A GrowNextGen teacher leader working at the Fort Hayes Career Center (part of Columbus City Schools) has partnered with two arts-integration education specialists to merge microbiology and visual art in a whole new way. The results have been amazing!
Pam Snyder teaches biology, genetics, and biotechnology. Kerry Dixon is an education consultant specializing in interdisciplinary teaching and learning. She’s also a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University, completing a dissertation focused on middle and high school STM teachers’ perspectives on the integration of visual art in their classrooms. Rachael Moore is an arts-integration consultant and art teacher on the Global Integration Team within the Pickerington Local School District.
For the past three years, the women have worked together through OSU’s Project ASPIRE, an initiative funded through the US Department of Education to create a new model for teacher education. Dixon leads ASPIRE’s “Innovative Curriculum Design Team”, charged with creating uniquely engaging, arts-based approaches to teaching science, math and world languages. Snyder and Moore are part of that team. “Pam and Rachael have been absolutely critical members of the team; their contributions will have lasting impact not only on students but on teacher education more broadly,” said Dixon.
By designing and implementing innovative lessons, the three women bring visual art and biology together in Snyder’s classroom. “Student engagement, ownership and innovation have all increased since we merged the two subjects,” explained Snyder. “We use biology to teach art, and we use art to teach biology.”
In a unit on the central dogma of molecular biology, students simulate the complex processes of protein synthesis through analogous artistic processes. Using principles and elements of design, they create abstract artworks featuring transcribed and translated DNA and RNA codes. The colors and color sequences in the works can be decoded with the help of a key, allowing an audience to read the genetic information that flows into proteins when chains of amino acids are biologically constructed. According to Snyder, “The art gives the science so much more value,” and according to Dixon, “Our students’ knowledge is more complete when we help them to view the world through these multiple lenses.”
Dixon, Snyder and Moore believe their interdisciplinary approach to helping students learn more efficiently could revolutionize teaching. Snyder said, “Each subject helps explain and illuminate the other; you get results you could never attain by just focusing on one subject or the other.”