25 Ways To Get Arty With Science

by Hillary Lamb
by Hillary Lamb

25 Ways To Get Arty With Science

Science gives us a deeper understanding of ourselves and our universe. This has inspired artists, writers, composers, poets and filmmakers to create countless works of art. Yet many pupils consider science nothing but cold, dull logic. This resources suggests 25 creative activities based on the primary school science curriculum which incoporate the sciences, the arts and hands-on fun.

 

1] Rules of Dietary Life

Rules of Dietary LifeStudy the woodblock printed artwork ‘Inshoku yojo kagami’ (‘Rules of Dietary Life’), which shows the organs working inside a human body. This is from a guide to living healthily, published in Japan during the Edo period. Compare the artwork to a modern diagram from a book showing the inside of a human body. Can you identify the heart and lungs in Rules of Dietary Life?

In traditional East Asian medicine, the internal organs were the five zang organs (heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys) and sixfu organs (small intestine, large intestine, stomach, urinary bladder, gall bladder and ‘triple energiser’). In modern medicine, the internal organs can be grouped by which system they belong to. Which zang and fu organs belong to the digestive system? Which belong to the circulatory system?

Rules of Dietary Life is meant to encourage people to live a healthy life and look after their bodies. Draw your own picture which encourages people to live a healthy life.

Relevant to: Animals, including humans

Suitable for: Years 3-6

2] Sculpting Pollen

Sculpting PollenLook at some magnified photographs of pollen. Pollen comes in various shapes, depending on how it is dispersed. The pollen that sticks to clothing, skin and insects looks like small, spiky globes.

Using clay, sculpt some grains of pollen. To create texture, gently roll textured objects (such as golf balls, sieves, pumice or fake snakeskin) over the surface of the clay. To create spikes, pinch the surface and tug a bit of clay outwards, rolling the tip into a point between your forefinger and thumb.

Once the clay has been baked or air-dried, decorate your pollen sculpture with acrylic paints.

Relevant to: Plants

Suitable for: Years 1-3

3] Hearing Without Ears

Dame Evelyn Glennie is recognised as the world’s greatest solo percussionist. Watch a video of her performing. You may notice that she always performs without wearing shoes. This is not an artistic eccentricity; it is how she hears.

Glennie is deaf in both ears but became a professional musician by sensing sound using other parts of her body, such as her feet. By standing barefoot on stage, she can detect vibrations with her feet and interpret them. Musicians and composers have been listening without their ears for centuries. In the last ten years of his life, Ludwig van Beethoven became deaf, but continued to make music. How did he do it? He sawed the legs off his piano and composed while sitting so he could sense his music vibrating through the floor.

Try sensing music without your hears. Put on noise-cancelling headphones and place your hand on top of a loudspeaker. Play bass-heavy music loudly and then quietly, quickly and then slowly. Can you feel the difference?

Relevant to: Sound

Suitable for: Year 4

4]Half-bird, Half-dinosaur

Everybody’s favourite prehistoric creatures may have been the dinosaurs, but a fascinating creature was Archaeopteryx, which lived during the Jurassic Period. It is thought to be the first bird; a link between small dinosaurs and feathery birds. It was small with feathers, a beak with sharp teeth, claws on the end of its wings, a bony tail, long neck and long legs.

Archaeopteryx has been popular in culture. You are unlikely to know of the Jarry play Ubu Cocu, ou l’Archaeopteryx, but you may recognise Archen and Archeops from Pokémon; creatures with designs based heavily on Archaeopteryx.

Look at photographs of Archaeopteryx fossils and artists’ interpretations of what it may have looked like. Write a story about child with a pet Archaeopteryx which causes havoc and confusion wherever it goes.

Relevant to: Evolution and inheritance, Rocks and fossils

Suitable for: Year 6

5] Naturalist Art

Naturalist ArtLook at the paintings of Ernst Haeckel, William Buelow Gould, John James Audubon, Isabella Kirkland and Adolphe Millot. These artists are recognised for their detailed images of different species of animals and plants. Why were artists so vital to science in the past? (No photographs, difficult to travel around the world to compare species).

