A Journey through Forces and Motion: an account of my residency with Montalvo Arts Center

Working at Village with the enthusiastic 2nd grade students, with two extra-dedicated teachers – Elizabeth Shepherd and Chris Woods – and with a great team of parents who helped during each session was wonderful!

STEM to STEAM is a fantastic approach to learning and thinking and as an artist I am thrilled to be part of this much needed initiative. Charlee Wagner (Education Programs Manager at Montalvo Arts Center) and David Wilce worked their magic to make this Arts Integration project at Village a great experience for everyone involved.

I was raised in a family of scientists (researchers and teachers) and I always loved science. For me it makes total sense to integrate the arts in the learning of each aspect of the curriculum at school, and science is my subject of choice. My dad (a geologist) knew how to appreciate a beautiful landscape but I was fascinated by the way he could “read” a landscape: he could tell me the way it looked million years ago and the transformations at play in the present time. My mom (a biologist) always gave me and my sister many interesting details about plants and animals encountered during our numerous hikes.

Art integration into Forces and Motion was an opportunity for me to work with the students on a variety of exercises, from 2D to 3D, all involving different forces: push, pull, gravity, friction – and sometimes all of them at the same time. The exciting thing about some of the exercises, is that they reveal the forces: the kids can “see” them in action before their eyes during the process, for example creating patterns with the paint or the ink.

None of the exercises were made with traditional tools. For blow-painting the students used straws and pipettes. For ball-painting they used plastic balls and marbles.  For pendulum-painting they used plastic bottles filled with paint suspended from a tripod. And for gravity-painting they did not use any tool except gravity itself.

For the 3D exercises – the mobile and the automaton – the students used all sorts of materials including bamboo skewers, foamies, cardboard, Tweesties and fabric.

The students had an opportunity to work in teams when they did the ball-painting and the pendulum-painting.  One student made the painting while one student documented the process with an iPad, and then they traded places. Documenting the process was an excellent way to see the forces at play during an exercise.

We watched short videos (Holton Rower, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, the Automata museum in Glasgow) related to the exercises we were going to work on at the beginning of the sessions.  We took time for some positive discussions about what was made by the class — a time to watch, think, reflect and give feedback to the group.  During each session there was time for experimentation.

One defining moment was when I asked the students to “undo” their mobile and try another solution for the balance of the elements, like an artist may do when going back to the studio after working on a piece for a short time. The idea to work again on something they thought was pretty much done was tough for the majority of them. But at the end of the session, when asked, most of the students said that, although it was a hard thing to do, they preferred the second version of their mobile.

The ten sessions went fast! Through these exercises I hope the students were able to understand that forces in motion are everywhere, how to recognize them and how they can play a major role in the process of making art.