Exploring Science Through Fine Arts

The middle school years are a pivotal time in students’ understanding of and enthusiasm for science, according to the National Science Teachers Association. Science must be something that students do, not something that is done to them. Integrating the fine arts into the science curriculum is an effective way for middle level teachers to keep students engaged and meet society’s demand that students have knowledge and experiences in a highly scientific and technological world.

The four content areas of the fine arts—drama, visual arts, dance, and music—engage students physically, intellectually, and emotionally. As Claudia E. Cornett says in Creating Meaning through Literature and the Arts (2007), “… visual art, drama, dance, and music can interact with science, social studies, math, and literacy to multiply learning about life skills, key concepts, and themes.”

By integrating the fine arts into our instructional activities, we invite our students into the learning process through different pathways (learning styles). By differentiating the products, we allow our students to demonstrate what they have learned through alternative forms of assessment. Students become excited about and emotionally vested in learning these concepts and more easily transfer that knowledge to other aspects of their lives.

Exploring Simple Machines

The following activities are included in a science unit on simple machines that uses the learning cycle strategy and integrates the fine arts. The learning cycle approach is an instructional model that promotes inquiry-based science consistent with how students learn. Teachers can select activities from each phase of the learning cycle and activities that represent the fine arts areas that are appropriate to use with their students.

For example, if students are energetic and kinesthetic, a movement and dance engagement activity might immediately motivate them to want to learn more through the use of movement. For students who are very visual, an engagement activity may encourage active observation.

Engaging Students

The engagement phase of the learning cycle captures the students’ attention and motivates them to learn scientific concepts. Here are some fine arts-related activities that engage students.

1. Show videos of each simple machine and ask the students to record a few sentences about what they learned. For example, the videos at www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8Oes7Ze-Rg&feature=related feature a series of Rube Goldberg inventions.

The videos provide a good introduction to the unit because they show a variety of simple machines working together to form a complex machine. Students can then recreate with their bodies the movements they saw in the video. This activity connects simple machines with the fine art of dance, movement, or drama.

2. Show pictures of gadgets made up of simple machines using the Inventor’s Toolbox at www.mos.org/sln/Leonardo/InventorsToolbox.html. This Museum of Science website defines the various simple machines and provides pictures of each. The site also links to a Gadget Anatomy page that shows images of more complex machines.

Students can list the simple machines they see that make up those complex machines. This connects simple machines to the visual arts.

3. Show the music video for the “ABC’s of Machinery” song at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOzNVBX-SX0 and have students brainstorm ideas about what they will learn in the simple machines unit. This song references the types of simple machines that the students will be working with throughout the unit as well as their basic functions.

Then provide them with the song lyrics using http://lyrics.wikia.com/Bill_Nye:ABC%27s_of_Machinery. Let the students listen to the song again while reading the lyrics and then go back to add more ideas to their brainstorming notes. This activity connects simple machines to music.

Exploring Science

In the exploration phase, students participate in activities that help them form new concepts or modify existing ones. Here, students complete webquests to better understand the simple
machines. Each of these webquests presents the different types of simple machines, the definition of each, and examples of each type in the real world.

As they progress through the webquests, students produce graphic organizers that include three facts about, a picture of, and an example of each type of simple machine. Students can create their own graphic organizers or use templates from the Education Place website: www.eduplace.com/graphicorganizer

Explaining Science

During the explanation phase, students share what they discovered during the exploration phase. The teacher introduces new vocabulary and clarifies concepts.

For this unit, the teacher facilitates a discussion of simple machines, being sure to clear up any misconceptions and assessing the students’ knowledge of the six simple machines. (See the Resources section for websites that provide background information on the simple machines.)

Elaborating on Concepts

Expanding on concepts and making connections to related concepts is the purpose of the elaboration stage. Forming a deeper understanding of simple machines requires students to make a real-world connection to this scientific principle. The following fine arts activities allow students to apply their understanding of simple machines to their understanding of the world around them.

Divide the class into four groups based on the interests
of the students.

1. Movement/dance: Students create a dance incorporating a movement for each of the six simple machines. The movements show their understanding of the simple machines and how they work.

2. Theater/drama: Students create a skit portraying each simple machine, describing how it is
used in the real world.

3. Visual arts: Students create a mobile that consists of a visual representation and a real-world application of each of the simple machines.

4. Music: Students create their own song or rap explaining the six simple machines and how they are used in the real world. (See the Resources section for sample music videos.)

Extending Understanding

If students want to broaden their understanding of the simple machines beyond what they have already experienced, teachers might consider these activities:

• Movement/dance: Students create a living complex machine that incorporates all six simple machines. They name their machine, indicate the work that it will do, and use their bodies to show how the machine works.

• Theater/ drama: Students, working as a complex machine, create and perform a skit describing the simple machines that make up the complex machine and how they work together to make it function.

• Visual arts: Students integrate art and technology. The students use images to create a complex machine that incorporates all six simple machines. They create a movie using Movie Maker or a similar program to demonstrate what their machine is, how it works, and how it could be used in real-world settings.

• Music: Students create a complex machine musical instrument that actually works. The instrument itself, not the creation of the instrument, must use at least three different simple machines.

Using the fine arts to teach simple machines provides an opportunity for middle level students to actively experience science concepts, to make simple machines come to life. Students who typically sit back and disengage in the class become involved, and those students most comfortable with traditional instruction, although hesitant at first, allow their creativity to flow.


Simple Machine Webquests

http://visalia.k12.ca.us/teachers/solson/webquest Students create an exhibit on the six simple machines for a national museum to teach visitors about a specific simple machine and how it makes work easier.

www.mdianeharrison.com/SimpleMachinesWebQuest.htm This is a webquest through which students explore simple machines and invent a new machine by combining the simple machines effectively.

http://teacher.scholastic.com/dirtrep/simple/index.htm Students act as reporters who investigate the simple machines and write a report on their findings.

Content Websites

http://teacher.scholastic.com/dirtrep/simple/invest.htm This student-friendly website, hosted by Scholastic, defines and gives examples of the six simple machines.

http://neok12.com/Simple-Machines.html This is a website that has instructional videos, teacher resources, lessons, and games around the six simple machines.

www.fi.edu/qa97/spotlight3/spotlight3.html This website gives straightforward definitions of simple machines as well as links for further study.

Music Videos

Simple Machines, by David Newman www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Fhs8pXGxM

Sid, the Science Kid—Inclined Plane and Simple www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvLDkNdDrqY&feature=related

Simple Machines Song, by Science Explosion www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSI5HjHOiiY

Judy Beck is a professor and the director of teacher education programs at the University of South Carolina Upstate Greenville Campus. A former middle school science teacher, she coordinates and teaches in the middle level program and serves on the Higher Education Consortium for the Greenville Early College Middle School. jbeck@uscupstate.edu

Laura P. Kaufmann is an instructor in the School of Education at the University of South Carolina Upstate Greenville Campus. As a former middle school teacher and drama coordinator, she has enjoyed many years of inspiring students through arts integration. lkaufmann@uscupstate.edu

Cece Toole is an associate professor in the education department at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. A former middle school math and science teacher, she now teaches in the middle level licensure program and supervises middle level student teachers. toolecec@meredith.edu

Published in AMLE Magazine, September 2013.