Draw your own detailed pictures of bugs using magnifying glasses. Try drawing two different species side by side, being careful to record the differences between them.

Relevant to: Living things and their habitats

Suitable for: Years 1-6

6] Pythagoras and His Strings

As well as being a great mathematician and scientist, Pythagoras also discovered how to make music by changing the lengths of strings. Music, mathematics and the science of vibrations are very closely connected.

First he noticed that when identical strings of the same length were plucked, they sounded the same. If they were different lengths, they sounded different. This is because vibrations with a different frequency are being produced. High frequency vibrations (produced on a short string) are high-pitched while low frequency vibrations (produced on a long string) are low-pitched.

Next, Pythagoras tried comparing the sounds made by two strings when one string was twice as long as the other. The strings produced similar sounds, but the longer string was exactly one octave lower. By cutting other strings between these lengths, Pythagoras could create a musical scale.

While experimenting with his strings, Pythagoras noticed that certain lengths plucked at the same time sounded good. For example, the ‘perfect fifth’ is made when two strings are plucked together with one string one-and-a-half times the length the other (this is like playing C and G together on a piano). We can thank Pythagoras not just for his contributions to mathematics, philosophy and science but also for discovering chords.

Pythagoras discovered that strings of different lengths make different sounds, but on a guitar, all the strings are a similar length. Why do they make different sounds?

Relevant to: Sound

Suitable for: Year 4

7] Planet Top Trumps

Create a simple set of top-trumps cards for the eight planets, using NASA images. Values for categories can be chosen from recorded data (size, mass, distance from sun, surface temperature, length of a year or number of moons) or based on other qualities (such as chance of alien life).

To expand the deck, include other astronomical objects such as dwarf planets, comets or exo-planets.

Relevant to: Earth and Space

Suitable for: Year 5

8] Polonius Is At Dinner

Act 4, Scene 3 of Hamlet; the prince of Denmark has been asked to explain his actions to his uncle, the King, after killing Polonius, a foolish old man. He refuses to give a straight answer and instead cracks morbid jokes which culminate with referring to the King as a poo. Read this excerpt and its modern translation:

King

Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius

Hamlet

At supper

King

At supper! where?

Hamlet

Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.

King

Alas, alas!

Hamlet

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm

King

What dost thou mean by this?

Hamlet

Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

King

Hamlet, where’s Polonius?

Hamlet

Eating.

King

Eating! Where?

Hamlet

Not where he eats, but where he is being eaten. The worms are eating him. We feed farm animals so we can eat them and we feed ourselves so when we die worms can eat us. A king and a beggar taste the same to the worms.

 

King

Uh oh.

Hamlet

A man may go fishing with a worm that ate dead king. Then he may eat the fish that ate the maggot.

King

What are you talking about?

Hamlet

Just that a king can end up as a beggar’s poo.

How do the animals in this piece depend on each other? How could Polonius’ body (or the bodies of other dead things) help plants to grow? Draw a food chain including a dead king, worm, fish and beggar.

Relevant to: Living things and their habitats

Suitable for: Years 3-6

9] Making Light of Art

Making Light of ArtWithout light, we would see nothing at all, so it could be said that all artists use light. However, ‘Light Art’ uses light in unusual ways to create stunning images and installations. Light artists may use normal filament bulbs, neon light, LEDs, natural light or fire. What are the differences between these types of light?

Look at some examples of light art, such as Bruce Munro’s Field of Light, James Turrell’s Wolfsburg Project, Grimanesa Amorós’s The Mirror Connection, or the photography of Beo Beyond. What sort of lights do these artists use? (May include filament bulbs, LEDs, neon lights, natural light, fire).

Create your own light art in a dark room using a torch and a camera with a long exposure. Try moving the torch while the photograph is being taken. What effect does this produce? Create colourful light by sticking coloured acetate sheets over the torch.

