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Episode Info: Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:via Apple Podcasts | via Stitcher | via NPROne | via Spotify   When I visited Maya Lin, an elementary school in Alameda, California where art is at the center of learning, third graders were in the middle of a multi-week project on climate change. Pairs of students had chosen climates around the world and researched them to learn about the weather, flora and fauna. In art class, they created artistic representations of their climates using either a torn-paper collage technique or oil pastels. They also wrote books about how climate change will affect their climates and the animals that live there. In the process, they learned what fossil fuels are, where they come from, and how they’re extracted. They studied how the greenhouse gas effect works and made a visual model of it. One boy, John, showed me his model and described the science behind it. “I made a project with one of my friends about the greenhouse effect and how the sun’s heat rays go in, and the heat gets trapped inside the atmosphere and heats up the earth,” said John. I asked him about the artistic techniques he used to create a blotchy effect on the sun. “I saw a picture of the sun to try and draw it and there were spots where it was really really bright. So I drew those spots in and then I put tape over it and then I dabbed the paintbrush so it looked like spots, and then the spots where I put tape were still paper white,” he explained. He’d also used collage to create a translucent effect for the atmosphere. John’s artwork depicting the greenhouse gas effect. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)I was struck by how much John could tell me both about the iterative creative process he went through, and the science his work represented. He described several early attempts at creating effects that didn’t work – at first, he wanted his sun to be three-dimensional, but couldn’t get it to stay up. He says he was frustrated, but he pushed through those feelings and tried something different. John’s persistence – and the sheer number of hours he was allotted for artwork during school hours – stood out to me. At a lot of schools I’ve visited, art is relegated to a separate class once a week. The fact that students were showing their knowledge of science through their artwork here struck me as unique. Over the past two decades, policies focused on math and reading test scores, along with a global recession, have pushed many schools to cut what they considered to be “extras.” In many places, that has meant visual art, music, drama, and dance. These subjects became afterthoughts as school leaders put pressure on teachers to raise kids’ scores in the ‘focus’ subjects – math and reading. Now, many educators are starting to realize the folly of these practices, backed up by an increasingly robust body of research about the power of art to improve learning. Johns Hopkins University professor Mariale Hardiman p...
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