Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Lesson on Ecology Through Art - Put Life in a Dying Tree

Dr Abe V Rotor

AUTHOR’S NOTE: As a background to this article, I was requested by the National Council of Educational Innovators (NCEI) to conduct a teaching demonstration whereby art, specifically drawing/ painting and music, is integrated with the teaching of ecology before the first International Congress of Educators in Manila. Recently I presented the original approach before teachers in a Faculty Development Workshop. 

     Allow me to start with a simple drawing exercise. The exercise is about a dying tree. I invite everyone to complete the scenario, using the attached outline of a tree skeleton. The idea is to bring back the life of the tree, hence, the title of this exercise. This exercise introduces us to understand the basic nature of living things, and the essence of ecology as a subject.

     As a guide let us imagine that solar energy is transformed by plants into chemical energy, which is then shared by different organisms. In nature, organisms interact with each other on one hand, and with their environment on the other. Scientists say, this interrelationship comes so naturally that there is in fact no need of human intervention. On the other hand, it is of the general opinion that man is the custodian of creation.  If this is so what is its role? How can he help maintain the so-called “balance on nature called homeostasis?”

     How much are we aware of this role? We will know it by evaluating the drawing once it is finished using ten (10) criteria scored on the Likert scale (5 is very good, 4 good, 3 fair, 2 poor and 1 very poor). But I suggest that the criteria should be read only after the drawing has been done. It is an individual work that takes around ten minutes.

These are the criteria.

1.     There is the sun in the drawing. The sun is the source of life, the source of energy- solar energy- where is then transformed into chemical energy.

2.     There is water – clouds, rain stream, river, pond, lake, etc illustrating the Water Cycle. The importance of water as an element of life is next to the sun. 

3.     The tree is has leaves, branches, flowers and fruits. The tree is not only a living thing; it is a tree of life, the source of food and oxygen, and other things, aesthetic beauty, notwithstanding.

4.     There are other trees, including those of its kind. There are other plants as well. This illustrates the concept of a family and a  community.

5.     There are animals and other living creatures. This shows relationships such as mutualism or symbiosis, commensalism (e.g. a bird’s nest, ferns and orchids on the tree), and competition (e.g. insects feeding). Certain relationships may be interpreted on a philosophical level such as benevolence, unity, cooperation and altruism.

6.     The tree, as well as other members of the community,  is part of the landscape. The drawing has a perspective of a larger whole; it is an integral part of Nature represented by mountains, valleys, pasture, rivers, fields, etc.

7.     The presence of man is important. The drawing may show a happy family, children playing, man taking care of the tree, or his presence manifested by a drawing of a house or community.

8.     The drawing shows life. It is natural; it exudes a feeling of reality.  The colors are real, so with the subjects. I call this aspect naturalism.

9.     The drawing has good artistic quality. Is the drawing appealing? Does it conform to a good sense of balance, harmony, contrast, and perspective?

10.                        Maximum use of space. This refers to the whole world of the tree. It is the total “view from the window”, the vantage point the participant views his subject and the world. Did the participant use the space wisely? There is no wasteland, so to speak.

The scores of the ten criteria are added. To get the average score, divide the total with 10. A score of, say 3.6 to 4.4 is Good, while 2.5 to 3.4 is fair. College QC is 3.3, or Fair.

I have noticed that high school students and freshmen in college who participated in this exercise did not get high scores. They have limited exposure to the subject.  But this is a good exercise to develop the power of imagination and logical thinking. In a number of cases the drawing shows the influence of cartoons, animae and advertisements. This exercise follows a deductive-retrospective approach, which fits well with the use of art medium.

During the 10-minute exercise I usually provide a background music by playing the violin with popular, native and semi-classical compositions which the accompaniment of re-recorded Nature sounds (e.g. birds singing and running stream). To facilitate the work, I prepared an hour long extemporaneous CD, “Violin and Nature,” which is easier to carry with me on out-of town lectures, otherwise I resort to play the original compositions of the following well-known composers.

·        “Hating Gabi” by Antonio molina
·        “Maalaala Mo Kaya” by Mike Velarde
·        “Meditation,” from the Thais by Massenet
·        “ Serenade” by Tosselli
·        “ On Wing of song” by Felix Mendelson
        What contributions have the arts to the effective teaching of science? I consider the following premises important.

1.     Fuller use of the senses. Art provides other than visual and auditory, an opportunity to use touch and smell, say on the specimens during hands-on and field observation.
2.     Amalgamation of knowledge and imagination, a concept of learning where facts and experiences rise to a level of thought or theory level, yet sets the boundaries of fantasy. Art provides a better means of expression of the imagination.

3.     Search for Formula-Values relationship. I call this concept “ valueing”, that is, answering the question, “For what purpose?” on a higher plane over material or physical. Art discusses Renaissance, the revival of culture and values. Art talks of harmony and unity. Can science adopt art in creating subject appeal?

4.     Left brain-right brain tandem. Logical and creative integration is important, the left brains thinks and reasons, while the right brain images, creates.

5.     Mind-Feeling Duo (Head-Heart). “Science is reason, art is emotion.” It is true. Art appeals to the emotion. One must “feel” a work of art such as the climax of a story, the color of sunset, the graceful movement of a ballet dancer, or Rodin’s melting human figures symbolizing suffering.

6.     Skill is applied knowledge and art is basically skill. Studying art is merely the pathway to its application. Art is an excellent medium of applied science.

After evaluating the exercise, “Put life in a dying tree,” we can try similar exercises in biology and ecology, other disciplines notwithstanding. These were selected from a manual in three volumes which I use in conducting Art Workshop for Children.

1.     Green Valley - this shows the structure of a watershed in relation to a valley. Hoe can one efficiently keep the valley green and productive? How good are we as mangers of the environment?

2.     Waterfalls - the river drops and continues down below the fall, so is life. Hoe wide, how high, is our own waterfall? It is a good lesson in analogy and resolve - the ecology of our life.

3.     Let’s build a house - but where are the neighbors? A lesson of human ecology, the concept of community.

4.     Make this dog happy - this exercise a sharpens our values of kindness and concern. Ecology has a heart.

5.     Road of Life - by tracing our own road of life, we known what we want in life, where we are going and how we get there. Here we plot our future. The human side of ecology is apparent in this exercise.

     The criteria for scoring these exercises can be devised by the teacher or resource person, using the first exercise as a general guide. For specific purposes he can emphasize on certain aspects he deems necessary to arrive at his objectives. The idea why I am presenting these exercises is that a teacher can prepare similar exercises whereby art can be integrated with the subject of science, and “valueing” is incorporated in the lesson.

     But first, let us put life in a dying tree.

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