Our Stories

Interdisciplinary Learning on Display at the Art and Science Expo

February 17, 2016 by Elana Cohen (Faculty and Staff)

With our North Campus Design Lab up and running, teams of students had opportunities to practice Design Thinking and to make their learning visible with access to a variety of materials and tools for this year’s Expo projects. Calling it an “Art and Science” Expo is somewhat limiting, as much of the work was truly interdisciplinary – integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM), Language Arts, as well as connections to History, Hebrew Language, and Judaic Studies.

The Second Graders studied space by researching the inner and outer planets of the solar system in their classrooms and the Science Lab. Their mission was to create a prototype of a space shuttle, habitat, or research and exploration vehicle designated for a specific planet. Each class was assigned an inner and outer planet, and they worked in committees to discuss, research, and problem solve about the specific needs of their planet. The committees worked in their classrooms and the Design Lab to ideate, brainstorm as many ideas as they could, practice their listening skills, collaborate, problem solve, and focus on the needs of their structure and the planet they were building for. A rover with wheels would not be the right research vehicle for a gas planet, but perhaps a hovering vehicle would work. How do we make sure our shuttle would survive the asteroid belt? Let’s build the habitat on a nearby moon. How will our astronauts eat when they are so far from Earth? These scientists discussed and negotiated, designed and edited their designs before prototyping. If you had an opportunity to talk with the second graders, each one could explain the reason for every feature of the model they built in the Design Lab.

The Second Grade Hebrew and Judaic Studies teachers taught Hebrew vocabulary about the space vehicles the students constructed, as well as about Ilan Ramon, the Israeli fighter pilot and first Israeli astronaut for NASA who perished in the fatal mission Columbia in 2003.

The Third Graders were challenged to learn and then teach about water. They had only just begun their study of water in the Science Lab when each class took a “deep dive” to think about important concepts they could study and ways to explain those ideas to a broad audience. The demonstrations, models, and posters were researched and designed by third graders with guidance from their teachers. The Purple Mountains focused on the “Force of Water,” exploring the physics of water including cohesion, adhesion, and surface tension. They demonstrated how and explained why water can fight gravity and explained Archimedes buoyant force. The Shining Seas focused on watersheds, and the connection between land and water. They modeled the Great Lakes and showed the flow of water over and under the land. The Spacious Skies studied the water cycle and taught themselves and then others about condensation, evaporation, precipitation and the way water changes states with temperature change. Visitors could play water cycle monopoly and race to melt ice cubes.

In Hebrew class, the Third Graders learned where rain falls in Israel, as well as where there is almost none, and they learned about the importance of the drinking water in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). They learned vocabulary about precipitation, including the fact that since there is not much snow in Israel, there are fewer words to describe its formation. The Third Graders wrote facts about water in Hebrew on water drops and decorated the hallway with them. In Judaic Studies, Third Grade students were presented with the idea of creating the Western Wall so that visitors could compose prayers for rain. One class built the mural adding elements of rain and dyeing the paper (using water). The other class expressed interest in the water tunnels discovered in Israel, researched them, and worked in smaller groups to create a prototype of those water tunnels which they installed on the wall below the Western Wall.

In Fourth Grade, the students were learning about and modeling ancient and modern navigational tools in the Science and Design Labs. They designed activities to teach about navigation and exploration in their rooms. The Trailblazers created a maze for younger participants and demonstrated how a compass works, using a magnetized needle. The Explorers created a grid of their room and helped younger visitors find the coordinates to locate their models around the classroom.

For years, our Fifth Graders have been solving every-day problems with our annual Invention Convention. Two of the key innovations at JPDS-NC this year were providing ample time in the Design Lab for the Fifth Grade students to deep dive and interview their partners about the problems they face, and to build in time for rapid prototyping iterations. At the heart of Design Thinking is an empathetic view of your user. By stepping back and trying to solve someone else’s problem, the flow of ideas is less impeded by worries about “what am I going to make?” Fifth Fraders interviewed each other to uncover their challenges, spent time listening to the other’s ideas and solutions with a partner. Then the teams decided on one idea to prototype together or split up to work on individual inventions. In the Design Lab they built rapid iterations of their concepts to think about what materials would make sense for the prototype they designed and marketed for the Invention Convention. With each iteration they tested different materials and ran into further problems to solve the next time. Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If you talked with a fifth grade inventor during the Art and Science Expo they could attest to the failures and challenges they overcame to design and build the prototype they presented.

During the day, Sixth Graders were tour guides for the Pre-K, Kindergarten and First Grade visitors and their parents, and in the evening they presented their Independent Inquiry Projects. Students designed their own experiments and demonstrated their skill at asking questions, hypothesizing, and explaining their findings. They wondered about how different materials could affect the rate of mold growth, whether temperature would affect the size of a crystal, if acidic or basic substances conduct more or less electricity, and more. Students select their own question to explore. The Sixth Graders presented their projects to Fifth Grade students as well as Fifth and Sixth Grade general studies, science, and math faculty to be judged for entry to the DC STEM fair this spring. Up to five students will be selected for participation.

One of the goals of the Art and Science Expo is to bring our two campuses together. Second through Sixth Graders became docents during the day for the South Campus students and parents, and served as docents for visiting students of all grades and their families at night when the event was open to the entire community.

Moreover, science specific project work from Pre-K through First Grade was on display along with interactive projects and experiments during the Art and Science Expo. To connect with their study of identity, Pre-K students in Gan Aravot studied fingerprints. They experimented with different media to collect the clearest fingerprints and noticed how each person has their own unique set of fingerprints. No two are alike, even in identical twins. At the event, participants could learn about Gan Aravot’s study and examine their own fingerprints.

The Kindergarten classes study Science twice a week as part of their Foundation rotations. Recently they engaged in a study of the senses both during Science and with their Hebrew and Judaic Studies teachers. They experimented with the five senses in connection with the Jewish holidays and in science based activities. Visitors to the Art and Science Expo explored a variety of activities involving all of the senses including matching sounds, touching a variety of objects, matching scents related to holidays, listening to Hebrew songs, drawing while blindfolded, and planting parsley to grow in time for their Seders.

The First Graders have been studying the flora and fauna, the history and the current problems in Rock Creek Park. They displayed elements of their learning by creating scaled models to represent Pierce Mill, the many different kinds of trees and animals, and the biggest problems such as water pollution, deer overpopulation, litter and invasive plants. The First Graders created a board game and a Jeopardy game that reflected their thorough research on the history of Rock Creek Park, created an interactive activity about levels of trophism (who eats who), and offered grass seeds to take home and plant with a cotton ball in a cup.

In the Math room, students were asked to answer the question “What is the maximum possible perimeter of the Koch Snowflake?” and learned about Pascal’s triangle. In Gottesman Auditorium, visitors were treated to a breathtaking display of multi-media art projects by students in Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. Students and guests saw works of art inspired by great artists as well as a traveling exhibit from the South Campus sadnah.

To prepare for the Art and Science Expo students and teachers at JPDS-NC collaborate and problem solve, fail and try again, and push themselves to teach and learn. Thank to you all of my colleagues and our students for their authentic, meaningful, and difficult work.