During the 2011-2012 school year, I worked with eighth grade students to motivate, engage and empower them to pay attention to and understand/retain content in the Sciences (Space weather). The bigger picture involved us with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission: a Solar Terrestrial Probes mission comprising four identically instrumented spacecraft that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the microphysics of three fundamental plasma processes: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence. The mission will be launched in October of this year (2014).
The above processes are not only a “mouthful”, but also an immediate put-off for today’s young generation mainly because they (processes) are perceived as difficult and boring. Difficulty calls forth boredom for their young minds … any mind, perhaps … and consequently, there is no appreciable interest.
In order to generate interest and defuse this perceived difficulty, knowledge visualization was pursued to make Digital Art – a tangible product (byproduct) of the creative process in support of the cognitive aspects of the information found and its understanding. The creation of art – the making of something that comes from “within” – has always been a boon for the psyche, a gratifying experience that adds to self-esteem and provides relevance. This creative experience is surround and exciting, which leads to greater motivation for a greater understanding and retention of content. There is a phrase for this action – moving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) towards STEAM (STEM with an Arts component). To combine the Arts with STEM is to motivate, engage and empower.
In order to visualize intelligently, it needs to be based on the compilation of information found as part of the research process. What is normally a chore for students to endure – conducting research – was not only a required condition, but also a welcomed opportunity to explore Space weather and the NASA MMS mission because they (students) were laying the groundwork with the anticipation of visualizing or making Digital Art about their findings. Two examples (left – Maria Guzman; right – Raul Martinez) follow of student work showing their visualization process of various aspects of Space weather:
The above images were made in a graphic arts software program. We are looking at the results of a great deal of cognitive effort via research and creative fervor via the tools and filters of the program. Again, these students and their classmates took the Science research in stride because of the anticipation of making art. They utilized various NASA web pages and images to have a better understanding of Space weather and the purpose of the NASA mission.
On a philosophical bent, a theater mask – an art piece in itself – is the means for the performer to understand and translate the drama and/or dance on stage. So is the art piece that is created in the classroom by the student to understand and explain subject content. These creative and cognitive experiences lead to greater understanding/retention of and an appreciation for STEM and its motivating component, the Arts – STEAM.
To compound this STEAM process, these same students then traveled to another school district to teach their students (intermediate and middle schools) how to use the graphic arts software to do the same. Excitation levels were high, and empowerment came to the forefront for all the youngsters involved. The teachers present at the two-day, student workshop seemed secondary. My students were able to convey what they knew to other students, and those students were motivated through the Arts (and peer teaching) to produce “product” that was a translation of their Space weather and NASA MMS research activities. The images below show my students (in the maroon shirts) working with the students the other school district:
They were empowered. The students at the other school district were not only motivated because of the “wired” approach of studying and creating Digital Art, but also because of the peer teaching. Or in other words, they were within their social context and the digital environment.
The topic of Space weather is about as far away from middle school students’ minds as the Moon or even Mars. It registers one or less on the Richter Scale for these youngsters who are more interested in social networking on their cellphones than wading through information to gain an understanding of Space weather that comprises a glossary of over 40 terms such as: aurora, chromosphere, coronal mass ejection (CME), electromagnetic spectrum, heliosphere, magnetosphere, prominences, spectrum, solar wind, and others.
And when a complex project like NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission – slated for launch in October of this year (2014) to study Space weather – is added to the [lesson-plan] equation, the task for the teacher becomes formidable or even doubtable. In order to move these students in the direction of real desire and commitment to an assignment such as this, a “wired” and holistic approach is needed which parallels who they are and what they do as “digital natives”.
What is interesting about the premise of this process is the fact that the students were motivated to expend time and energy on both, complex topics due to their software/hardware involvement (hands-on) and anticipation of making Digital Art – visualizing their findings (information) as an art form. Two more examples (left – America Echeverria; right – Erika Lopez) of “product” or Digital Art follow:
The above images and numerous images by other students reflect an enthusiasm for the topics – Space weather and NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission – because they were given an opportunity to immerse themselves in the “digital world” with creative control for generating or creating “product” – Digital Art. This teacher (author) heard time and time again from the students, “This is really cool!” What they meant is that the process of dealing with complex topics in a “wired” and creative way (visualization) – and their way (“id” control) – was an exciting and satisfying experience. Unbeknownst to them, perhaps, is the fact that they indeed took part in a regimen of study regarding the Sciences.
