This spring, to help celebrate the launch of A Black Hole is NOT a Hole, I decided to make myself a pair of black hole earrings to wear during my author events. I also wanted to make a matching pair for my dear friend Corrine Taylor. (Corri connected me to Dr. Wendy Bauer, the astronomer I consulted with while writing. She was also hosting my launch party.) I daydreamed a lot about the possibilities, spending time in the jewelry aisles of arts and crafts stores. I spent a lot of time thinking about black holes and their various features as I decided which aspects of them I most wanted to capture.It turns out that I was engaged in a great reflective learning experience, one that I think is consistent with the English Language Arts Common Core. I have begun experimenting with options for my author events—tapping into kids’ creative impulses to foster more interaction with the text. To demonstrate how fruitful the possibilities are, I thought I’d share some of the questions I mulled over as I imagined what a “black hole earring” design might be:
- Should I riff off of Einstein’s view of space — and a relativity-based visualization of a black hole — and risk giving away the surprise ending of the book? If so, how? Maybe create a 3D funnel shape from some sort of wide mesh to represent the idea of space as a flexible, responsive “fabric” described by Einstein? (See the final chapter of the book and enjoy Mike Carroll’s beautiful and clear illusrations.)
- …Or would I want to represent the motion of an object in orbit around a black hole- perhaps with a lovely, shiny spiral?
- How might I represent the jet streams of energy that shoot out from the axes of the black holes and extend for tremendous distances? Could I suggest the scale without having to worry about tripping on my earrings?
- Maybe I wanted earrings that actually spin, like some black holes do. Hmmm….
In the end, given how hectic life got around the time of the book launch, I settled on an extremely simple design (pictured right). A chrome “X-ray ring” (accretion disk) surrounds the “invisible” black space. The simplicity belies the complexity of information I was processing. With each possible design, I re-examined a facet of black holes presented in my book. I engaged deeply in the content of this text.
This reminded me of the incredible work illustrators like Michael Carroll do when they interpret text. The experience also spurred me to reflect on wonderful lesson ideas that invite students to respond to text by creating other forms of communication. For example, I once attended the Teaching for Understanding summer institute at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero. One memorable and stimulating lesson was How Does a Poem Mean?. Learners are challenged to “translate” enigmatic poetry into dance, simple music, and visual art.Another example: a group of teachers once astounded me and my workshop co-facilitators when we challenged them to create multi-genre responses to nonfiction readings in a relatively short time span. Their works were richly layered and astonishingly deep given the short amount of time they had had to complete the exercise. They wrote mock newspaper stories set in the time of the original source material, quickly developed diary entries representing different historical people’s perspectives on the same event, and wrote heart-wrenching poetry. What’s more, the participants were vibrant as they shared their pieces with each other. (For more on multi-genre research and projects, you might want to start with the work of Camille A. Allen and Laurie Swistak.)
The activity had struck a deep, human chord. That’s the power of creating art, and I want to tap into that power to help readers dive deeply into black holes and other science content.
With this inspiration in mind, I encourage anyone wanting to extend the experience of reading A Black Hole is NOT a Hole – or any text – to choose a passage and create art or a craft in response to the work. Like working with metaphors to interpret challenging information, this type of activity can engage us in a whole new level of reflection on the meaning of the text. Better yet, share this with other readers and respond to the same passages with your own art. Then compare your creations and discuss why each of you made the choices you did. It’s likely you’ll find some new insights into the text (and black holes) as a result.
Of course, I’m not the first person to begin playing with these interconnections, and this is not my first time thinking about them. I’ve not formally studied the interconnections of the arts and STEM fields, and, to be honest, am always cognizant of the risks of integration (of, for example, poorly educating learners and ourselves in any two fields, if we do not approach them with care and appreciation for their ways of knowing and their unique cultures). However, it’s good time for me, at least, to start studying up. I’ll start visiting the STEAM group’s website and will dig into this blog at Scientific American’s web site, which I found as a link from MiddleWeb. Maybe I’ll even manage a few more posts about my impressions.
Meantime, I invite you to share your impressions of the movement – and, of course, to create science-inspired art works. Please send pictures of your creations! When you do, don’t forget to share the story of your creative process.
*(As a side note, I wasn’t the only one with black hole earrings on my mind. Corri had similar ideas. As part of the special evening that was the launch party, she presented me with a lovely pair of earrings with an interesting meshy network pattern on them. “They kind of remind me of black holes,” she said as I opened them. Thanks, Corri!)