On the Central Courtyard stage, at the feet of one of the museum’s most recognized works, La Grande Pénélope, a group of third graders look on as freshly minted school tour docent Catherine Humphrey, pictured above, demonstrates the Archimedes principle by slowly submerging mini Pénélopes—handcrafted from oil-based clay by education intern Kate Helligso—into a plastic container of water and measuring displacement.
Meanwhile, in the Chinese art gallery, veteran docent Jeri Simons leads a discussion with students about the transformative effects of fire on different materials, and how artists use their understanding of these scientific processes to manipulate materials such as clay or glass. The third-graders shoot up their hands eagerly before Jeri has a chance to finish posing her questions.
This melding of art and science is part of the Honolulu Museum of Art’s new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) tours, which kicked off last month. Originally intended for Title 1 schools, the tours immediately caught the attention of educators throughout the state, receiving requests from Title 1, non Title 1, and private schools alike. In just two weeks, the tours have become one of the museum’s most popular education programs this school year.
On the tours students are introduced to math and science principles through demonstrations and explorations of works of art in the museum’s permanent collection. For example, students learn one-point perspective: understanding how artists use mathematics to create a sense of depth on a flat surface, color theory: how impressionists used color to paint the illusion of light at any given time of day, and more.
The museum’s teacher liaison Jenny Engle hopes that targeting relevant curriculum will increase access to local students. “STEM/STEAM is very topical in the DOE right now.” says Engle. “As our new tour connects to the curriculum and STEM/STEAM, we hope it will bring in more students that have never been to the museum before.”