To add transcendence, and play to their (students’) social instincts, it was also understood at the onset of the lesson plan that they would convey their knowledge (gained) and graphic arts software skills (acquired) to students at another school district. They would become tutors – mentors – of others. This understanding was also a motivating factor for the students to proceed with the research.
As not only an educator, but also a digital artist, the maximization of cognitive learning through knowledge visualization is very much a personal matter. For me, I consider this process a form of continued education as I pursue various projects that focus on the pixel as it relates to Abstraction, Minimalism and Suprematism. I generate “Pixelscapes” (isolated and magnified groups of pixels that comprise color fields) not only for aesthetics, but also as a means for greater understanding of mathematical relationships. Two examples follow:
When we look at the above images, in my mind there is an immediate vehicle to motivate students to work with calculations and mathematical relationships. Again, the cognitive and creative processes mesh as the students isolate and magnify pixels from images (random) in graphic arts software to then calculate values (perimeter, area) and establish relationships (ratios). In an aesthetic sense, they make Digital Art and in this case, within specific genres – Abstraction/Minimalism.
Another example of the mathematical model expanded via knowledge visualization is the introduction of other disciplines as they relate to the overall understanding and appreciation of practical application via calculations and relationships. “Panhandle Circle-square” is not only an approach to motivate students to study Mathematics, but also a way to instill a greater appreciation of a particular sector of society – the farming community – not to mention, a bit of Geography. Two examples follow:
The above images are courtesy of Google Earth, and they show crop circles made by farmers in the Panhandle of Texas. These “Earth canvases” (Found Art) are a testament to the farmers’ intuitive nature and mathematical skill of working with the dynamics of the circle and within the confines of a square (plot of land) to irrigate their crops. What is interesting is when these circle-square configurations are viewed as aerial landscapes (similar to “Aeropaintings” [“Futurism”]), they rival the works of some non-objective artists; and what is more meaningful, perhaps, is that they can be used in the classroom (field) for mathematical calculations (perimeter, area, circumference) and relationships (ratios, percentages).
The science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them – surveying or land surveying – can also be introduced as an additional component to the process since Mathematics is used to establish land maps and boundaries for ownership.
Maximizing cognitive learning through knowledge visualization extends in all directions – disciplines – and by doing so, helps to combat aliteracy, the state of being able to read but being uninterested in doing so. I immersed students in various projects that centered around relevance and visualization of content – exciting and motivating for them – and they were also required to do research (as mentioned), which required reading to support the projects. They took the reading in stride – moved away from their lethargic and alliterate behavior – because of the nature (mode of application) of the projects. Content relevance, hands-on hardware/software and the anticipation of “product” (end result) were motivating factors in combatting aliteracy amongst the student population.
During the 2009-2010 school year, I worked with seventh grade students to visualize via graphic arts software Science vocabulary for a greater understanding of the word meanings. Again, they (students) took this usually laborious and boring process in stride to be able to visualize their word meanings as Digital Art. Two examples (left [change – physical] – Gerardo Gonzalez; right [erosion] – Emiliano Garcia) follow:
When we look at the above images, in my mind there is an immediate indication of the effectiveness of the visualization process to maximize cognitive learning. Another aspect not touched on earlier is the retention factor – being able to keep information in one’s mind. Visualizing information as a “product” – Digital Art – nurtures this factor to a higher level because of the creative act and ownership of that being created. “This is mine, and I’m proud of it,” the student says. He or she remembers the information via the “product”. Two more examples (left [impermeable] – Ray Garza; right [symmetry] – Max Martinez) follow:
History may be interesting for the older folk – the Baby Boom generation which I am a part of – but not for most of today’s youth. They are interested in the “now”, so well supported via the social networking tools on the Internet. They become alliterate – mentioned earlier – when asked to read and study people and events of the past. During the 2010-2011 school year, I worked with a core group of sixth and seventh grade students to add relevance to the study of History (Early American) by making a connection (field trip) with an individual – a real person who was born shortly after The American Revolution, lived through The War of 1812, and died after The Civil War – whose remains are at a cemetery, just a few feet below the headstone.
This immediacy of the remains and the original headstone brought this history closer to the students as they documented the gravesite, and later, made Digital Art from their photographs to pay respects to “Sarah” for a greater appreciation of the past. Three examples (left – Rachel Arce; middle – Rossy Martinez; right – Eduardo Barrera) follow of student work showing their visualization process:
When we look at the above images, in my mind, it is apparent that the students took the “History lesson” in stride with the anticipation of making tribute pieces to a woman of the past, an individual who is far-removed from their (students’) immediate lives. History was made relevant via knowledge visualization and ownership of “product” – the Digital Art.
