Archive for the ‘teaching & learning’ Category

Why is the White House white?
What do bugs have to do with color?
What’s the difference between pigments and dyes?

These questions are answered in The Brilliant History of Color in Art, a new book by journalist Victoria Finlay.

Published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, this new book is accompanied by a collection of activities, handouts and lesson plans teachers can use in their classrooms.

Handouts about the following topics are available:

  • Discussion questions for the Brilliant History of Color in Art
  • An online quiz
  • Elements of Art (line, shape, forms, space, color, texture)
  • How to Make Paint (using pigments, instant coffee, Kool-aid or chalk).
  • Principles of Design
  • Watercolor Techniques

Also available are seven lesson plans for K-12 students and two virtual self-guided tours to help teachers prepare for their visit to the Getty Museum or the Getty Villa. These items are available in the Education section on the website of the J.Paul Getty Museum.

Learn more about this fascinating topic. Watch this short YouTube video.

The Brilliant History of Color in Art is available at The Getty Store or from your local independent bookstore.


Ecoliteracy Curriculum Emphasizes Plant Restoration, Natural Dyes

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Cutting edge research meets botanical art in a new exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The exhibition Inspiring Kew offers a historical perspective about how scientists at Kew have inspired artists. The exhibition features botanical paintings from the 17th century, as well as artwork by contemporary artists Rachel Pedder-Smith and Laurence Hill.

Many of you are familiar with the work of Rachel Pedder-Smith. Today I would like to introduce you to artist Laurence Hill.

Laurence Hill takes a systematic photographic approach to botanical art. Hill’s life-size presentation of the genus Fritillaria is not only beautiful to look at, it is a lesson in biodiversity. Titled Fritillaria: A Family Portrait, the composite image he created is composed of 80 Fritillaria and provides “insight into the biodiversity of life” (Hill, 2014). His digital photographic image stretches across 5 panels and is 10 meters long and 1.4 meters high (~33 ft. x 4.5 ft.). Specimens in the image are arranged according to the molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus as described by Peter D. Day, Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, and Laura J. Kelly (2014).

In the color booklet accompanying his exhibit, Hill describes his collaboration with Dr. Ilia Leitch and her research team at Jodrell Laboratory. He also presents a dendrogram explaining the taxonomic relationships between Fritillaria species and includes a replica of the 10 meter-long image now on view in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (the fold-out image is 1/10 the size of the original). This booklet can be purchased at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery for £2.50. It can also be purchased from Laurence Hill for £2.50 plus shipping (convert currency). Transactions will be processed through PayPal. To order the booklet from the artist, please contact Laurence Hill.

Laurence recently presented the first of two gallery talks about his work. His next gallery talk will be on November 5, 2014 at 2 pm. Seating is limited and reservations are required. To reserve a seat, please contact the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.

About Laurence Hill

Laurence Hill manages Fritillaria Icones, a searchable photographic database assisting with the identification, research and conservation of Fritillaria. This very informative database is an Open Access Web-based resource.

Laurence maintains a living collection of Fritillaria and has worked on Fritillaria Icones for many years. He graciously took the time to discuss his project and what educators will find at Fritillaria Icones.

Over several years I have been building a living collection which I systematically photograph and post online. This new dataset provides a supplement to other taxonomic resources, e-vouchers for published work and insight for many other botanical disciplines.

My living collection of Fritillaria, a genus of about 160 taxa, has over 700 accessions which are photographed at four stages through their annual cycle:

  • The bulb just after root growth has starts
  • The whole plant and a dissected flower at dehiscence of the anthers
  • The capsule just before seed dispersal showing it both whole and dissected
  • The seed just after germination

These images are dated, scale bars added and then formatted into PDF’s with accession details. Each PDF is put online with the URL incorporating the accession number and not the species name. This acts as a form of DOI or universal identifier so in the event of any taxonomic revision the image specimen set will continue to be associated with any reference.

These image sets can be used for species identification, delineation and classification but they also show:

  • Root structure
  • Period of growth
  • Photosynthesis period
  • Flowering point relative to other species
  • Mode and tempo of bulb renewal
  • Vegetative growth
  • Reproductive output
  • Seed type

Most herbarium specimens record a plant in flower and botanical illustrations prioritise the parts thought to be taxonomically important by the consensus of the day. I have chosen these four time points with Fritillaria to record a wide set of non-prioritised data. As photographs the information they carry is constantly open to re-interpretation. As a record of a botanical collection they have a phenotypic value and also service the interests of disciplines. Many of my accessions have been sampled for genetic research, both DNA sequencing and genome size, and these PDFs act as e-vouchers both for published work and online databases.

