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Imaging our space to outer space.

Education must accept the challenge of global change; to prepare students to solve environmental problems. Such a task demands group coordination and integration. "Think globally, act locally," is a reasonable adage to remember in this regard. Because visualization enhances understanding, certain methods of integrating art education with science can give students a new edge in this important area of study.

"From the Pocket to the Space" is the title of an educational experience that integrates art education with one of the scientific components of global change. This experience has recently been introduced to teach the interpretation of satellite imagery to third grade students at Bubb Elementary School in Mountain View, California.

Why use satellite imagery for this purpose? "Large scale aerial photographs of familiar surroundings provide a good starting point for helping young students understand the concept of remote sensing. This kind of photography is remote, but not too remote. Being able to find places they see every day makes the activity relevant for the students. This exercise should also help develop the students' geographical literacy--a skill which is far too rare in our society." (1)

Why bring this subject to the art class? A goal of teaching art is to help develop visual thinking. Why shouldn't it include the visual expression of natural phenomena, maps, mathematic formulae? In such a class, science supplies content and art provides forms and techniques to give the ideas visual expression. Thus, the students' perception of reality is enhanced rather than obstructed.

Think Globally

Global change is a critical process. We're forced to question its effects on future generations. Wilt our children have enough clean air to breathe throughout their lifetimes? What about their children? Both now and in the future, it is the adults who must learn and teach children about the effects of global change. At this time, extra effort is required of teachers. In addition to presenting information on the subject, experiences such as the one described will be needed, because they provide hands-on exercises and experiments actively involving the students in finding solutions to environmental problems.

How is student involvement generated in the class? The student is drawn into the process of thinking by means of various group and individual operations. The teacher first presents the problems by means of encouraging students to ask and answer questions in an interactive manner. The students' proposed activities combine theory and practice: experiments, games, analysis and synthesis.

What Leonardo Learned

On what basis should teaching strategies be selected? Can third graders understand satellite images or a map of their town? Leonardo, age nine, was asked to draw his town, Mountain View, California. Analysis of his work should answer the question of which strategies to use for this age group. "I made the mountains to represent 'Mountain;' I made the curtains to represent 'View.' Leonardo answered verbal questions with visual images. He organized his drawing symmetrically, and used mature visual concepts for 'tree', 'car', 'mountain' and 'church'. He described some commercial centers identified by their logos and their parking lots. His drawing was completed with a street with cars. Objects were viewed from above, at an angle, or most often from the front. Leondardo's response reflected normal behavior for his age. There were some obvious limitations in his thinking. Actions are unconnected. It was impossible for him to take care of more than one relationship at a time. Therefore, he was able to draw only that which was visible to him. He had to subordinate his concepts to his life experiences.

The Proper Strategy

Establishing the developmental perceptions of a certain age group helps in establishing strategies to use in teaching them to think visually. Examples of these strategies are:

1. A sequence of objects from those nearby and small (the pocket of the title) to the distant and large (map of Mountain View, satellite images, the space) can assist in understanding different scales.

2. A thorough observation and study of essential parts and linkages assists in understanding structure.

3. A participation game using map structure allows identification of problems through action.

4. The outcome of the students' activities (maps) help them to more easily acquire and understand visual concepts, and bring order to science information.

Experience Description

Principal goal: Students acquire their first insight of the geography of global change by working with maps and satellite images. Students achieve this principal goal through a series of exercises described below.

A. Objective: To introduce the idea of sequence of scales. Trigger question: Where is the coin? Product: drawing sequence. Process: Class discussion and production of the sequence from the pocket to Bubb School. Students answer the trigger question by visually representing the location of the coin in a drawing: The coin is in the pocket; The pocket is in the pants; The pants are on the student; The student is at the desk; The desk is in Room 16; Room 16 is in Bubb School. Materials: paper and markers. Evaluation: Did the students acquire the idea of spatial relationships to be used for understanding the scales of maps and satellite images?

B. Objective: To acquire the notion of structure in geography. Trigger question: Where is Bubb School? Products: Large map of Mountain View (group work). Smaller map of Mountain View (individual work). Process: Students create maps by tracing the projection of a street map on a board with colored tapes and markers. Students work following a centrifugal path, from a well-known place (the school) toward distant and less-known places. A group discussion follows, comparing maps to promote individual interests, i.e., the location of students' homes. The students worked on individual drawings. Materials: A 30 x 40" (76 x 102 cm) foam board, colored tapes, markers, overhead projector, view graph of the map. Evaluation: Did students demonstrate an understanding of the structure and parts of Mountain View in their individual drawings?

C. Objective: To acquire a bodily perception of geographic parts and structural linkages. Trigger question: Where am I? Product: The living map, a re-creation of a map consisting of humans on the playground. Process: Each student plays the role of a place or a street. The game repeats the path used for tracing the map described in Objective B (from the school toward distant and less well-known places). Materials: Cardboard signs to mark places, and paper strips to mark roads. Evaluation: Did the students acquire the notion of linkage of parts within a structure?

D. Objective: To identify larger units of landscape in images of smaller scales (hands-on introduction to the current tools for monitoring global change). Trigger question: Where is Mountain View? Product: map of the Bay area (individual work). Process: Discussion on information contained in satellite images. Production of a map of the Bay area. The class is divided into groups to work on different subjects under the guidance of NASA scientists. On the playground, the students compare the features of an infrared image of the area with the landscape around the school. Materials: maps of the Bay area, satellite imagery, paper and markers. Evaluation: Did the students learn to decode satellite images into natural features ? Did they acquire a first notion of the relation between maps and reality?


Our art/science experiences yielded encouraging results. Activities involving the whole class helped students' in the acquisition of new spatial operations. The students solved problems with these newly acquired tools. They grasped a notion of environmental impact (deforestation) as they compared areas with and without vegetation on the remote sensing images. Individual drawings reflected understanding of a map, regardless of the expressive style selected. Emphasizing details and synthesizing shapes or expressive lines, the students worked freely while controlling the principal features of the products. This process allowed them to acquire a knowledge of an abstract concept: structure.

Clearly, this new role of art education and its integration with science provided organization in students' visual thinking toward achieving a scientific goal. In this case, the integration of art and science proved successful for understanding structures = and for drawing maps. The key to this success was the strategy selected for motivating the operations. Exact copies of the maps were considered unimportant. Emphasis was instead shifted to more rational aspects. For example, someone might ask where the art is in these experiences. Such a question is comparable to asking where the literature is in a grammar class. In fact, visual language helps the acquisition of several concepts: space, upper, lower, equilibrium, size relationships, location, and identification by colors, shapes and textures. In performing the synthesis of these ideas, the students used personal creativity, a feature shared by art and science. It is expected that these strategies may be used in the future to help in understanding other structures--from atoms to complex societies. Using art to manage perception removes the often greatly dreaded solemnity of science, but preserves the precision of its techniques. In an integrated class, science offers the problems while art contributes a means of communication. At the same time, art has the added advantage of redefining its frontiers in the development of visual thinking.

(1.) Aspen Global Change Institute. 1991. A Global Change Primer. Draft ver/ 1.0 Aspen, Colorado. 92 pp.

Susana Lasta taught this activity in Linda Paulsen's third grade class at Bubb School, Mountain View, California.
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Author:Lasta, Susana
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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