So, my partner Jenny and I are starting to come up with some tangible ideas. That is to say; we are beginning to see what we will have produced by the end of this program. So as mentioned before, we are looking to harness two concepts. One concept we are exploring is the principle of double images within a picture to promote the idea of perspectives in science and art.
This is one of the more well-known examples. What do you see? Two faces looking at each other or do you see a vase? Did you see both images right off or did you only see one until I mentioned the other? As mentioned in previous posts, this is an example of how we see the world. Sometimes we see one thing, then we might see things differently even though we are looking at the same object. However, once you see both images, you can’t un-see them. This is a concept we would like to promote in how students see science concepts as well as how they see their own abilities to understand them.
The next concept my partner and I are exploring is the principles of pointillism. Many times, students express frustration when they are taking classes that seemingly have no connection to where they have aspirations to be. They look at their day to day assignments as a series of unconnected dots. They don’t see how day to day concepts taught in class or series of classes they must take contribute to “seeing” a much bigger picture.
Many students only see the seemingly random dots. Not realizing they make up a much larger picture. This picture is the understanding of a general concept. It is the sum of knowledge that makes one an “expert.” Some pictures are simple while some are much more elegant.
My partner and I discussed creating a possible curriculum that could be implemented in a classroom utilizing these theoretical constructs to teach a given subject matter in the sciences. We are going to produce a video teaching from our respective disciplines, but from an overarching perspective of double images, while teaching the “dots” and showing how they contribute to a much larger “picture.”
Scale has been popping up more and more in the discussions between Kent and I, particularly as we discuss the ability to simultaneously comprehend a painting as a collection of brush strokes or points as well as a unified landscape representation. In geology, scale is particularly useful as a concept that helps us frame and contextualize scientific questions. Although a geoscientist might choose a certain scale at which to explore a given problem, it’s likely they will necessarily work at multiple scales during the process of inquiry. For example, if one decides to study trace metal mobility at a basin-wide scale, one may find that the molecular kinematics of trace metals and small-scale soil processes deeply informs the behavior of trace metals at large scales. Sedimentary geologists use sediment flumes the size of a refrigerator to study and teach concepts relevant to massive rivers in the present day as well as strata deposited millions of years ago.
This highlights the importance of scale as not only a scientific tool, but a tool for explaining scientific concepts in the classroom. Teaching students that we use scale to simplify concepts at certain scales, while still acknowledging complexity at finer scales, might help students to connect the dots between fundamental scientific concepts and higher-order ideas.
For example, I can explain the concept of pitch, with an A generally representing 440 Hz, in relatively simple terms. I can then use this understanding as a basis for explaining that many orchestras have been gradually creeping up in pitch over the past hundred years, and that each player humming on the same note in an 80-person orchestra is probably playing 445 a few micro-cents differently. Or, I might choose to explain the effect of temperature and humidity on musical instrument and the phenomenon of brass and wind instruments sinking in pitch as string instruments rise.
In general, the way we comprehend and interpret our world is incredibly dependent on scale. This week, I challenge you (and myself) to think more about how you work with scale in your own life.
So here we are a week after our second Skype session. My teammate Jenny and I had a discussion. As I mentioned in my previous blog, we are looking at STEM subject matter from a perspectives perspective. Let me draw your attention to this picture.
What do you see? If you know this picture, what did you see when you first saw it? Did you see a vase? Did you see two faces? Did you see one or the other, or did you see both immediately? If you only saw one, when did you see the other? Did you see it by chance or did you see it after someone mentioned there was more than one image? Do you see both now?
Here is the powerful thing about this little exercise is once you see both images, you can never un-see them. You will forever be able to see both images. You see, being able to see an image is dependent on the perspective of how you see the picture. Your perspective has forever been changed.
So as educators, are we so much teachers as much as perception changers. Research suggests students who have negative perceptions of themselves academically are more likely to facilitate their own expectation in their work. Can art be used in combination with sciences to change a person’s perspective of their own abilities? Once a person’s perspective has been changed of themselves, they would never be able to un-see their ability and potential to understand higher level concepts.
Another question is how can we use art and a person’s spatial awareness to advance higher level concepts in science. If you look at pointillism, a portrait on a microscopic level might seem like a random collection of dots. But as you step back and look at things from a broader perspective, one see the dots are part of a larger image.
This is not unlike scientific concepts. Why do students start off taking general physics or general biology? They are learning “dots” which are fundamental concepts that must be understood to realize the much larger picture. Physics and chemistry students much take algebra and trig before they take general physics and chemistry classes. Why? Because without those “dots” one would not able to the “physics picture” nor the “chemistry picture.”
