Nature Center Exhibit Showcases Science-Art Collaborative Learning

The Bloomfield Hills Schools Johnson Nature Center partnered with Conant Art Teacher Pennie Ellis for a new place-based STEAM project that brought both authentic learning and community sharing to the student experience. Second grade students and their classroom teachers visited the Nature Center and then did printmaking in their art class with Ellis. Those art prints are now displayed in the main lobby of the Visitors Center at the Nature Center.

The students first attended a four-hour field trip experience for the Plant-It: Journey of a Seed program. During this place-based program, students explored the land to find samples of edible plants and looked for ways plants disperse their seeds. In the afternoon, students engaged in dip netting activities and an additional guided hike that taught about aquatic plants. As part of their guided hikes, students created a field guide to draw and/or write what they observed. 

“The students are taking science knowledge where they are looking at nature more closely with an attention to detail,” said Nature Center Education Specialist Brooke Larm. “The students were identifying plants, looking at the native and non-native species, learning more about the ecosystem and what makes it healthy, and then taking back information to apply it to an art product.”

A few weeks later, the students brought their field guides to life in an art project. With the book Botacium: Welcome to the Museum for inspiration and with Ellis’ guidance, the second graders prepared a master plate of their selected leaf from styrofoam. Following additional instruction in color theory, the students selected various color options, painted their leaf plates, and created art prints. 

Jacob Miller (grade 2) chose an unusual leaf from the guide for the art project. “I liked this leaf the best because it has things like claws,” said Miller. “At the Nature Center we saw some other leaves and some acorns. I liked exploring and seeing the birds.”

“We got to go netting and see stuff that was in the lake,” said Charlotte Van House (grade 2). Pressing the painted leaf master plate carefully onto the black art paper, Van House added, “I really liked these colors because they make my favorite color orange.”  

During the printmaking process, Ellis moved around the room and referred the students back to their Nature Center experience. “Do you remember how leaves grow?,” Ellis asked. “Have you tried making two or three coming off a branch? Fill your negative space in a beautiful way.”

The students’ leaf prints are now framed and viewable. The Visitors Center is open to the public on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is located at 3325 Franklin Rd. in Bloomfield Hills. 

“To build those pre- and post-connections deepens the learning and the impact on the students,” said Larm. “It has more of an impact on their memory of that plant species and gives them that cool way to take that learning and share it in a public way. The public sharing is core to the project-based learning which is both authentic and engaging.” 



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