By combining images and textural information including synonyms and common names plus appropriate embedded metadata, the images on Fritillaria Icones have an enhanced visibility to internet search engines. Information, no matter how valuable, that lacks visibility will be underutilized.

My project is an example of how living collections in botanical gardens should be systematically recorded with photographic protocols established for genera or families. Databases need to move beyond random single images to embrace a more structured approach using horticulturists specifically trained to record the plants in their care. This would be an additional resource both to the taxonomic community but also to physiologist, genetics’ and non-traditional uses of taxonomic information.

These two PDF’s have the complete compliment of images.
Fritillaria amabilis
Fritillaria pontica

The information found in Laurence’s beautiful and informative database is available for educational use and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Literature Cited

    Day, Peter D. and Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, Laura J. Kelly. 2014. Evolutionary relationships in the medicinally important genus Fritillaria L. (Liliaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 80:11-19

    Hill, Laurence. 2014. Fritillaria: A Family Portrait.

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© 2005 ArtPlantae Artist's Herbarium, Hippeastrum flower

© 2005 ArtPlantae Artist’s Herbarium, Hippeastrum flower

Here is a wonderful idea that can be used at schools that do not have the room or the funds to create a garden.

In 2004, undergraduate student Stefanie Lawniczak and professors D. Timothy Gerber and Judy Beck pilot tested a program enabling teachers and students to have direct access to plants at their schools. This program was created around three of the twelve principles of plant biology established by the American Society of Plant Biologists (#4, #7, #12) (learn more, get bookmarks).

Lawniczak et al. applied the National Science Education Standards to these principles and created five themed plant displays. The themes they chose to address were: Environment, Plant Families, Plant Organs, Growth & Reproduction and Plant Origins. Displays were placed in the media centers at three elementary schools and were left in place for 10 weeks. The theme of each display changed every two weeks. Teachers were invited to use display plants as subjects for their classroom studies and students were invited to drop questions in an “Ask a Botanist” box. At the end of the 10-week program, teachers received surveys and were asked to share their thoughts and experiences. Lawniczak et al. received positive feedback from teachers, as well as helpful recommendations about how to improve their displays.

Learn how each themed display was created and get a list of the easy-to-find plants (e.g., orchids, geranium, Hippeastrum) used in each theme.

Order a copy of Plants on Display at the NSTA Store for 99¢.

Literature Cited

Lawniczak, Stefanie and D. Timothy Gerber, Judy Beck. 2004. Plants on Display. Science and Children. 41(9): 24-29

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Lightbulbs. Cereal. Sandwiches.

This is what some kindergarten students cited as factors necessary for plant growth.

This and other interesting insights into what young students think about plants are revealed in Understanding Early Elementary Children’s Conceptual Knowledge of Plant Structure and Function through Drawings by Janice L. Anderson, Jane P. Ellis and Alan M. Jones.

Anderson et al. (2014) chose to investigate the conceptual knowledge of plants of K-1 students because, at this age, children are busily constructing explanations about what they see. The authors chose to analyze students’ drawings of plants for three reasons: 1) drawings enable young children to express what they cannot articulate verbally, 2) drawings offer insight into what children think, and
3) drawings offer insight into children’s stage of development with respect to conceptual thinking (Anderson et al., 2014).

The research team investigated student knowledge of plant structure and function specifically. They did this by creating a three-stage investigation. The data-collecting tools they used were a Draw-A-Plant instrument (based on the Draw-A-Scientist instrument), a plant survey, and interviews (Anderson et al., 2014). Study participants were K-1 students (n=182) from an elementary school in the southeastern United States.

Anderson et al. (2014) explain their research methods in detail, including how they coded student drawings. You can read about these methods in their paper. Today I provide only general insight into their findings.

Anderson et al. (2014) observed that:

  • Young students have some basic understanding of plant structure and function.
  • Young students have misconceptions about plants.
  • Some teachers spend more time discussing plants with students than others.
  • Some students learn about plants outside of the classroom.
  • Flowers and flowering plants are drawn most often.
  • Young students can identify the simple needs of plants.
  • Young students often exclude soil from their drawings.
  • Students sometimes demonstrate more plant knowledge in conversation than through drawing.
  • There is a lack of advanced conceptual knowledge about plant structure and function in young students.
  • Student interviews help researchers interpret their findings.
  • Students drawings provide insight into students’ life experiences.
  • There is a need to involve students in more inquiry-based activities about plant structure and function.

The paper by Anderson et al. (2014) is available for free through an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License. Click on the link below to download a PDF copy of the article that includes supplementary materials used in this project.