If this analogy resonates with you, congratulations, your perspective has been changed, and you now see a new image, and you will never be able to un-see it. I should assert, seeing a new image does not mean you agree with it. You simply can see the perspective. That in itself is powerful.
This week, my teammate gave me deeper appreciation of how spatial awareness might help people see concepts in new ways and overcome barriers to understanding. We touched on a few different concepts, including the concept of imposter syndrome, different teaching styles, and creating exercises that might encourage students to play with concepts to challenge assumptions or reveal their unique grasp of the material.
For me, imposter syndrome is something I associate with graduate school, perhaps because I still hadn’t fully internalized my identity as a scientist (can other SciArtists relate? I always felt pushed to one side of the fence). When I was younger, I assumed I was naturally bad at math because I didn’t always succeed. I essentially counted math as a loss and focused on success in other academic areas. Later, I took calculus and excelled, which I attributed to having an easy teacher at the time, but in retrospect, attribute to her adaptive and kind teaching approach. Many classmates weren’t so lucky at my school, and were given deeper imposter syndromes by biased teachers that prevented them from thriving in the classes in which they would have otherwise excelled.
Kent and I explored the role of teaching styles in breaking down imposter syndrome by discussing the disadvantages of two poles of teaching within STEM, one that encourages students to figure everything out for themselves (giving the advantage to students with prior STEM background), and the opposite, where students are given all the information by teachers expecting that the students will not be able to reach mastery of concepts without being told the answers. Teaching STEM successfully might mean that students are given the tools to understand while being challenged enough to feel a sense of accomplishment. This kind of teaching doesn’t have to mean that concepts are “dumbed down” concepts may be simplified without necessarily teaching in a patronizing way. One moment of early success in math or science in which the student feels a sense of achievement might be enough to convince a kid that they belong in STEM, that they too can be successful in the world of STEM.
Exercises in exploring different artistic mediums in relation to understanding scientific concepts– even as general or abstract as understanding scale, gravity, or physical space can potentially help empower learners through the act of creating. We discussed a few ideas related to visualizing concepts through sound and 3d. Last week, I stumbled upon this sound map (my words) of places visited, and Kent threw out the idea of making a musical scale relative to visited continents. I haven’t been to very many continents, but I applied it to my own life and made a 27.4 second audio example using a hexatonic scale fitted to the continents. In creating this example, I explored an assumption of my own related to continental land masses. The idea of Europe and Asia being separate continents is not based on any physical definition of a continent, and says more about how our physical understanding of the world is influenced by political factors than about plate tectonics. Given this, I used a hexatonic whole-tone scale organized around A440. Here’s the piece, and the documentation.
So, I had a great good meeting with my teammate. We had an in-depth discussion on how to bridge the gap between Art and Science from a spatial awareness perspective. I don’t pretend to know a great deal about my partner’s discipline, however, where she and I could relate was how structures related on the molecular and atomic level. This mutual understanding led to a gripping discussion on how to use art and spatial awareness to increase an individual’s conceptual understanding of some math related subject matter.
This discussion also touched on language. If an expert in a given subject area were going to talk about something to a novice, the first barrier would be terminologies. Those who are experts in a subject area would be accustomed to certain phrases and terms that a novice would not. Those words would carry with them context. As humans, we are visual creatures which use imagery in our mind to help gain understanding. Some might say, if we can’t see it in our minds, we may not be able to understand it fully.
There is research that suggests students who have a developed sense of spatial awareness perform better in subjects such as organic chemistry and physics. Consideration of this finding inspires me to think of creative ways of using art to explore mathematical and physical concepts of the Universe in which we live.
An analogy we discussed was the principles of how pointillism works. On the microscopic scale, we see a collection of seemingly randomly placed dots. However, when you start to move back and look at these dots collectively, we see they make up a much greater image. The dots collectively make up a “thing.” The concept of pointillism is common in our Universe. From where our solar system is in the Milky Way Galaxy, we see individual stars at night. However, when we look at Galaxies in the distance, they look like a soft solid collection of spirals and elliptical clouds. However, these are collections of a star with no less spacing between them than that in our Galaxy. It is this perspective that fuels our thoughts of starting with the very basic to broaden understanding such that we can see the larger picture in Science-Art.
