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Fund for Teachers Journey: Climate Science in Sculpture

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    Sarah Norris

Elizabeth Schibuk teaches at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, MA. She and a colleague were part of the 2018 cohort of Fund for Teachers Fellows, awarded a grant for transformational self-designed summer professional development. Click here to learn more about Fund for Teachers and EL Education's partnership with this extraordinary organization. See more images from Elizabeth's fellowship here

Working in an art studio requires experimentation and failure. True science, and the discovery of new knowledge, requires a willingness to iterate and to tease out unconventional ideas. Elizabeth Schibuk, FFT Fellow

What did you set out to do?

Document the human impact of an increasingly warming planet by researching Hurricane Maria aftermath in Boston to create eighth grade STEAM learning that applies artistic practices to the interpretation and modeling of climate science data.

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

Working with Nathalie was a wonderful adventure! As I worked along side her in her studio, I learned how she blends the precision of a scientist with the storytelling skills of an artist. Nathalie introduced me to a wealth of databases that have a variety of meteorological data that is publicly available. As Nathalie coached me through the process of researching weather events and selecting data, I learned how she uses her art to explore and understand patterns in nature.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

Much of traditional science instruction presents scientific knowledge as concrete and inflexible. Nathalie’s creative yet analytic way of studying data adds an element of playfulness to the analysis of scientific information. As I think about ways to mimic Nathalie’s art-making practice in the science classroom, I am thinking about how the integration of sculpture in science can provide an opportunity for students to understand that authentic scientific inquiry is truly a creative process.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

My greatest accomplishment in my time working with Nathalie was to allow myself to experiment with new artistic materials and techniques. I have a renewed sense of how the flexible thinking, willingness to experiment and explore, can be a welcome compliment to the sometimes rigid thinking that can happen in the sciences, especially in science education.


Fft Schubik

Elizabeth's final sculpture, depicting increased major flood events over the past six decades, correlating increased global temperature, and flood reports from hurricane Maria.

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

Working in an art studio requires experimentation and failure. Traditionally, failure is chastised in the classroom, especially in math and science classes where there are often non-negotiable correct and incorrect solutions. True science, and the discovery of new knowledge, requires a willingness to iterate and to tease out unconventional ideas. Building content-rich arts-infused projects into science class helps to create an environment where students are less fearful of error.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

Concurrent to our climate science unit (in which we will engage in projects akin to the work I did with Nathalie this summer) students will be studying the civil rights movement in their humanities class. My humanities colleague and I have already begun to talk about how we can galvanize the overlapping themes of civic engagement and injustice and have students create both art and writing in which they are using their artistic skills both to educate and to advocate for climate justice.

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

As an EL Education school, celebrations of learning are an integral part of our practice. Upon the completion of any major project-based unit or expedition, teachers and students work collaboratively to plan a special showcase to celebrate students’ learning and their work. I look forward to working with my 8th grade science students in planning a gallery-style showcase featuring their art, and in which they use their art to educate their visitors about climate change.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

The science content for our expedition will focus on weather and climate change. The purpose of the data sculptures will be to explore authentic climate-related data sets, but with the sensitivities of an artist and with an eye for aesthetics. Students will be asked to find ways to display patters in data in new ways, and to then reflect on the implications of their generation understanding and coming to terms with the reality of a warming planet.

My experience working with Nathalie this summer has reaffirmed my deep belief that science literacy is necessary for the future of our world, and that all students, regardless of whether or not they may pursue a career in science, have the both the right and a democratic obligation to understand our collective impact on the planet. 

The Fund for Teachers grant application is available October 1, and proposals are due January 31, 2019. Learn more at fundforteachers.org.