our coaching strategies, from teacher training, to one-on-one mentoring, to match the culture and needs of each individual school.”

We customized our latest teacher workshop by starting with dance. We like to boogie and we love to amp up our energy for the learning ahead.

At various dancing intervals – we paused the music and asked teachers to pair up for some introductory dialogue.

We asked them a few questions:

  • What was your school like before Turnaround Arts?
  • What did it feel like or look like?
  • How is your school improving through Turnaround Arts?
  • What does that feel like or look like?

Our final prompt:

  • What one word would you use to describe where you see your arts-rich school of the future? Create a tableau — a frozen group picture — demonstrating it.

One of our favorite tableaus represented strength.

Our teachers see their future arts-rich school as strong and powerful.

Principal Blanca Rodriguez knows why. 

“Teachers at Avenal Elementary School benefit greatly from these Turnaround Arts: California workshops. They get hands-on experience by trying techniques with their peers. They have the opportunity to ask questions for clarity and gain feedback on what they have already begun to implement in their classrooms.”

In their fourth year as a Turnaround Arts school, Avenal Elementary boasts some of  the highest annual growth rate in student test scores of any school in their district, with particular growth for English Language Learners. Workshops like this encourage teachers to sustain and deepen the integration of the arts into their classrooms.

As our teachers and principals use the arts as a learning and engagement tool, the reading, language, math, critical thinking, and social skills of our students begin to improve. We’re taking the steps to catalyze a positive and strong school environment where students are motivated to learn and teachers are eager to teach.

Midway through our Avenal workshop, Darryl King shared a refresher of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), an arts-based strategy that many of our partner schools have implemented school-wide.

The VTS method encourages educators to ask three open-ended questions about visual art:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

Unlike some standardized tests and processes of rote memorization, these open-ended questions encourage students to closely look at an artwork, vocalize details they observe, and back up their comments using visual evidence. VTS fosters their ability to think critically while increasing their speaking and listening skills.

Teachers left the PD excited to return to their classroom and use tableau and VTS to support student learning.

It’s absolutely clear. We’re building student and teacher skills now to guide Avenal Elementary into a strong, and certainly arts-rich, future.