As a kid, standing in a friend’s house peering at a wall-mounted world map, I remember looking from top to bottom, left to right, and assuming logically, that Antarctica was not just south of me, but down (below me)– and Greenland was similarly up above. Nearby, the Mississippi River flowed from north of my hometown of St. Louis down to the south, emptying in the Gulf and bearing out my understanding of the world. My conflation of direction with relative gravitational position was an assumption that continued until I found myself arguing incorrectly in school that the Nile flowed south, rather than downhill (to the north). I took my existing foundation of knowledge (north is on the map, the map is vertical, therefore north is up) and applied it to achieve a drastically wrong conclusion. In the moment, I remember the self-consciousness of feeling stupid. I didn’t realize that I had successfully revised my scientific understanding of the world in that moment, that in fact I was engaging in a critical part of science. The upending of my internalization of north as “up” was a small but meaningful breakthrough that created the space for me to approach the world differently. Kent and I discussed the role of STEAM in facilitating similar breakthroughs through multisensory visualization, simplification of theoretical scientific concepts, and by overcoming the impression that scientific knowledge and tools are out of reach, accessible only by those who are gifted in numeracy.
While mulling over these concepts, I decided to try an experiment in understanding particle physics through artistic creation. As a geochemist and a musician, my tepid relationship with physics has always made me feel a little guilty. It’s the same guiltiness that I feel at never having learned how to change the oil in my car, fueled by the nagging memory of a casual comment from a friend to the effect that geochemists generally tend to overlook the importance of physics in relation to their work. The elegance and simplicity of certain high-level concepts in physics is frankly terrifying to me, perhaps because they pose a threat to certain long-held assumptions I am loathe to give up. This kind of stubbornness is drawn from the kind of objectivity that Western science has generally striven for, that encourages a conquering, imperialistic attitude to achieving understanding. In my experience as a student and a teacher, this approach discourages failure, creativity, and reassessment. It takes patience and acute humility to break down these barriers to understanding, especially when confronted with the discomfort of learning something totally unfamiliar. Within this context, and inspired by beautiful Feynman-inspired sculptures by Edward Tufte, I sat down to doodle some Feynman diagrams, using this tutorial as an exercise.
Given a few rules, the process of creating potential interactions between subatomic particles and photons quickly laid bare my preconceptions and exposed a state of cognitive dissonance regarding basic rules of charge balance and conservation of energy. The wiggly lines were very fun to draw. I found myself getting frustrated, then drawing some more, then pausing to imagine and experiment, then googling another concept and repeating the cycle. This iterative process enabled me to learn visually and kinetically, and to gradually establish a framework for understanding theoretical concepts by experimenting with their pictorial expressions. Going forward, I’d like to explore how similarly austere concepts can be destigmatized through visualization.
Hi. So, I must say I am happy to be a part of the SciArt program. I must admit I had not had time to reach out to my teammate since our first meeting. It has been a crazy beginning of the semester. However, I have put some thought into projects that I would like to bounce off of her for consideration.
I think there is a great deal of apprehension for being full participants in math and the sciences in our youth, especially students of color. My experience has been the math aspect of certain subjects tends to scare people off. That said, I like to use art as a way of showing a person’s aversion to math may simply be a matter of perception. Art can be a powerful tool in demonstrating how perspective can influence one’s perception of a given subject and how perception can influence performance.
There is research that suggests a spatial awareness is a significant factor in understanding math intensive subject matter.
I would like to explore how people can improve their perception of 3D space and how it relates to understanding certain concepts in Math and Physics.
After a great first meeting, I've been flooded with ideas regarding science accessibility, techno-musical experimentation, and everything in between.
Lately, I've been particularly focused on storytelling as a way of linking science and artistic expression. As a scientist studying effects of the Anthropocene, my efforts to understand the natural world are inextricably linked with learning about how humans have impacted it. Recent work in the emerging field of critical physical geography - a field that examines the social and biogeophysical in tandem - has highlighted important work at the intersections of industrialization, environmental racism, and urban pollution (paper downloadable here with login).
Using this theoretical framework as a starting point, I hope to employ science and art in conjunction as storytelling tools to explore the dynamics of local demographic and ecologic change.
To examine another form of communication, I’ve also been thinking about the role of data visualization in promoting data accessibility, and the power of unconventional visualization to enable us to understand dynamics of change affecting 3, 4, 5, or more variables simultaneously. A cool talk at FOSS4G to this effect caught my attention, and though it was focused on visual non-photorealistic renderings (using Pittore and painting effects - paper here), audio visualization holds equal promise. Variations in tone, timbre, volume, and rhythm might be used to “see” change within complex datasets to enable greater - or maybe just different - comprehension than we are able to attain by looking at a series of 2D graphs holding the same information. I hope in the future I’m able to experiment with such complexity using audiovisualization techniques. For now, I’ve been using sound to display crystallographic data using simple sine tones*.
*This mineralogical singing has come out creepy so far. As a dedicated Bridge resident, however, I persevere.