Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas
detail: School Children Singing, Pie Town, New Mexico by Russell Lee

Teacher Resource

Exploring a discipline from another vantage point often leads to a new understandings. The information in this teacher resource offers an opportunity for core subject teachers to use art as a framework. The units were written by Dr. Arlene Barry, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Teaching at the University of Kansas.

The content is designed to work in tandem, so that a whole school could focus on Climate Change and art as a different perspective for approaching core subjects. Dr. Barry explains the units below.


The Climate Change at the Poles exhibition in the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas was the focus for these units due to its adaptability to multiple content areas across the curriculum. According to the brochure provided at the Museum, this exhibition:

…considers examples of material culture from the North and South Poles as evidence of human response to the regions where scientists indicate climate change is occurring most rapidly. These objects reveal how humans have attempted to understand the geographically remote and physically extreme Poles. The tools, textiles, and way-finders produced by humans who inhabit the North Pole and study the South Pole reflect different ways of understanding these places. We believe that the innovative, adaptive, and analytical responses to the Poles manifested in the objects on view serve as models as we seek to better understand and respond to the challenges of our rapidly changing world (Spencer Museum).

The core subjects used in this thematic unit are Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. The educators of each core subject will incorporate the theme of Climate Change at the Poles throughout the three-week unit, including at least one project or performance activity for the students to display or perform on the last Friday of the unit. This “Open House Night” is designed to focus students on the content knowledge learned so that they will be intrinsically motivated and take pride in their work on display, as well as to establish an open line of communication between students, teachers, and parents throughout the unit.

The three-week unit will begin with an introduction and anticipation set activity in each classroom, allowing the students to establish learning goals for each content area and to realize the expectations of the projects that will be completed in each class. The first day of the unit, anticipation sets will center around the common theme of Climate Change at the Poles, and will provide or build upon the students’ background knowledge of the topic, as well as establish student interest in the topic. As the unit begins, it is important for teachers to provide students with this schema to start with so that they might be able to organize their current knowledge about the topic; this also provides them with a framework for future understanding as the unit progresses.

After one full week of instruction of basic skills and concepts surrounding the theme, the teachers and students involved will take a field trip to the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas to view the exhibit as it is displayed in the north and south balcony galleries. Before the field trip to the museum, teachers should prepare the students for the art and artifacts that they will encounter, and establish a purpose for their trip in each class. For their Language Arts class, the middle school students will be told to focus on the objects that relate to global warming and its role in climate change, perhaps focusing on “A Greenland Glacier: The Scale of Climate Change” photography exhibit by Terry Evans. These photographs will help the students visualize climate change in the Arctic. At the high school level for the Language Arts class, students should stop and look at the display items from Scott’s Last Expedition (“Climate Change at the Poles”) and make textual connections to the novel that they are reading in class about the Mystery, a legendary 1910 Antarctic expedition (Lerangis, 2000). For Mathematics, the students will be asked to focus on the maps and data about melting ice and other affects of global warming. Students should be able to connect the content they have learned in their math class to Terry Evans’ photography exhibit as well. A lot of items are on display at the museum that will align with what they have been learning! Students can focus their attention on the items on view related to the greenhouse effect, greenhouse gasses, and global warming (including geological survey maps on display in the south balcony) and relate it to what they are learning in Science. Finally, students will have studied about the people and animals of the Arctic and Antarctic in Social Studies, which will help them appreciate the art and artifacts on view up in the north balcony of the Climate Change at the Poles exhibit, which features pieces pertaining to the people and wildlife and how they live, including a kayak, kayak paddle, and seal gut parka (all within the Inuit Peoples collection) as well as photographs taken by Stephen G. Williams from his time in the Arctic (“Climate Change at the Poles”). From what they learned in the Social Studies unit, students might also be interested in the maps in the southern balcony, which show early maps of the Antarctic as the explorers gradually learned more and more about the land.

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