Envisioning a Sustainable Future with Art

Fourth grade students tapped into their imaginations and optimism in designing work to ensure a sustainable future for life on the planet.

Art teacher Kay Silva had been wanting to orchestrate an integrated art and science unit with Lower and Intermediate School Science teacher James Audrain. Since climate scientist, activist and SAIC faculty member Mika Tosca has been working throughout the school this year as Parker’s 16th Annual Robert A. Pritzker Visiting Scientist•Inventor•Engineer in Residence, Silva and Audrain decided this was an ideal opportunity and met to brainstorm possibilities for their students.

Based on this exchange, Audrain used time in his science classes to provide some basic background information about current human activity to improve life on Earth, despite the damage to date. Tosca used time in Silva’s art class to provide students with a general background on climate science, the current state of our planet and ways that artists and designers use their creativity and imaginations to help discover new solutions to old problems. This team of teachers wanted to encourage 4th grade students to dream up their own solutions to climate problems facing us today, unfettered by thoughts of what might “actually work” via currently known science and technology.

During the next two months, 4th grade students dedicated time in their art class to developing their projects. Working in small groups, they used a wide range of hard and soft materials to create original works with the goal of improving the environment. Silva helped guide their artistic efforts in every gathering, and Tosca visited the classes regularly to check on the progress of their constructions, review their artist statements and help Silva install the finished pieces in the Kupcinet Gallery.
Silva commented, “The 4th graders have the most magnificent imaginations! They are still uninhibited about sharing their wild ideas and have enough academic knowledge to combine with their imaginations to create plausible solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. I find it very fulfilling to collaborate creatively with colleagues and students in a ‘hive mind’ kind of way because the results are limitless and often superior to what we come up with when working individually!”

She added, “Large-scale group art projects also promote unity, shared goals and emotional connection. Kids love using their minds and fine and gross motor skills to create sculpture. Cardboard sculpture is a way to reuse/repurpose/recycle an abundant waste material and a good choice for art learning when students envision their ideas ‘coming alive’ in 3D space.”

It’s plain to see from the smiles on the students’ faces in the studio and the wide range of work on display that 4th grade students made the most of this project. Parker thanks Audrain, Silva and Tosca for helping to make it a reality!

Click here to share in photos from the experience.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.