Teaching teachers to integrate cichlid phylogeny, resin sculptures, and drawing in k12+ classrooms

The longer I am involved with art-science integration, the more time I get to spend teaching teachers — teaching them how to use drawing in science education.

Cichlid specimen (R) & cichlid sculptural models (L)

It’s an incredible perk of the work I do, as I’ve written about before.

In June, I co-taught a Summer Teaching Institute focused on “Exploring Art & Science.” The institute was organized by the University of Wyoming Art Museum’s Education Curator Katie Christensen, along with Master Teacher Heather Bender, and Artmobile Coordinator Erica Ramsey. Together, they and the rest of the Art Museum team are great advocates and partners for art-science work on campus and beyond.

During the institute, my teaching focus was drawing-based science learning and assessment strategies. We started with basic drawing techniques. I walked participants through a toolkit development session which involved lots of practice drawing.

Several of these techniques are discussed in previous newsletters and/or in my guide Sketching and Field Journal Basics.

We also discussed how to facilitate these techniques so that students have lots of informal low-stakes practice before they are formally assessed (the difference, say, between in-class practice and a test). Skill- and confidence-building like this is a critical part of engaging students in the benefits of drawing to learn.

We then applied these skills to observational drawings of cichlids (an extremely diverse group of fishes which includes tilapia). The cichlid specimens were provided by Dr. Katie Wagner, ecologist-in-residence for the institute. Dr. Wagner, along with Drs Dorothy Tuthill and Brian Barber, spent the week helping us all better understand descent-with-modification and other elements of the evolutionary process.

Ultimately, with the guidance of sculptor Adrian Vetter, participants sketched out plans, and sketched to document progress, as they made fish mobiles (based on cichlids) which demonstrated the principles of phylogenetic trees.


We’re doing some distance-learning elements of the institute throughout the rest of the month, and by then we should have a solid sense of how participants will use these practices in their own classrooms.

If you’re interested in how to facilitate any of these activities in your own educational setting, I’d love to chat and/or connect you with my co-instructors.

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