Enhancing Science Learning through the Arts

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Title of Abstract: Enhancing Science Learning through the Arts

Name of Author: Wendy Silk
Author Company or Institution: University of California at Davis
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses, Ecology and Environmental Biology, Plant Biology & Botany
Course Levels: General Education, Introductory Course(s), Science and Society
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Enhancing understanding and improving communication through art projects, Material Development
Keywords: Science literacy, creativity, arts-based learning, science appreciation, environmental science

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Merryl Goldberg, California State University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: More than ever in human history, global environmental problems inspire us to seek better public access to scientific knowledge and new paradigms for collaboration. For instance, one in five plant species are estimated to be under threat of extinction; sickness of pollinators is threatening food production; and pollution is threatening human health. This paper will review two programs to enhance science learning via the arts: the Art/Science fusion program at the University of California at Davis (UCD), and a networking project to explore incorporating music into biology curricula. Our goals are enhanced scientific literacy and better communication skills for undergraduates and increased appreciation of science and scientists.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: In the hope that artists will better acquire scientific literacy, while scientists will better access art as a means of expression and communication , entomologist Diane Ullman, ceramic artist Donna Billick, meteorologist Terrence Nathan and botanist Wendy Silk have established an Art/Science fusion program at the University of California, Davis. Ullman and Billick teach “Art, Science and the World of Insects” in which students create visual art projects. Silk teaches “Earth Water Science Song” with student songwriting and performance, and Nathan teaches “Photography: Bridging Art and Science.” In each course the students hear lectures on biology or environmental science and then create art projects to communicate their understanding of the science. In our classes students are active participants, not passive recipients, as they translate science concepts into works of art. We use multiple modes of instruction. Moreover, the students become teachers to the community as they create performances and public works of art. Our classes involve cooperative learning, known to increase understanding. By blending science and art in the classroom students learn first-hand how interdisciplinarity can integrate science and enhance creativity. Our curricula include case studies to show the relevance of biology to the world outside academia. Inspired by positive student reaction to her course Earth, Water, Science, Song, Silk sought and led an NSF-sponsored incubator project. The focus of this project was the use of music to expand student access to biology and to magnify collaborative and innovative thinking. We created a consortium across several educational institutions whereby biology and arts faculty engaged in dialogue, practice, and reflection to improve the teaching of undergraduate biology through arts-based methods.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We followed the number of offerings of Art/Science classes and the numbers of student enrolled. Student appreciation was monitored with written evaluation forms. Learning was assessed with pre-and post- tests. Merryl Goldberg communicated the results of a large study assessing the educational impact of including art on the learning of other subjects in elementary school. Silk, Goldberg, and statistician Marie Thomas collaborated to assess and improve student learning outcomes in undergraduate Art/Science classes.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Participants came from several organizational settings: large public research universities, a public teaching university, a private music college, and industry. Notably, our UC Davis faculty teamed with Merryl Goldberg and her colleagues at CSUSM, an institution known for leadership in arts-based learning and recognized as an Asian American-, Pacific Islander- and Hispanic- serving institution. Goldberg found good evidence that arts can play a role in kinesthetic learning and thus improve general education (https://www.ed.gov/oii-news/dream-integrating-arts-increase-reading-proficiency). We also found that undergraduate students react enthusiastically and work hard to learn science when it is coupled to musical creativity and performance. In the past three years the environmental science class taught with ArtScience fusion has received student evaluations of 4.4-4.9 (out of 5.0) while a class taught by the same instructor with similar class size and subject matter (without music projects) received 3.3-4.1. Monitoring websites with science music videos confirms that these are attracting increasing attention from people of all ages. Pre- and post-tests have confirmed that undergraduate students learn a great deal of science in the ArtScience courses. We had many young participants including 460 students over three years at UC Davis alone. Also, our undergraduate students became teachers to the larger communities who saw student performances and art installations. Teaching assistants (funded by the campus administrations) became network participants and contributed substantially to the project. Our mentoring of graduate students yielded strong outcomes; recently one of our teaching assistants received the campus’ highest honor for graduate student teaching. We have been approached by faculty from science departments in other universities interested in Art/Science fusion and faculty from music and art departments interested in improving their science teaching.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The effectiveness of arts education in improving learning is well documented at the K-12 level. James Catterall and colleagues have found that youthful involvement in the arts associates with higher levels of achievement and college attainment, higher paying and more professional jobs, and deeper community involvement (e.g. https://www.nea.gov/research/arts-at-risk-youth.pdf ). Furthermore, Merryl Goldberg’s research has found that arts-based methods are powerful tools in the education of English language learners, many of whom are also underrepresented students. For older students evidence abounds that singing works as a memory aid, and neurobiologists are documenting and explaining the positive affect of music. But arts are rarely incorporated into science classes at the university. While informal testing in our classes supports our hypothesis that learning is enhanced when art projects are added to the curriculum, we have not yet been successful in obtaining funding to conduct a large scale study. And without such studies it is difficult to convince administrators and policy makers to encourage these unconventional curricula.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We produced expansion of course offerings in Art/Science, training of teaching assistants, dissemination of some teaching materials via a networking website, Greg Crowther’s updated database of science songs for teaching, reports to professional societies, outreach publicizing and educating about nature preserves, and web-based dissemination of some student videos. Network participants published three scholarly articles in journals. Silk contributed to a white paper sent to the NSF and published on the XSEAD website. Two meetings facilitated exchange of ideas and learning about experiences in teaching biology with music and visual art. The ArtScience program at UC Davis has recently formed an expanded faculty consortium. We are seeking funding for educational testing and program enhancement.

Acknowledgements: NSF RCN-UBE Incubator # 0956196: Trial network to bring music to the study of biology Prof. Diane Ullman UCD Donna Billick ceramic artist Prof. Terrance Nathan UCD Dr. Gregory Crowther UW Prof. Marie Thomas CSUSM Prof. Betsy Read CSUSM Dr. Anthony Dumas SUNY