Relevant to: Light

Suitable for: Years 3-6

10] Dancing Magnets

An interesting type of liquid is a ferrofluid, which is made up of tiny magnetic particles trapped in a fluid. Like a normal magnet, it responds to magnetic fields (lines up along field lines), but as a liquid, it can change shape. So when a magnetic field changes, the ferrofluid moves, as though alive.

The artist Sachiko Kodama works with ferrofluids to create fascinating pieces of art, changing magnetic fields to make ferrofluid dance. Look at a video of her work Morpho Tower.

Place iron filings in a container and watch how they respond to a magnetic field created by a magnetic held beneath the container. You should see that the filings jump into an arrangement along the field lines, just like the ferrofluid.

Relevant to: Forces and magnets

Suitable for: Years 3-5

11] It’s Alive!

Introduce the story of Frankenstein; a scientist called Dr Frankenstein creates a new human from parts of corpses and applies an electrical spark to it, bringing it to life. Now read the following extract, in which the creature comes to life:

‘It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.’

Dr Frankenstein brings the creature to life using electricity. Many of our body’s processes are controlled using tiny currents of electricity (impulses). Electricity helps our brain to work, our body to sense and our hearts to beat. When a person’s heart stops, the usual treatment is defibrillation, which provides a carefully controlled electrical shock to the heart to make it start beating normally again. It is easy to see how electricity is associated with life.

The creature is described as moving and breathing. What other life processes would Dr Frankenstein have to observe to ensure that his creature really is alive?

Relevant to: Living things and their habitats, Animals including humans

Suitable for: Years 2-6

12] Buzzing Wire Game

Buzzing Wire GameThis is an activity which uses basic understanding of primary school physics. It requires wire, a buzzer, a battery and a shoebox.

Begin by piercing two holes in opposite ends of the shoebox. Strip a length of wire and thread one end through a hole, securely taping it in place on the inside of the box. Thread the other length through the other hold and connect this end to a battery. Take the length of wire that is exposed on top of the box and twist it into a challenging ‘buzz wire’ shape including zig-zags or loose loops.

Connect the battery to a buzzer using more wire. Connect the buzzer to a new length of (covered) wire. Strip 5cm from the end of this wire and twist it into a hook. To make the hook easier to control, wrap the next 10cm of wire with stiff paper to create a handle.

Loop the exposed hook of wire around the end of the buzz wire. Try to manoeuvre the hook all the way from one end to the other. If the exposed wire hook touches the buzz wire, a circuit will be complete, causing electricity to flow and the buzzer to sound.

Relevant to: Electricity

Suitable for: Years 4-6

13] Which Foods Melt?

Collect together various foods, including cornflakes, chocolate, marshmallows, bread, milk, water and raisins. Are they solids, liquids or gases?

Put the bread in a toaster and make toast. How does the toast look different from the bread? Is this a reversible or irreversible reaction?

Try double boiling the solid foods. Which ones change state? What is this change of state called? Is the change reversible or irreversible? To test this, mix the molten chocolate with the cornflakes and leave the mixture out to cool. Soon, the chocolate will be solid again. Try adding marshmallows, raisins or nuts to your crispy cakes.

Relevant to: Changing materials

Suitable for: Years 4-6

14] Naturalist Photography

Urformen der Kunst

Study the work of Karl Blossfeldt, a naturalist photographer who was fascinated by plants. His photographs of individual plants are highly magnified and show every detail of their texture and shape. How could this be useful to scientists trying to categorise living things?

Blossfeldt described every plant as being an ‘artistic and architectural structure’. What parts of a plant make up its structure?

Study some plants under a microscope, looking carefully at their detail, such as the veins in the leaves and the fibres on the stem. Draw a large charcoal picture of a plant, imitating the style of Karl Blossfeldt.

Relevant to: Plants, Living things and their habitats

Suitable for: Years 1-3

15] Watching The Earth Rotate

What is a pendulum? You may find one inside an old-fashioned clock or thermometer, but you can make a simple one easily. Tie a rubber to the end of a string and let it swing back and forth. This is a pendulum. There are two forces here: the tension in the string holding it up and the gravitational force pulling it down.