Literature Cited

Anderson, Janice L. and Jane P. Ellis, Alan M. Jones. 2014. Understanding Early Elementary Children’s Conceptual Knowledge of Plant Structure and Function through Drawings. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 13(3): 375-386. Retrieved from http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/3/375.full.pdf+html?with-ds=yes

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There is a new resource for educators introducing students to coastal ecosystems, wetlands and watersheds. This new resource is CA Outdoor EDU and it was created by Ian Bernstein, an Environmental Studies graduate from UC Santa Cruz whose passion is education and environmental stewardship.

The CA Outdoor EDU website is brand new and resources will be added on a continuing basis. Visit CA Outdoor EDU and you’ll discover activities about the following topics: ocean tides, intertidal zonation, tide pool ecology, plant ecology and nature studies. You may be especially interested in the handouts for the plant ecology and nature study activities because both involve observation, drawing and writing.

Today we have the opportunity to learn more about this website and its creator.

Please join me in welcoming Ian Bernstein!

Ian, why did you choose to major in Environmental Studies?

I always knew I wanted to get into something involving the environment and didn’t know what I wanted to do at first. I started taking environmental studies classes on ecology and the environment and environmental literacy and fell in love.

You have lead environmental programs for California State Parks, Ballona Wetlands and are now at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. What have you learned about creating programs for the public?

Creating programs for the public you have to know your target audience and also be aware of how you approach any subject so that you can speak not only to your target but also anyone that happens to wander in and want to take part.

Sometimes parents, grandparents or guardians find themselves in the position of having to lead a group of young naturalists in an activity at summer camp or scout camp. What advice do you have for individuals who suddenly find themselves in the position of being a front-line interpreter?

Open ended questions are the best way to encourage scientific discovery and fuel creative exploration of the outdoors. Simply asking questions that ask them how and why will make all the difference.

I see you are also a photographer and an avid traveler. How have your photography and travel experiences informed your environmental education programs?

I have been all over the world and seen so many sights — but the most stunning thing I have found isn’t the number of places, but the quality of time I have spent in those places enjoying what was around me instead of trying to make sense of it. This has definitely helped me develop my nature experience and in turn my approach to how to best facilitate this in formal and non-formal school situations.

What are your plans for CA Outdoor EDU? What kind of a resource do you want to create?

I hope to create a resource that helps people to have a nature experience. This can happen anywhere from seeing an ant on the sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles to walking through the redwood forests of northern California in Santa Cruz.


Do you have questions for Ian about CA Outdoor EDU and how you can use it in your classroom or program?

You are invited to ask Ian questions.
Please type your questions or comments in the Comment box below.

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Imagine engaging students in conversation about plant morphology, insect morphology, metamorphosis, scale, point of view, value, color blending, symmetry, analogous colors, neutral colors, careers in scientific illustration, Georgia O’Keeffe AND Maria Sibylla Merian.

The resource to help you accomplish such a spectacular feat is the focus of this week’s column. It is only two-pages and it’s free.

Get “Beginning with a Flower”


Russell, Scott. 2012. Beginning with a flower. SchoolArts. May/June 2012. Retrieved from http://www.davisart.com/Promotions/SchoolArts/PDF/5_12_early-childhood-studio-art-lesson-plan-beginning-with-a-flower.pdf

(Updated 9/18/14)


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Paardebloem [De Europische insecten], Merian, Maria Sibylla, 1647-1717,Transfer print, hand-colored, 1730, Dandelion, with caterpillar. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Paardebloem [De Europische insecten], Merian, Maria Sibylla, 1647-1717,Transfer print, hand-colored, 1730, Dandelion, with caterpillar. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Sometimes we work on projects and wish we could include an image from a historic resource or an image created by a famous artist to show connections or to reinforce learning. Many good ideas have been cast aside because of questions like — Where do I look for the image I want to use? How do I ask for permission to use it? How much will it cost?

The Getty Research Institute has made the dilemma of image use a little easier to manage thanks to their Open Content Program. Launched in August 2013, the Open Content Program features digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or images that are in the public domain. The database has more than 10,000 images of works of art that include paintings, drawings, artists’ sketchbooks, sculptures and much more. The Getty Museum released 4,600 Museum images in August and the Research Institute added 5,400 in October. These images can be used for any purpose. No permission is required and the images can be used for free.

Natural history artists and educators will find many items of interest in the Open Content Program. For starters, it has 1,397 images about the natural world. Included are works of art by Maria Sibylla Merian and Jan van Huysum. Users can search for artists by name, search for specific types of art (e.g., drawing, photographs, etc.) or search by topic. Searches for topics such as trees, plants, flowers, and insects will keep you busy for quite a while.

This database is large and you will find yourself clicking here, there and everywhere. If you get lost in your own search, all you have to do is click on the Search History tab at the top of the page to view your search history and to revisit subjects you have explored.

The Getty Research Institute has made art and history accessible to everyone and it is a wonderful resource for artists, naturalists and educators.

Visit the Open Content Program


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