Thursday, July 18, 2013

Interactive mural brings boreal forest alive to local students

From left, Zachary Meyers, Klara Maisch and Laura Cartier stand in front of the new mural at Watershed School.
When students return to Watershed Charter School in Fairbanks this fall a formerly bland wall in the library will have been transformed into a living, dynamic part of the school and the children’s education.

OneTree Alaska worked with the Watershed School to create the Interactive Media STEAM Studio. The multimedia and multi-discipline school project developed into a fully interactive 8x40-foot mural that ties place-based curricula to appropriate books in the library.

A couple of years ago when the Watershed librarian asked teacher Ron Harper if his students would be interested in painting a mural in the library, Harper asked second grade teacher Moira O'Malley, who is an artist, for help. O'Malley obtained funding from Delta Kappa Gamma Society to kickstart the work. The Watershed PTA and Principal John Carlson were supportive throughout the process. Funding also came from the Fairbanks Arts Association's artist-in-residence program.

IMSS, made up of technologists, artists and scientists, seeks to provide businesses, museums, cultural centers and schools knowledge through independent exploration of the artwork. The artwork, a stunning visual point, serves as a tether to learning.

Zachary Meyers, a technologist and place-based educator with UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences; Laura Cartier, a student teacher at Watershed; and Klara Maisch, a local artist, worked together to complete the mural.

“The library needed TLC,”Cartier said. “It was really sterile. This makes it a more welcoming place.” Involving the teachers and students was a natural since they have a lot of ownership in the school.
 "Zac had bigger ideas working with augmented reality," Cartier said. Maisch designed how the mural would look, blocked in the large areas of color and then got a lot of help from school children at Watershed.

“I was hesitant to teach kids but they had no inhibitions,” Maisch said. “They just went for it, which you have to do with art. It was awesome.”

Starting in early May, most of the students got to take a turn helping paint the mural, which depicts summer and fall in the boreal forest. Even after school was out for the summer, students kept coming two afternoons a week to help.

The team worked with teachers so that their pertinent educational factors were integrated into the mural, including transportation (airplane) for second grade, boreal plants for third grade, the salmon life cycle for fourth grade and fire ecology and Alaska biomass for fifth and sixth grades. Students’ paintings of wildlife are being added to the scene.

Zachary Meyers demonstrates how an electronic tablet works with the art to provide more information.
Meyers’ role has been configuring the technology component. Using the Aurasma app, Meyers loaded interactive points throughout the wall. When anyone places a smartphone or iPad near the point, information pops onto the screen along with suggested library books that contain more details.

Even the mural’s river will flow and fire will appear when the Aurasma work is completed.

“It’s a work in progress,” Meyers said. “I can keep adding content, which will make it more dynamic.”

“The mural is not only beautiful, it is interactive,” Cartier said. “That’s the whole point. I'm excited to see where it goes next."

An open house is being planned for the fall so the parents and community can see and use the mural. 

Meyers, Cartier and Maisch traveled to London to share their project and learn more at the Electronic Visualization and the Arts conference July 29-31.

(This story was amended Aug. 6, 2013 to add information that had initially not been included.)

Further reading/viewing:
Visit Interactive Media Steam Studios to watch a fun video about how the mural came together.


dirtprof said...

This is great! My daughter looked at this and said "Hey, is that Zach?" (yes), and then "Where's Miss PJ?" (I don't know, maybe she was taking the picture?). I almost look forward to her going back to school this fall so she can try this out.

Colleen Andrusyk said...