PBL Spotlight - When Art & Chemistry Collide



We are SO thrilled to share this amazing project concept that emerged from a collaboration between Will Baber, Bill Baber and Bob Huffman at a recent one-day Intro to PBL workshop we facilitated at The Bush School in Seattle, WA!!

Title: The Art of Decomposition

Subject Areas: This project is intended to be a collaboration between the visual arts and any science class.

Grades: 9-12

Group size: 2

Type of Project: Design Challenge

Context: What is art? This question has led us to create with every type of medium known. Sometimes the things we create are meant to disappear or last forever.

Driving Question: Can we create art out of materials that return to the natural composition of the earth over time and leave no trace?

Learning Outcomes:

  • Use of natural materials that we find around us everyday that are produced by the earth

  • Study different types of materials, their chemical and structural makeup, lifespan, volume, density, mass

  • How does the weather around us affect the erosion and decomposition of different materials?

  • Creating a scientific model projection based on the study of decomposition rates

  • Have answer the question, What is art?

  • How to design and compose a three dimensional sculpture that is visually compelling

  • The nature of individual materials and how to connect them

  • Learn how to use tools to manipulate those materials

  • Photoshop

  • Distance themselves from the idea that art is permanence

  • Learn to present as an artist and a scientist​​

Tangible Outcomes:

  • Natural beautiful sculpture garden on campus in various state of decay

  • A work of art

  • Permanent spiritual garden to observe and contemplate erosion and entropy

Adult world connections:

  • Facilities

  • Artists / Scientists

  • Landscape designer


Text for the class: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart presented an integration of design and science that provides enduring benefits for society from safe materials, water and energy in circular economies and eliminates the concept of waste.

Video for the class: Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Tim


  • No larger than a file box in any one direction

  • All of your parts must fit inside the file box