My name is Susan Dorsey, and I am an Education Coordinator for School Programs at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. I am also a National Geographic Certified Educator. As a result, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with an explorer in the field to develop projects, and create exciting learning opportunities for students. The goal of this collaboration through National Geographic is to explore and discover the possibilities that can result from educator and explorer partnerships. Throughout the 2017-2018 school year I have had the privilege of learning from, and innovating with National Geographic Explorer and Madagascar based Paleontologist Dr. Harimalala Tsiory Andrianavalona, who studies animal artifacts to learn about environments of the past. We were challenged to create interdisciplinary education initiatives for students in our sphere of influence.
For my high school art students, we developed lessons incorporating inquiry investigations of objects at the Walters Art Museum, and the Natural History Society of Maryland. We focused our lessons on two themes that reach across our interdisciplinary fields of art and science. Our collaboration themes are observation and interpretation. Dr. Andrianavalona created a video for my students describing how she uses these concepts through the scientific process, while I introduced students to several observational drawing techniques through the creative process. As a result, participants used scientific observation to collect data from objects, while using their senses to make artistic observations to uncover and convey stories through creative expression. Students also learned how observation can lead to interpretation, the meaning behind the observation. While observing natural specimen, students collected and interpreted data to reach a conclusion about species adaptations within different habitats. While observing artwork at the museum, students used analytical and descriptive questions to interpret the stories and messages artists convey, while participating in critiques.
Over the course of four lesson collaborations, students were able to identify connections between the artistic and scientific inquiry processes by asking questions, making observations, and discovering meaning. They were able to understand how both processes contribute to more meaningful and creative conclusions. Authors Saroja Dhanapal, Ravi Kanapathy and Jamilah Mastan  explain that this integration increases students “imagination, higher-order thinking skills, creativity and knowledge on both art and science” while also providing space and motivation for students to self-explore the world around them (p 7). When art and science topics are combined, it has the potential to produce creative scientists who are able to design innovative solutions to global problems [8, 9]. Dr. Andrianavalona and I realized that integrating our subjects of interest provides multiple knowledge access points for students who learn through multiple intelligences. While students experimented with different observation and interpretation techniques, I noticed they were empowered to explore using abstraction, mixed media, and sculptural form, which differed from the representational artwork students have focused on in the past.
Dr. Andrianavalona is building the first science center in Madagascar and is in the process of designing programs to engage young learners. To assist her in developing educational experiences for students, we collaboratively developed the pedagogical framework for an immersive science program for high school students in Madagascar. Participating students will work alongside scientists in the field for two weeks while learning about science careers through inquiry investigation, and participatory learning methods. We submitted a grant proposal through National Geographic to fund the project. If funding is received, I’ll join her team in Madagascar for a few weeks to assist!
View the videos, lesson plans, and student work developed throughout this collaboration on the Lesson Plans and Student Work section of this website. Visit the Resources to Start Your Own Collaboration segment to learn more about the National Geographic Educator Certification Program, which provides opportunities for educators and explorers to collaborate. You’ll also find a list of other resources that may assist in starting your own global exploration and partnership. To learn more about Dr. Andrianavalona and myself, visit the Collaborators section of this website to find our biographies.