To move even farther away from STEM/STEAM, during the 2011-2012 school year, I worked with eighth grade students to visualize via graphic arts software the condition of bullying for a greater awareness and understanding of this social issue. Again, the students put aside their alliterate behavior, and conducted research on the Internet because of the anticipation of making “product” – Digital Art – a “commodity” of sorts – something they could own – be proud of. Having said this brings me to that, or the topic of “MEE”, which I expounded upon at a teachers’ conference a few years back, but first, two examples (left – Maria Guzman; right – Jose Ramirez ) of student work follow regarding bullying:
“MEE” – Motivation, Engagement, and Empowerment – comes to the forefront as a direct result of maximizing cognitive learning through knowledge visualization.To ensure student success: 1) innovation must comprise cognitive and creative planning that effectively meld core subject content with technological hands-on opportunities to motivate, and engage the student; 2) and best practices must show relevance and a sense of ownership for the assignment or project to empower the student.
The students accomplished a great deal with me via Technology Applications for several reasons – the main one being hands-on with hardware and software that paralleled their “wired” world as “digital natives”. Another important reason was due to the eclectic nature of the curriculum planning and knowledge visualization. And another significant reason was the fact that the students were given the opportunity to take control of the learning process – make the assignments their own in terms of relevance and generation/creation of “product”.
The creation of “product” – and in many cases, Digital Art (Art for Art’s sake as a byproduct) – was the key in moving the students in the direction of desire for the assignment. They were motivated to study, and produce with the anticipation of ownership via “product”. Again, they were given the opportunity to explore their “conceptual self”/creative side based on the assigned content – much of it, core.
My conceptual/visual thinking at the personal and teaching (curriculum planning) levels was a direct conduit to the untapped, creative subconscious of the students. They flourished in the world of “knowledge visualization”; and they were very adept at assimilating assigned content as “product” via various kinds of production software. A few examples follow:
The above image shows an exhibition (2008-2009 school year) about vocabulary building via visualization of word meanings to make Digital Art. The seventh and eighth grade students took the usually boring task of learning vocabulary astride. Two examples (left – Celestial by Alondra Gonzalez; right – Echo by Priscilla Cortez) from the exhibition follow:
When we view the above images, the creative process is “alive and well”. The left image – Celestial – is remarkable for its representation of the word and its numerous layers with various filter treatments. Not only did the student have the wherewithal to use repetition, but also a different filter treatment for each repetition. The same can be said for the right image – Echo – but an additional, creative force is at work – using an image in receding fashion to indicate the word meaning in a dramatic way. As we all know, an echo tapers off – gets weaker. The crux of the aforementioned is that the students went much deeper conceptually and aesthetically via knowledge visualization as compared to a surface result of writing down the meaning of the words.
The above images (top – Jocelyn Arredondo; bottom – Cyntia Estrada) are Web banners or banner ads (2008-2009 school year) that are seen on most websites for advertising and to generate revenue per click. Knowledge visualization allowed these students and their classmates to have a greater understanding of advertising production (copywriting) and its economics on the Internet.
The creative process as defined in the classroom is allowing students to tap into their subconscious via intelligent and conceptual curriculum planning – giving them the opportunity via hands-on activities (in this case, hardware/software) to visualize assimilated content for greater understanding and retention – of knowledge. They need to be in control to expound upon the guidelines of the lesson plan.
The above images (left – Denorah Espinoza; right – Jasmin Perales) indicate what’s possible via knowledge visualization. They and others were made by seventh grade students during the 2009-2010 school year as “product” (Digital Art) – the result of extensive research about Paul Revere and Early American History. The left image is remarkable for its treatment of the portrait of Revere – color scheme, layering, repetition, filtering and the brilliant distortion and transparency of the larger portrait. The right image is remarkable in its own right for the opposites in profile of the portrait of Revere and the ingenious treatment of using the portrait as a paint brush to create the tiling effect. Again, the crux of the aforementioned is that the students went much deeper conceptually and aesthetically via knowledge visualization as compared to a surface result of taking notes.
