Every journey begins with exploration. Young children come to school with a passion for messing about, and in their early years they feel free to dive in, often just to see what happens. If they create what they set out to or even better if something unanticipated grows out of their tinkering, they will have learned something about themselves and even more about their world. The same can continue to be true if we, as teachers, pose design problems into the middle and high school years.
I saw evidence of thinking through Art on two consecutive Saturdays, at the Maine Center for Contemporary Art and at the Ashwood School in Rockport, ME, where there was a rare kind of energy. At the CMCA’s annual student exhibit young artists jumped into peer-to-peer, student-to-parent, and parent-to-student dialog. Parents were equally invested, making observations, and asking questions about their children’s decision making and reasoning.
All week long families returned to take a second look at the work. Kids remarked with a sense of pride that their Art “looked different” and “more special” in this setting. Students took the time to discuss the processes they explored. One fifth grader from a local school who’d created a remarkable abstract watercolor in shades of yellows and purples, revealed that after weeks and weeks of layering paint, he’d realized his vision except for one mistake! In the end he’d accepted that error and moved on, recognizing that it added an unexpected variation to the whole. He was most articulate about his plan, how he’d applied it repeatedly to his design, and why he was able to persevere through what some would have considered a laborious series of applications. It was working for him. His original thinking had panned out, and he felt more than a modicum of success. This young man had taken a risk, learned that precision mattered, and maintained his high standards.
At the Ashwood School, eighth graders, now experts in fields of their own choosing, pursued projects, which were of high interest to them and which universally integrated the Arts. Their culminating work represented a wide range of ideas. One used pedal power to make ice cream; another photographed and wrote a book
about Maine’s resident elephants in Hope; still another built a 3-D model from an architect’s blueprints. Each required weeks of learning, hypothesizing, organizing, and product development under the guidance of a mentor. When I asked a student architect, which skills he needed most, he immediately responded, “patience”. He quickly added that measurement, mathematical thinking, and manual dexterity (or careful cutting) were key to constructing his building. A student jeweler had worked with a variety of metals. A watercolor artist, with a notebook full of sketches and a final painting, had still not achieved exactly what she’d intended, but she had acquired new abilities. These young thinkers were solving authentic problems, and through this project they learned about the process of solving more complex and challenging problems – the kind they would face in adulthood.
Giving Art a central role in our classrooms (not just our art rooms) impacts learning in substantive ways. Art inspires kids to become adventurous thinkers. It teaches them to plunge into problem solving, breaking the whole into manageable parts. It invites them to apply and deepen their understanding in virtually every curricular area – in particular in math, engineering, and science.
3. Art making involves navigating through failure.
4. Art making instills craftsmanship and high standards.
Share your thinking~
Nancy Harris Frohlich