Museum ‘building bridges’ between art and engineering
Fifth-graders view exhibition, try to build bridges out of straw and tape.
The Georgia Museum of Art is promoting the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math education this fall with outreach and field trips that merge art and engineering.
Museum educators applied for and received a grant from Georgia Council for the Arts to fund a program called “Building Bridges.” The funds will be used to pay two UGA art education graduate students as they travel to the eight participating schools. They will also be used to provide materials and lesson plans that coincide with the students’ experience at the museum.
Fifth-grade students will be led on a visual scavenger hunt through the museum assisted by community and student docents, followed by an activity relating to an exhibition. They will see the exhibition “Icon of Modernism: Representing the Brooklyn Bridge, 1883–1950.” The show merges art and engineering. It focuses on how artists represented the Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol for New York City’s industrial prowess because it was an engineering triumph.
After a brief history lesson about the bridge, students will be divided into small groups and asked to design a bridge — using only straws and tape — that can span a 12-inch gap and hold the weight of 50 pennies. Civil engineering students at UGA have also been assigned a project to construct a bridge, using spaghetti instead of straws, and several of those students will be on hand to help the fifth-graders. The spaghetti bridges will be displayed on Nov. 5 at UGA’s Spotlight on the Arts Family Day, which also includes activities organized by UGA’s art, theatre and dance departments.
Following their visit to the museum, the Building Bridges program will help students discuss the use of line in images of the Brooklyn Bridge and how artists saw different shapes in the bridge’s cables.
The project is intended to get students thinking about creating an icon for their own community like the bridge is for New York City.
The visits are part of a STEAM educational program that aims to extend student learning from the museum back into the classroom. STEAM education draws on the concept of STEM education, which emphasizes creativity and innovative problem solving, but adds an “A” for Art to encourage a student’s ability to imagine solutions to complex problems.
The goal is that through the museum visit and engineering project, students will consider creative solutions to complex problems while considering both aesthetics and practicality. The project also teaches the importance of collaboration in developing new ideas and shows how art can extend into the realm of math and design.
“The problem-solving techniques and teamwork they learn will help them with more challenging assignments in the future,” said Callan Steinmann, the museum’s associate curator of education.
“Our goal is that the positive experience these students have at the museum will help them know that art museums are places for them, that they can have fun and engaging experiences here. We hope to plant the seed for them to become lifelong museumgoers and appreciators of art.”
The museum has hosted free field trips for Athens-Clarke County fifth-graders since 2005, a program that served as a model for and is now part of Experience UGA. This partnership between the University of Georgia and the Clarke County School District annually brings students from every grade level to campus for a fun day of learning outside of the classroom.
—Benjamin Thrash, Georgia Museum of Art