No more borophyll: mentors fuse art and science

High school students involved in the Creative Science program will be showcasing their projects today to demonstrate the interrelatedness of arts and sciences.

Over the past three months, UBC student mentors have been connected with high school science classes in the Lower Mainland working on “creative science” projects that demonstrate science concepts through an artistic medium. Mentors from both Science and Arts disciplines at UBC are available to high school students via an online forum where they answer science questions or guide students with creative directions.

The program started four years ago, challenging grade 12 students at Gladstone Secondary to represent the cardiovascular system in a creative art project. Since then, the program has expanded to various secondary schools in Vancouver and Surrey, and now targets younger grades.

“We quickly began to move it back to the grade eight, nine, tens, because that’s where students have to do science,” said Niamh Kelly, the director of Creative Science and an associate professor of Pathology in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

Rather than enforcing a preset curriculum, Kelly emphasized that the goal of the program is to change attitudes toward science.

“The research shows that students recognize that science is important in the world,” said Kelly, “but they don't actually enjoy how it’s taught to them in high school.”

Using a survey metric, students’ attitudes of science and art were assessed before and after participating in the program. In particular, the data displayed a significant shift in students’ perceptions of the relevance of science following the program.

“Science is often perceived as rigid and not flexible, and there’s always a ‘right answer’,” said Iris Liu, the media and communications director of Creative Science and a third-year Science student at UBC. “We want students to go into higher education to believe that science isn’t just a black and white thing.”

While schools often have their own in-house showing of their students’ projects, this is the second year an inter-school showcase has been held at the Centre for Digital Media, where 60 high school students from two different schools will be sharing their projects. Featuring an opening address by a local artist as well as an art exhibit-style presentation of student work, the event will bring together students, parents, teachers, Vancouver School Board officials and UBC mentors.

As a mentor, Liu was taken aback by the level of creativity of student projects.

“There are projects that I've never even heard of or thought of doing,” said Liu. “There was a comic that somebody made, and somebody also made a model of a piano to describe complementary base pairing. Somebody used a wig and they braided the hair so that it looked like strands of DNA.”

Kelly intends to continue expanding the Creative Science program, now with the support of the Vancouver School Board, which will help to spread the word to secondary school teachers in the city.