Imagine understanding how doctors diagnose melanoma by looking at a painting of ugly ducklings.
That’s just one example of the 22 paintings a class of 11th-graders in San Diego have created in their art class in order to educate themselves and others about melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Students at San Diego’s High Tech High charter school independently research and learn certain concepts by doing projects rather than listening to the teacher lecture. This teaching method is known as project-based learning.
Students at San Diego’s High Tech High charter school independently research and learn certain concepts by doing projects rather than listening to the teacher lecture.<
Art teacher and founding faculty member of the school Jeff Robin has collaborated with fellow teachers of different subject areas in the past to have his students create works of arts explaining Newtonian physics and economics.
As part of a partnership with a biology teacher this year, Robin’s retired-pathologist father suggested he work DermTech, a biotechnology start-up in La Jolla, Calif. The company has developed an innovative way to diagnose melanoma by sticking a tape-like adhesive onto a suspicious mole on a person’s skin and then analyzing the tape for signs of mutated RNA, or the building blocks the body needs to produce proteins for healthy skin in this case. This eliminates the need for a biopsy.
Working with the community to come up with solutions to real world problems, students partnered with DermTech to create melanoma awareness by decking the company’s halls with colorful artwork explaining various concepts of biology including DNA replication, cell mutation and the techniques through which scientists study tumors to make skin cancer easier to understand for the average person.
Students talked to scientists from DermTech, pathologists like Robin’s father, and even observed tumor-removing surgeries as part of their research into melanoma. “They need to really know what they’re talking about or they’re going to do art that doesn’t make sense,” said Robin, who took mini lessons on biology himself for the project. Along with biology, students also learned art history and took inspiration from painters like Francisco Goya and Diego Rivera.
“The purpose of art is to describe things, to tell the story of things. If you study melanoma you’ll learn everything you need to know about biology. So it just seemed like it was a really great combination,” Robin said.
Below is a slide show of the paintings along with a description for each.