Overview: This lesson connects science and visual art through looking at synesthesia and understanding how areas of the brain work together to inform the senses.
Content areas: Science and Visual Art
Today’s STEAM lesson actually has its roots in our unit Visual Diagnostics. As I was researching that unit, I was fascinated by the genetic anomaly of synesthesia. Much like people who have perfect pitch, those who have synesthesia have an ability that they are born with – something which cannot be learned. These folks actually SEE sound. When a sound is made or played, they see it in color, like a beautiful vibration that is happening right in front of them.
Since I don’t have perfect pitch or synesthesia, I am drawn to understanding how others who do have these abilities use them to experience the world. That’s how I found artist Melissa McCracken. She uses her synesthesia to create beautiful works of art based on the music she hears. Her images of songs like “Imagine” from John Lennon and Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” are stunning. Which again leads me to…how does her brain DO that?
This synesthesia lesson actually has students explore this same question using Melissa’s work as a prompt, as well as music from The Piano Guys. Students investigate how the brain processes information and uses its systems to work together as a person senses and experiences the world. They actually use one of my favorite tools, the Interactive Brain Map, to look at each area of the brain and then figure out which areas work together differently for something like synesthesia or perfect pitch.
If you’re looking for a unit that has more than one lesson like this, I definitely recommend checking out the Visual Diagnostics unit I shared earlier. It contains prompts and even more information on this topic for students. In the meantime, I hope you’ll give this STEAM lesson a whirl and let us know how it goes in the comments below!
Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.