Teacher Reflections by Janine Martin
Before I began the lessons I needed to collect a lot of books about various biomes and animals. Throughout the project, student interest was very high, with students continuing their biome research at home, even when it was not a homework assignment. Science textbooks are great resources for definitions and examples of energy webs and food chains.
The students enjoyed looking at the print in the classroom, but they were thrilled to view the original work at the Portland Museum of Art. The docent really helped them to see a lot in the painting that they, and I, would probably never have noticed. Using a painting to introduce a science unit was definitely something different for me. It worked so well and I know that because I observed the students’ enthusiasm as they viewed the print and the original, and I heard the students refer back to the painting so many times throughout the unit. I can now see myself trying to integrate art more in regular classroom lessons. I’ve worked hard over the years to accumulate a pretty extensive collection of books in my classroom library, now I’m thinking that the time is way overdue for me to do the same with art.
Using Blue Savanna in both the science and art curricula provided very different experiences for the students. They studied the painting in the science classroom first, and they really examined it as scientists, looking for details and pictures of the animals and plants that live in the savanna. Later in the art room, they studied the painting as a work of art, really exploring the colors, style, and composition of the image.
Reflecting on student learning… it takes time, students work at different rates, low readers are at quite a disadvantage when it comes to research. If I were to attempt something like this again, I would enlist volunteers (older students and parents) to assist with the reading, research, and note taking.
The spirit of teamwork was strong on this project, as students helped each other with their research sources; some of the students shared information they had found for other students in the class. It turned out to be challenging to find pictures that were clear enough for a fourth grader to use as a model to draw their sketches from. One really helpful website we found, “Enchanted Learning” had some clip art and simple drawings that were useful. Also, a few of the students who were skilled at drawing did their best to help those who were not as talented.
It was at this point that I realized that we had not had enough discussion time about what exactly constitutes a collage. I even called and interrupted the art teacher during one of her classes to get some clarification. I would suggest that a teacher trying this lesson gather examples of collages to share with students before they begin work on their own collages.
I would plan the assessments before I went through with the project. The key is to plan ahead in every way: planning the logistics of the lessons, the resources, and the assessments. Student progress was made throughout this project. Children learned to compromise as they worked in groups doing the posters and collages. They learned to work together better as teams. They learned so much about biomes and animals, and they also learned how to do research, including how to use the table of contents and index in books, as well as how to use the information they found.