Drawing for Understanding in Field Science

Dissolving the artificial boundary between arts and science, and between drawing and prose.

In 2012, Siena Fried was a student in the pilot class of “Drawing for Understanding in Field Science,” supported by the BHS Innovation Fund. Siena had previously taken drawing and painting classes with BHS Visual Arts teacher Donna Sartanowicz and saw the class as the perfect combination of her passions for biology and art.

Siena Fried scientific art

The idea for the class came from a workshop that Jill Sifantus, a since retired biology teacher at BHS, and Ms. Sartanowicz attended at Harvard University that focused on the close relationship between art and science in studying the natural world. From their different vantage points, both came away thinking that this very old school idea would be a great new way to engage students in learning the two subjects.

‘We were fortunate to have the idea for the class while teaching at Brookline High School because of The Innovation Fund, which allowed us to put our idea into practice,” Ms. Sartanowicz says. “The Fund’s review board was instrumental in helping us to hone our idea and think through all the possibilities. The grant money allowed us to teach and learn collaboratively for three years and this was some of the best professional development I have ever experienced. Working with Jill to integrate science teaching into the way I teach art enabled me to confidently teach this course on my own once the grant period was over.”

The Innovation Fund class led Siena to her career as a biomedical artist who illustrates complex scientific concepts for research as well as the public. Like a visual translator, Siena creates images for education materials that help patients understand procedures and make them less daunting.

Five years later, Siena remains enthusiastic about the class. Because Siena’s sister also took the class in 2018, she knows that it has evolved. “The class was great when I took it, but it’s even better now,” Siena says. “I would retake it if I could.”

The class includes partnerships with institutions like the Arnold Arboretum, the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and graduate programs at Boston University, Rhode Island School of Design, Harvard University and Tufts University. Students have opportunities to experience the natural world and learn about people working in the field as naturalists, curators, educators, illustrators and researchers. Through conferences, meetings and visits, Ms. Sartanowicz shares information about the class with others interested in developing a similar course.

“The ripple effects of the Fund’s generosity in supporting innovative educational ideas is spreading even beyond the walls of Brookline High School… Many in the education field talk about interdisciplinary and STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art, and math] classes but few receive the kind of support we got from the Innovation Fund to make it happen. The impact on students has been tremendous, as evidenced by the continued popularity of the course and students recommending it to other students.” — Donna Sartanowicz, BHS teacher, Drawing for Understanding in Field Science

— Jennifer B. Wells

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