A Dynamic Mess of Jingling Things

Despite my oft-stated claim that I find just about everything interesting, I can honestly say that I’ve never been a big fan of quantum physics, except as a useful bit of technobabble in some of my favorite science fiction.  However, what Geordi LaForge, Samantha Carter, and John Crichton hadn’t quite convinced me of, a handful of *real* scientists with the assistance of the Symphony of Science did.  I now really want to go find out what those ’12 particles of matter, 4 forces of energy’ are, and meanwhile, like Rachel Maddow, I can’t stop humming this song.  Enjoy!

More Physics Fun:

“Multiverse” theory suggested by microwave background — My favorite sci-fi plotline strikes again, but this time with the weight of real science behind it, courtesy of the BBC

Exploratorium Science Snacks by Subject — One of my go-to spots for cool experiments with everyday activities.  No quantum physics there, but lots to explore with the 4 forces of energy!

Why Science Needs Art, and so do we all


“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
John Muir

Every so often, when I tell people that I write a blog about interdisciplinary education for museums, schools, and the generally curious, the response I get is a generic “That’s cool!” while their faces say quietly “What?”  and “For heaven’s sake, why?”

Why indeed.  At its most flippant level, the answer is ‘because it’s fun.’   However, there are serious reasons to advocate for interdisciplinary learning, and every so often I feel the need to point out just how many people agree with me.

For instance, graphic designer, computer scientist, and author John Maeda (who also happens to be the founder of Second Life) claims that “Innovation is born where art meets science.” In answer to the question “Why does science need artists?” he replies

We seem to forget that innovation doesn’t just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art.

For this reason, he advocates for turning the tenets of ‘STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education’ into ‘STEAM,’ including the arts to promote innovative thinking and a greater acceptance of ambiguity.  (For more good background on the whats and wherefores of STEM Education, check out this excellent New York Times article, “STEM education has little to do with flowers.” Unsurprisingly, this article also points out the many benefits of looking at the connections between these subjects as opposed to the ‘silo’ approach.)

The Common Core Standards, which are slowly being adopted nation-wide, are also supportive of interdisciplinary education, though the standards are of necessity organized currently under the major umbrellas of English language and literature, and Mathematics.  Consider this benchmark for third grade, located under the ‘comprehension and collaboration’ strand in the English standards:

Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. [emphasis mine]

Visually–the reading and comprehension of artwork, symbols, photography, and motion pictures.
Quantitatively –the reading of charts, graphs, and numerical results.
Orally — the comprehension of spoken words, theater, lyrics, music, etc.

These are true interdisciplinary skills, necessary in all fields and for life in general.  And beyond the development of life skills, interdisciplinary education and exploration has been shown to promote creativity.

John Muir, environmentalist

The power of imagination makes us infinite.
~John Muir

Miller Mc-Cune reported this spring that studies have shown that experiencing different cultures can make you more creative, as can thinking of yourself as a seven year old.    (As I regularly travel and visit toy stores, this is good news for me all around.)

Check out The Walters Art Museum’s two interdisciplinary classroom units at their teacher resource page, Integrating the Arts, for some examples of how this could be done in connection with a museum or in  your own space.

The Dance of Youth, by Pablo Picasso

“All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
~Pablo Picasso

What steps can be taken, once we’re ‘grown up,’ to keep that creativity alive?  (Other than visiting museums and giving ourselves permission to play?)  The Idea Hive has some suggestions: The Subtle Art of Provoking Serendipity , including gathering diversity and making connections.  Interdisciplinary learning in the workplace as well as the school and the museum.  I love it.

‘The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny.”‘
~Isaac Asimov

Has all this put you in the mood for some fresh ideas?  Open up the multimedia Moodstream created by Getty Images and let your brain start popping.

Recommendation: Playing to Learn

I’m always interested in what other people have to say about the connections between learning and play, and I really enjoyed this presentation (designed as if on a game board) which talks about ways to keep learning fun without being entirely lame lost in the maze of a good idea poorly executed.

Do make time to watch the section on Bloom’s Taxonomy as explained by the Pirates of the Caribbean. I laughed a lot.

Level 4: Analysis. "Me, I'm dishonest. And a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. It's the honest ones you've got to watch out for."

