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Watershed School shows off interactive mural for First Friday

The Watershed School will host a First Friday opening of its new installation, "Exploring our Environment: Watershed's Interactive Mural," Dec. 6 from 5-7 p.m. in the school's library.

The school is located at 4975 Decathlon Ave. off of Dale Road near Fairbanks International Airport.

The interactive mural, featuring boreal forest seasonal scenes complete with wildlife, is the result of a collaborative project among the charter school, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, and local artist Klara Maisch.

The project began last spring when Watershed Charter School teacher Moira O’Malley met with Laura Cartier, intern teacher; Zach Meyers, SNRAS instructional designer; and Maisch; to discuss the possibility of using art to promote multidisciplinary, place-based learning. Watershed Principal John Carlson was instrumental in gathering curricula and reference material for the mural. Support from the Fairbanks Arts Association allowed Watershed to hire Maisch through the artists-in-schools program for the initial portion of the project. Two University of Alaska Fairbanks programs, Boreal Alaska - Learning, Adaptation and Production and OneTree Alaska, funded Meyers to develop the integrated technology for the mural.

The mural is not only a beautiful piece of art, but also a tool for teaching and learning. To help brainstorm the key features of the mural, O'Malley and Cartier gathered grade-specific curricula from all the school's teachers. The mural was designed to reflect place-based features that were represented in all grade levels. It was planned that the students would help paint and develop the mural, as another opportunity for learning and growth. Students worked closely with Maisch to block in color, add texture and details, as well as create original works of art that will be digitally overlaid.

Although the physical mural is now complete, it is still evolving through the implementation of augmented reality, a relatively new technology and has been used in schools to supplement student learning.  Meyers is working with Carlson and O'Malley to select books that feature specific curriculum topics that can be linked to the mural. Through the use of the app Aurasma, children can explore the mural through the use of a smart device, such as a phone or iPad. When the device’s camera is pointed at key points on the mural, the device is able to recognize a “trigger image” and present the student with information to locate a related book in the library. The mural is meant to serve as a platform for extended learning and be a constantly evolving resource.

In addition, Meyers and Maisch are working with Marlene McDermott’s kindergarteners and O'Malley's second-graders to develop science and art kits that tie in with the mural’s content. The school's mission is "using the outdoors and community as a classroom."

The mural, with its ever-evolving technology and resource components, is intended to foster a sense of wonder and student-driven exploration. The First Friday reception will be an opportunity for adults and children to see the mural, and to learn about and play with the augmented reality features that have been developed. Refreshments will be served and student art will be featured in the hallways.

Unfortunately, the mural was damaged by leaks in the ceiling tiles recently. Postcards featuring images of the mural will be for sale at the event to help pay for restoration.

UAF

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