A famous type of pendulum is the Foucault pendulum. To make one, you need a heavy mass on a wire and somewhere high and open to hang it from, such as in a stairwell or from the ceiling of a hall (at least 10m high). Hang the pendulum from the high point. Draw a circle on the floor with the pendulum at the centre and mark a starting position on the circle. Let the pendulum start to swing from this position. Over 24 hours, it will slowly move around the circle.

How does it work? A Foucault pendulum swings back and forth steadily while Earth rotates beneath it. This is why it takes 24 hours to return to its original position; one full rotation of the Earth is a day.

Relevant to: Forces and magnets, Earth and space

Suitable for: Years 5-6

16] Animated Evolution

Watch the evolution animation from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (Episode 2: One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue). Note that although the animation shows the same creature changing shape through time, evolution on earth involves many failures, many branches, trillions of lives and deaths and billions of years.

Create a flip book animation showing an evolution, such as the development of the modern horse or the evolution of birds from small dinosaurs. The easiest way to begin is by drawing the first and last pages and then fill in the transition gradually, using as many pages as necessary.

Relevant to: Evolution and inheritance

Suitable for: Year 6

17] Valentine’s Hearts

Valentine's HeartsLook at depictions of the heart in art, including Pompeo Batoni’s Sacred Heart, the illustrations from Pierre Sala’s Petit Livre d’Amour, Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas and the hearts in a pack of cards. What does the heart represent?

Next, use anatomy textbooks to look at accurate drawings of the human heart. Humans and other mammals have four main parts of the heart: the upper atrium, lower atrium, upper ventricle and lower ventricle. Design a Valentine’s Day card featuring a realistic heart.

Relevant to: Animals, including humans

Suitable for: Year 6

18] The Seven Ages of Man

What are the major stages in a person’s life? In Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, a character called Jacques describes seven stages (or ‘ages’) of life. He compares life to a play with a different act for each part of life. Read his speech, trying to identify the seven ages.

‘All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’

 

player: actor

 

 

act: part of a play

mewling: crying

satchel: a school bag

 

 

ballad: romantic song

mistress: girlfriend

pard: mythical lion-like creature

 

bubble reputation: reputation that grows quickly and then disappears

capon: chicken

 

saws: sayings

 

pantaloon: greedy character

pouch: purse

hose: tights

shank: leg

treble: high pitched sound

 

 

oblivion: unawareness

sans: without

The seven ages are: baby (infant), child (schoolboy), adolescent (lover), young adult (soldier), middle aged (justice), elderly (pantalone) and ‘incapacity’ – when you are too old and ill to look after yourself any more.

What are the ‘entrance’ and ‘exit’ in a person’s life? At which stage does ‘the player’ become ready for reproduction? How is the baby like the very old person? What type of illness could affect an old person to bring them to ‘second childishness’?

Relevant to: Animals, including humans

Suitable for: Year 6

19] Stained Glass Art

Stained Glass ArtVisit a local church and look at its stained glass windows. The designs will mostly have Christian themes

When the sun shines, you may see colourful light streaming through the windows. We see these beautiful colours because each piece of coloured glass in the window will let through only certain types of light. So for instance, green glass will allow green light through but absorb all the other colours.

Using a paint outliner, draw a simple design on an clear acetate sheet (tracing if necessary). Colour it in using glass paints. Once the paint is dry, cut out the design and stick it to a window. If there is no glass paint to hand, draw and colour a design on tracing paper using felt tip pens.

Relevant to: Light

Suitable for: Years 3-6

20] What Goes On Underground

According to Greek mythology, the musician Orpheus descended to the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice. Many civilisations in history associated the underground with the underworld (sometimes described as ‘hell’); what other myths and legends exist about the underground?

What really lies under the ground? Using an A3 sheet of paper, draw a cross-section of the ground deep beneath your feet. You may want to include archeological remains, underground transport, habitats for some animals, mines, buried rubbish, buried treasure, fossils, caves and rock.