“Children love to learn, but at some point they lose that and become adults that don’t like formal learning. Let’s explore why “play” has gotten such a bad rap and figure out how to get it back in education.” ~Maria Andersen, Playing to Learn? on Prezi

Words of Wide Open Thought

Happy first day of June!  To celebrate the beginning of a new month I thought I’d break out some of my favorite quotes in praise of the phenomenon that is brain popcorn:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.  Specialization is for insects.”
-Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
~ Howard Thurman

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
~ Albert Einstein

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
~Mark Twain

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.  Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities. ” ~Theodore Geisel

“Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence.”
~Norman Podhoretz

“The mind is a museum to be looted at night.” ~Raine, Craig Anthony, The Grey Boy

And to wrap it up, museum comics from Mark Parisi for a laugh, and a video from those Peter-Pan-like folks at TheFunTheory.com:

Synapses in Rhythm: Music and Brains

There’s a lot of research out there about the effect music has on the brain, and there are a fair number of misconceptions, too.  I’m not tackling the whole Baby Mozart thing here, just interested in sharing a few music-related articles that I find fascinating, plus (as always) a few good ways to play.

Babies are pre-programmed to dance and to enjoy it, research by the University of York has shown.

The study of 120 children aged between five months and two years found that babies spontaneously started moving to music and rhythmic beats.

Scientists also found that the better the children were at moving in time with the music, the more they smiled.

It is not known why humans have developed this predisposition, researchers said.

And here’s the rest of the article for your enjoyment and edification…Because you never know when ‘baby dance’ may pop up in casual conversation.

C'mon, doesn't that just make your day? Photo credit to benrybobenry on Flickr

For a denser look at what’s popping in the brainpan, I recommend How The Arts Develop The Young Brain.  And this month there was a neat article on a rock song writing/performance pilot program for middle schoolers in Littleton, MA which was a truly interdisciplinary project.

I also ran across a fascinating blog post this past winter over on Arts Journal about whether or not there’s a benefit to watching musicians while listening to music, or watching something tangentially related.  In this visually dominated culture I think it’s interesting to contemplate whether what you look at while you listen impacts the way you hear the same way it’s been demonstrated that what you hear influences your impression of what you’re seeing.

Music’s interesting to read about, better to listen to, and best yet to play, so if you haven’t picked up an instrument for a while (or ever) but have a hankering for raindrops, chimes, and rhythm, check out Andre Michelle’s  Pulsate, a compose-your-own virtual musical accident.  Or Tonematrix by the same artist, which allows you to build chords and adjust or remove notes in a more controlled way, for those of you who prefer deliberate composing to the pleasant effects of randomness.  The whole site is actually worth poking about in, if you  have the time: there are guitar and synthesizer activities, simple composition by pinwheel, and a number of other neat sound-related experiments and ideas.

Feeling inspired?  Directions for traditional kids’ craft level homemade instruments are here.  If you were intrigued by the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra I mentioned a few posts back, here are directions on how to make a Carrot Strummer and an Eggplant Clapper.

Want more plant-produced music?  Check out the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra (kudos to my coworker for finding these guys!).

Setting off Sparks (of Imagination)

I read a truly fabulous article today which  made me dance for joy in my seat.  (And then have flashbacks to my first trip to Disney World and the song Figment sang in the Imagination Pavilion.  Which has now been stuck  in my head for several hours.)  This article, “Fresh Approaches to Sparking Creativity” reports on the findings of two studies into engaging the imagination and giving it more scope, first through exposure to and comparison of multicultural information (photos, video, music), and second through putting oneself in the mindset of a child.

“seeding the imagination is as simple as allowing yourself to think like a 7-year-old” -Tom Jacobs, “Fresh Approaches to Sparking Creativity”

Now, as an avid advocate for the world of interdisciplinary learning, I read the first half of the article with a great amount of pleasure.  In fact, I said “Aha! Vindication!” because my travel-minded mother has always advocated for exposure to other cultures, and consequently so have I.  In fact, the incredibly strong multicultural collections of the Peabody Essex Museum are one of its main attractors to me from a programming standpoint.  There’s just so much source material!  (And by the way, the Sensational India festival is coming up soon, if you’d like to put this imagination-sparking theory to the test!)

However, the second study report went straight to the heart for me.  Childlike thinking?  I’m all over that.  🙂

When working with the Explorers at The Discovery Museums, one of my favorite training exercises was called “When I was a child.”  In this exercise, we gave each Explorer a sheet asking them to write down what they remembered from specific ages (4-6, 7-8, 9-10, 10-12): whom did they play with?  what kinds of games or activities did they like?  what were their favorite things to do?  and then gave them somewhere between 5-10 minutes to jot down their answers before offering them the opportunity to share some of their favorite memories, one age at a time.

Not only was it great fun to participate (why let the trainees have all the fun?), but it was fabulous to watch people’s faces and voices change, to see them grin reminiscently and light up with enthusiasm.  Keying into that energy  helps us to understand what a museum’s visitors are all about at certain ages.  It’s a fabulous way to talk about child development and visitor interaction without ever getting into the psychobabble or technicalities.

Plus it’s good for your brain.

"One little spark--Imagination--Is at the heart of all creation!"