The creative process can be broken down into four distinct processes – according to authorities over the years: preparation, incubation, illumination, and implementation. To transition these processes to the classroom for full benefit of the students – to “awaken” them – relies on the conceptual “nature” of the teacher and his/her ability to convey/facilitate. Without this input from the “front end” – critical, curriculum planning – there will be no “back end” – knowledge visualization for greater understanding and retention of lesson plan content.
The above composite shows the front slide of six PowerPoint presentations created by eighth grade students during the 2009-2010 school year. These students and their classmates were challenged to take control of the learning process to make Science more exciting and interesting to study. They researched the concepts online, and then used visuals, text and animation to bring them “to life”:http://tomrchambers.com/8_ppt_science_10.html
Several of these student presentations were used as a part of this teacher’s (author’s) presentation – “Technology and Creativity in the Classroom” – at the Region 4 Science Conference, Houston, Texas, February 20, 2010.
The creative process is very much at work in the above project and with a practical bent that equates the difficult topic of Science with the psyche of the student – via knowledge visualization – for greater understanding and retention of content. Animation is at a high degree of play – similar to the stimulus provided in gaming, perhaps – to motivate others (students) to study the various concepts of Science. So the creators of the presentations also become teachers for their peers. Not only have they (creators) maximized their cognitive learning through knowledge visualization, but also generated “product” in an applicable sense for others to use and learn from.
The above images (left – Nicole Baltazar; right – Mirna Morales) indicate what’s possible via knowledge visualization. They and others were made by eighth grade students during the 2010-2011 school year as “product” (Digital Art) – the result of extensive research about American History. The left image is remarkable for its treatment – color scheme, layering, filtering and the brilliant use of contrasts – lights and darks. The right image is remarkable in its own right for the line treatment and transparency of the portraits of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and the ingenious painting of the background with “Red, White and Blue”. Again, the crux of the aforementioned is that the students went much deeper conceptually and aesthetically via knowledge visualization as compared to a surface result of taking notes.
The above composite shows the front slide of six PowerPoint presentations created by seventh grade students during the 2010-2011 school year. These students and their classmates were challenged to take control of the learning process to make Mathematics more exciting and interesting to study. They researched the concepts online, and then used visuals, text and animation to bring them “to life”: http://tomrchambers.com/7_ppt_math_10-11.html
Again, the creative process is very much at work in the above project and with a practical bent that equates the difficult topic of Mathematics with the psyche of the student – via knowledge visualization – for greater understanding and retention of content. Animation is at a high degree of play – similar to the stimulus provided in gaming, perhaps – to motivate others (students) to study the various concepts of Mathematics. So the creators of the presentations also become teachers for their peers. Not only have they (creators) maximized their cognitive learning through knowledge visualization, but also generated “product” in an applicable sense for others to use and learn from.
This teacher (author) will conclude this section regarding the creative process by moving totally away from visualizing core subject content to focus on students’ “inner-self” and emotions (feelings) as part of a very personal approach to visualization. During the 2011-2012 school year, I worked with a core group of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students to create “product” for “To know one’s parents …” As part of the creative process, I opened up to the students so they would open up to me. In preparation for the project, I stated:
“To know one’s parents is an important aspect of everyone’s life, and I regret that I never reached out to my mother and father to know what kind of individuals – human beings – they were. My parents passed away in the 1980s. All I know is that they were “mother”/”father” figures, and I will never know their interests, desires, fears, beliefs, expectations, disappointments, accomplishments, likes/dislikes, hobbies, family relationships, friendships – and the list goes on. I have a big “hole” in my heart because of not knowing who my parents were, and I don’t want you to have the same regret.”
The students were asked to interview their parents (take notes), convert the notes into third-person stories, read their stories onto a voice recorder, combine their voice recordings with music via Audacity (sound editing software), and then use their voice/music combinations with photographs via MovieMaker to produce movies (slide shows). The interview process helped them gain confidence in having dialogue with adults, the notes conversion to a third-person story honed their writing skills, and the multimedia approach immersed the students in sound and movie editing software to hone their digital production skills. It was mentioned that they were involved with a production process that is practiced worldwide in various industries that require sound and movie editing.
I believe that this project – “To know one’s parents …” – moved the students towards seeing their parents in a different light. The project went beyond “Maximizing Cognitive Learning through Knowledge Visualization” – it took this in hand, but also moved into a realm of enhanced awareness about themselves (students) and their loved ones.
The composite above shows stills of two of the videos from the project. To view these and videos by other students, go to: http://tomrchambers.com/to_know.html