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Illustrating understanding

 14 0318 bio Art: 01
March 18, 2014

Competition was heated among the finalists for best illustration of a principle of Biology. Side by side on a table were dioramas depicting a cricket-frog-snake-falcon food chain by Peter Wenger of Fallston, Md., and the meticulously spiraled flowers of “Photosynthesis in a Box” by Lina Kasaitis of Crofton, Md.

Illustrating understanding
“Photosynthesis in a Box” by Lina Kasaitis

Others were wall-mounted – an Impressionist collage by Vi Lam of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; a soft pastel drawing of a cat by Britney West of Baltimore, a sketch of birds evolving from a dinosaur by Fernando Winfield Murillo of Xalapa, Mexico, plus a metallic bird, crayon monkey and pencil squirrel by Max Seigel of Potomac, Md.; Cameron Setzer of Baltimore, and Nick Glascock of Westminster, Md., respectively.

Class vote bestowed first place on Wenger, who reminded his classmates how difficult it had been to find the real grass in his diorama considering campus had been snow covered for weeks.

Illustrating understanding
Diorama by ​Peter Wenger

But the assignment by assistant professor of Biology Cheng Huang had little to do with assessing his mostly first-year students’ artistic ability. Instead Huang wants to know that his students truly understand the basics of his class – that they “own” the eight principles of Biology.

Several of the projects, including Wenger’s and Kasaitis’, focused on the principle that “life requires energy transfer and transformation.” Other images reflected evolution, structure and function, and environmental interactions.

“It is a huge challenge for this generation – for all generations – to own what they learn,” says Huang, explaining that he doesn’t want his students to simply repeat the information back to him. “I want them to be able to say ‘this is mine and I am conveying it to you.’”

To that end, he asks his students to choose a bit of knowledge to illustrate. Then, limited only by their imaginations, they break it down and reconstruct it in artwork.

“Now they own it – they are using it in their own way,” he says.