At a “Moving Paintings” exhibit at San Diego Museum of Art, Jeff Robin, Blair Hatch, and their students saw the animated paintings of William Kentridge. They wanted to make paintings and move them in multimedia with their students.
Since Jeff volunteered at the San Diego Blood Bank and Blair had a background in physiology and biology, together they came up with a Bio-Physiology-Multimedia-Painting project. Students worked in groups to research and define an aspect of blood physiology, blood banking, or blood-related diseases. They made paintings explaining these ideas, and then animated their stories. The students then made kiosks with old laptops inserted in them to play the animations. The kiosks were hand painted and cut out of wood, much like Kentridge’s work.
In Bio-Physiology, the students studied blood and the process of oxygenation, as well as blood diseases and the history of blood banks. The San Diego Blood Bank arranged to have doctors, blood donors, hospital administrators, county public safety officers, and phlebotomists come and speak to the students three times a week for the first four weeks of the semester. These specialists became mentors for the students and helped them accurately tell a story about blood physiology.
In art class, students learned to illustrate a visual story about blood by doing artwork. They learned techniques using digital tools to enhance their drawing ability. All students learned to draw using these techniques, enabled by Photoshop and critique. They learned how artists like Christo, Kahlo, Hausman, Bochner, Steinburg, and Gauguin used images and writing in their artwork.
In teams of two, students picked a minimalist sculpture and made a poster explaining it. The students utilized their new drawing, Photoshop, and Sketch-up skills, and an understanding of how visuals and text have been mixed in the past. This served as a practice or mini-project to prepare for a poster about their blood topic.
Coming together with a technical and illustrative story from the physiology class, each team created a poster to explain their subject as it relates to blood and/or blood banking. Students painted these posters, using Photoshop and scanners, colored pencils, Google Sketch-up, or a combination of all these mediums.
The images they created for their posters were starting points for the images they would use later to make their animated movies using Adobe After Effects. These topics ranged widely, and included hemophilia, mobile blood banks, heart attacks, strokes, RH factor in pregnant women, leukemia, blood thinners, HIV/AIDS, bloodletting, blood transfusions, blood in film, and sickle cell anemia. Students had to create three to four animations covering various aspects of their story, which included composing music, writing scripts, and narrating the movie. For example, in the Sickle Cell kiosk, the menu included: What is Sickle Cell Anemia?, Victims, Bone Marrow, and Blood Exchange.
Using retired laptops (no longer in use by the school), the students loaded up their blood explanations and stories, inserting the laptops into their hand-cut and painted kiosks that helped tell the story of their subject.
This project was featured in the 2021 book Changing the Subject: Twenty Years of Projects from High Tech High. You can learn more about the book and the projects within by visiting the official website.
Choice was the major form of differentiation in this project. The students were able to choose their subject areas and relate it to blood physiology, if they could make a case for it. One group was fascinated with the AIDS virus and made an animation that showed how HIV replicated in the blood and destroyed white blood cells. Another group evaluated the use of blood in films, how it was portrayed and whether it was realistic or a fantasy.
Students had weekly check-ins with both teachers. These check-ins required them to be up to date on progress in multiple mediums. This was a struggle for some, as doing work was fun, and finishing to a high level was the real work. Students had opportunities to do scaffolded assignments, activities that were all connected to the final exhibition of their work. Eighty percent of the students exhibited their work at the Jet Gallery in San Diego. This was a working gallery, not a public exhibition space. The gallery owner had control of the exhibition; the students learned how much hard work is required to create finished pieces worthy of exhibition in a gallery.