Relevant to: Rocks and fossils

Suitable for: Year 3

21] Listening To The Seasons

Listen to clips from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concertos, reading their accompanying sonnets. What weather does each piece of music remind you of (lazy sun, blizzards, rain)? Which pieces of music feel warm and which feel cold?

Which instruments would you play to make music about a storm? What instruments would you play to make music about gently falling snow?

Relevant to: Seasonal changes

Suitable for: Year 1

22] (Almost) Instant Ice Cream

This is the fastest way to make ice cream without using liquid gas. When ice cream is cooled quickly, its crystals are smaller which makes it smoother. You will need milk, sugar, vanilla essence, ice cubes, salt and two zip-lock bags.

In the ‘mixture bag’, put two tablespoons of sugar and a cup of milk. Add a squirt of vanilla extract or a spoonful of jam. Seal this bag securely. In the ‘ice’ bag, put several scoops of ice cubes and a cup of salt. The salt lowers the temperature at which the ice melts to below 0ºC; cool enough to freeze the mixture. Place the mixture bag inside the ice bag. Seal the ice bag. Vigorously shake the bags, wearing oven gloves if you begin to feel the chill.

After about five minutes, the mixture should have stiffened into ice cream. Remove the mixture bag from the ice bag and taste your instant ice cream.

Alternative recipe: for a richer treat, replace the sugar and milk with half a cup of condensed milk and half a cup of double cream. For a fruity flavour, replace the vanilla essence with a tablespoon of jam.

Relevant to: Changing materials

Suitable for: Years 4-6

23] Sunny Impressions Art

Sunny Impressions ArtThis is a simple art activity which uses found objects, water and sunprint paper. In a dimly lit room, arrange objects on the paper; ferns, leaves and feathers work very well. Once satisfied with the arrangement, bring the paper into direct sunlight, keeping the objects flat and still. The parts of paper exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun will react, creating a new type of molecule and visibly turning from blue to white.

After about 15 minutes, bring the paper and objects indoors and bathe the paper in a tub of water. The blue and white colours will switch, producing a pale image of the objects. This is similar to the process which gives sunbathers tan lines on their covered skin.

Relevant to: Light

Suitable for: Years 3-6

24] Balloon Hovercraft

Create a mini hovercraft using a balloon, an old CD, a sports bottle cap and masking tape.

Begin by taking the CD and closing off most of its central hole. You can do this by covering it with masking tape and then piercing a few holes in the tape. Next, stick the bottle cap to the middle of the CD, using plenty of masking tape to seal off any gaps (for a stronger seal, use hot glue).

Blow up the balloon and close the bottle cap. While squeezing the bottom so that no air escapes, stretch the opening of the balloon over the bottle cap. Place the hovercraft on a flat surface and then open the bottle cap to release the air. When the air is released rapidly from the balloon, it creates a cushion of air pushing beneath the CD; this force acts against gravity, allowing the hovercraft to hover for a short time.

Will the hovercraft behave differently on different surfaces? Why/why not? Try changing the size of the hole (for instance, take off the masking tape cover). How is the hovercraft affected?

Relevant to: Forces and magnets

Suitable for: Years 3-6

25] Bio-art

Bio-ArtLook at the work of artist Eduardo Kac, a self-described ‘bio-artist’, who uses biological technology to create art. In some of his works, he combines the characteristics of different animals and plants to create living things with unusual features, including a petunia called ‘Edunia’ which contains his DNA. His most famous work is called Alba, for which Kac combined some material from a glowing jellyfish with a rabbit to make it glow an eerie green in the dark.

This combination of material is called genetic modification. Genetic modification can be useful. For instance, scientists have combined material from a flounder (which can survive in freezing cold water) with tomatoes. This produced tomatoes which can survive in cold weather. What other useful combinations of characteristics can you think of?

When may it be wrong to use this technique?

Relevant to: Living things and their habitats, Evolution and inheritance

Suitable for: Years 5-6


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