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Showing the Art in Science

Block Museum education staff shares lessons from upcoming art exhibit

December 1, 2011 | by Erin Spain
Block exhibit

Block Museum staff help students learn about explorers, navigational artifacts and mapmaking.

Evanston elementary school students are getting hands-on lessons related to a Northwestern University fine arts exhibition months before it is open to the general public.

The exhibit “Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe” opens Jan. 17 at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. It examines how celebrated Northern Renaissance artists contributed to the scientific discoveries of the 16th century.

The topic is part of the lesson plan in Rosemary Hunt’s fifth-grade social studies class at the Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School.

“We’ve been studying early mapmaking, explorers, the routes of their explorations and navigational artifacts that were important to explorers,” Hunt said.

To help the students learn the role early artists played in scientific discovery, the education outreach team at the Block Museum presented three different lessons in Hunt’s classroom.

“We had the students examine replications of prints, maps, books and scientific artifacts that will be featured in the exhibit and that were designed by artists,” said Sarah Mack, the education coordinator at the Block Museum. “And then we used an interactive website to show the significance of these objects.”

The students were also given hands-on projects. In one lesson they created homemade compasses, using basic techniques from ancient times.

“I like the idea that they had less technology but still made artifacts that worked,” said fifth-grader Alec Avery. “The copies the museum brought in are cool, but now I want to see what they actually looked like.”

Students will get the chance to see the exhibit next year on a field trip to the Block Museum, a full-circle educational experience that brings art and science to life.

“Teachers can’t be specialists on everything,” Hunt said. “To have Northwestern so close and to have resources like the Block Museum available is really great, because our students have access to the experts.”

“Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe” runs Jan. 17 to April 8 at the Block Museum.