Earth Science meets creativity in THS project

Tonawanda Middle/High School teacher Robin Hoepfinger's students in Earth Science classes have completed creative projects about natural disasters and storms over the last few weeks.

A visitor to Hoepfinger's classroom at Tonawanda High School would be forgiven for thinking at first blush that they entered an art room instead of an Earth Science room. Hoepfinger is a science teacher who is including the A, for art, in STEAM education.

The students are using a Choice Board in the classroom, which offers them different avenues and media to learn about a particular subject. In the recent project, Hoepfinger's ninth- and tenth-graders conducted research on disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis, or atmospheric events such as tornados and hurricanes.

After choosing a weather event, the student chose a product to explain it from among options like a song, oral report, essay, advertisement, collage, painting, photo essay, and poster. The Choice Board offered more active engagement in the learning process than rote learning.

Some may wonder what the A for art in STEAM has to do with the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics of STEM. "Here it is," Hoepfinger said, as she showed a visitor a student's painting of a blizzard in which the student added a description of what a blizzard is, how it happens, where it happens, and safety procedures for individuals caught in it. Another student photographer made a photo journal of a weather event. Another even made a snowglobe.

"Some kids really get creative with it," Hoepfinger said of the Choice Board project. "It's one of the things I learned in my differentiated instruction program in college. If you give them this, they can do it as high-level as they can go." Some of the students made a simple PowerPoint project, but all of the students were learning science while creating informative research projects done to the best of their creative abilities.

Hoepfinger said that in her science lab, she'll find space for the best works of art inspired by science and created with the help of the Choice Board.

"I'm going to hang these up forever," she said. "And over the years, I'll collect more."