I teach art at a public elementary school in Portland , Oregon. The specific school has a higher than average number of religious kids for Portland. We are working on art that is scientifically related to space. If/when we get into discussions of where the universe came from, what are some good ways to discuss it? I am versed in the actual scientific fact and also good at asking kids "where do you think it came from?". I just don't want the principal getting angry phone calls. 

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You could show them the picture of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

This show the relative distribution of hot and cold left over from the "explosion" and talk about how this is scientific evidence that the explosion happened, but also look at the pretty colours - could maybe try and get the same effect with marbling using oil based inks and water, use tools and dabbers to make it more spotified and dotty....


Maybe put Hubble to good use and show them the nebula photos, which (without terrifying them that stars explode) is evidence of very old stars, and it's where new stars are being made by gravity, - the same process that made the first stars from the gas and dust which formed after the big bang.

That's a bit more tenuous, but I'm thinking of how you can link together plausible and well-evidenced astronomy to cover your back with pretty pictures.

Could try ... mmm white card, some sort of water-based washes and then maybe a dropper with some diluted washing up liquid in for the capillary effect on the surface tension - would that work to create the stars, I wonder?

Maybe do it in groups using tubs with any adult assistants helping, so you can have many do overs stirring the inks to get the image of swirling clouds of dust and take photographs rather than print or paint. Maybe make a classroom collage, do some sort of focussed writing about their nebula, what caused, how far away it is, or old it is, how young the stars forming within it are, for very young children with brothers and sisters - stellar families and nursaries is an easy metaphor.

Just throwing ideas around - any of them sticking?
In general though, stick to the evidence if you need to cover red-shift, could talk about police sirens and the descending ascending pitch of the sirens whether they are coming towards or heading away from where you are and how it works the same way with light so scientist think based on this that once a long time ago everything in the universe was much closer together but since it's now flying apart; and the this explosion is called "the big bang" because scientists have a sense of humour too.

If that needs more work, use the balloon and pen trick. scatter five or six dots fairly close together and then start to inflate the balloon and point out as the 'space' inside the balloon gets bigger so the dots move further and further away from each other. This is why every direction we ook in we see the same thing: everything moving away from everything else, imagine one of the dots is the earth and the the dots are stars or galaxies and they are all moviving away from each other as space expands around them.

If that needs further work. Get them to pack together in tight clusters - call it "gravity madness" or something, when they run around and touch someone else, gravity sticks them together, groups of I don't know 5 form stars, but if you accidentally touch somone you gain extra mass and turn into a black hole, now the other stars move towards you until everyone meets in the middle.

New Game: Big Bang - from everyone starting in the middle - the new rule is you must always move away from someone you can never move towards them or something like that - choas will reign but eventually they should all fly apart, and end up around the edges, if for nothign it might entrench the ideas of gravity as an attractive force and the big bang as scattering objects far apart...
Then there's always news clippings of "The Biggest Science Experiment in the world" at the LHC, maybe bring in clippings to discuss or to put on a news wall.

P.S elementary is very young kids right?
Elementary is k-5 or k-6 depending on the school district.
I am working with 4th and 5th graders on this unit.
I don't really need art ideas (but your are pretty good!) but am more looking for questions to ask and ways to steer a conversation appropriately - one that sticks to the science of where the universe came from without explicitly saying that Genesis is pretend. Example:
Kid: Where did the universe come from?
Me: Where do you think it came from?
Kid: The bible says God made it.
Me: Well, some people choose to believe that. It's a very old question! Scientists have been studying this for a very long time, and there is evidence that our universe was created billions of years ago. (you help me fill in the rest)
I don't live in the US so I've no idea what that means how old roughly?
Fourth and fifth graders in the US are usually 9-11 years old.
ah right. thanks will have a think.

Wow  - so sorry I confess I forgot about this!


"but am more looking for questions to ask and ways to steer a conversation appropriately"


One way I saw a teacher handle a similar scenario (regarding evolution but the point I think stands) was not to take on the theistic attitude at all.  They sort of called a halt and just said "I'm not going to argue or say anything about that.  I'm just going to go through the evidence because that is what scientists do, they examine the evidence."


Too late now obviously to be much good,, but Keri, if you are still around, please tell us how did it all work out in the end?

It all worked out fine, their  prior knowledge of the concepts was so poor (way to go science education in Oregon) that they didn't think to ask the bigger questions. They liked learning about space and the universe in both science and art. Thanks guys!

You might not want to start out with "what do you think" if you're pretty sure that your students will point you toward the biblical story.  Maybe start out with some theories, and ask the kids "how do you think scientists came to this conclusion?"

Go about it the scientific way, and emphasize that all the information is based on evidence (give as much as you feasibly can).  If the students ask questions about god, tell them that since their parents or church can better answer that questions.  If parents call up, say basically the same thing.  You teach information based on observable and logical evidence.  If the parents have anything to add, they should be telling it to their child.


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