It has been quite some years since I spent a week at summer camp, much less a week inside a school during the middle of the summer. I have never been expected to combine museum art, music, science, and writing as a student, much less a teacher, but a few weeks ago all that changed.
As a writer, I often respond to art through “Ekphrasis,” a dramatic, literary description of visual work of art. And I love to teach that exploration of the known and unknown to others. When Engaging Creative Minds said they were putting a camp together for this summer that was all about putting the arts and science together (read geek here) for kids, I said “Sign Me Up!!” About the same time, I met Elise Detterbeck and Rebecca Sailor of the Gibbes Museum and learned about the art education program, and when we spoke about the possibility of collaboration at some point, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I have learned to trust this instinct. It does not denote fear to me. It is the actual feeling of YES, do this, take this path. And that is how the partnership between the Gibbes Museum and my teaching for this summer’s STEAM Camp began.
For the week of Gravity, Static Electricity, Magnetism, and Force students, 50-plus 3rd graders and I wrestled images, our bodies, words, and music, and then wrested poems and drawings that invited these concepts of science and the arts to play in our classroom. I admit that at the beginning, I was daunted by the initial attempt to line up still images from the Gibbes’ collections with these science principles. Not only because these concepts demand a sense of actual physical movement, but because as a writer and teacher, I wanted my students to understand that these science words, especially gravity and force, mean more than what is seen in a science lab. This is what the arts bring to the mind, the imagination, the heart. If I could not give them a glimpse of what else a vortex or a game of tug of war might mean on that “other” level, I would feel I had not done my job.
Each day at camp we began with scientific definitions, of dictionary definitions. We imagined what color gravity is, how static electricity tastes, how magnetism sounds, how force smells, what they all feel like to touch, to be touched by them. Then we looked at the image-texts provided by the Gibbes for us, and let our wonder spill out into our bodies and onto paper. It is very important to keep 3rd – 5th graders moving!
On day one, we talked about gravity, what holds us and what holds us down and about defying gravity, as we looked at Eden’s Wizard of Oz Series “Inside the Witches House.” Day 2, we stepped up to the Smart Board and mimicked Hagerty’s “Moving with Time” as we became the characters of the painting, then morphed into another version of them, at the imagined touch of static electricity. Day 3 we explored the mystery of Lawrence’s “Accident” up close to the projected image, leaned in and considered what drew us towards both scary and joy-filled events. On Day 4, we spoke of forces, forces for good, forces for evil, making choices and where that force comes from inside of us, with Jansen’s “Lego Bricks” man.
Then we wrote. Each student wrote a 5 line poem, a Cinquain that combined the ideas, concepts, words we had explored that day. We wrote to the art we had seen, the music I played for them that, like the Gibbes’ images gave another contextual avenue to their imaginations. Then we drew. We “pictured” the scientific concepts as objects, just as the Gibbes’ images offered possibilities our brains tied to them. It was glorious to watch, to hear their minds bend and dance around, (and to watch some of their counselors get as excited as the kids) as they found new ways to conceive ideas, to breathe life into pens and into markers on a blank page. I wish you could have seen them, the frowns of concentration, the smiles of ah-ha!
On the last day of camp, before they read their poems and showed their drawings to the rest of the camp, and some parents who came to cheer them on, we reviewed concepts of science and writing. We recalled how onomatopoeia is like static electricity, how magnetism pulls and pushes, how each image from the Gibbes made us go, “WOW!” Then we wrote a poem together, a class poem, that combined all our senses, all our concepts, all our imaginations—the one thing I told them they must bring to class each day. And then, I gave the students markers and pens and the gift of play-dough, (which they could take home courtesy of Engaging Creative Minds) turned on some music, and let them 3-D something, anything they had learned.
I am not an art teacher. What they made was not fine-tuned with artistic skill past what they owned instinctually. But when they molded a piece into the space between two tables, out of curiosity, and discovered what it would do to the clay, giving them a whole new direction to play towards; or when they made a concrete object out of a concept and explained it to the class in simple, eloquent words that intertwined definition #1 with definition #2 or #3, then I could go home, tired, good tired, and smile too. It was a good week, a hard week sometimes, but each of us grew. Each child and adult who brought their imaginations with them, let them out to play together in the space where the arts meets the sciences, stretched ourselves in ways we might never have imagined, had we not joined our forces, forces for good.
—Mary Hutchins Harris, Poet and Guest Blogger
Check the calendar for a full listing of fall classes for adult and children