The 2006 ArtsPowered Schools Summer Institute gathered teachers, parents, administrators, and residency artists for a week long exploration of the power of the arts in learning.

Nationally recognized arts education consultant Eric Booth opened each day by providing insights into how the arts engage students in high quality learning by drawing on students’ central and active roles as meaning makers. Art’s natural connection to life experiences helps make learning matter to students.

By designing learning opportunities around “big ideas” or essential questions educators can invite inquiry and encourage students to ask questions about the world and about themselves. This personalization of learning taps into a powerful human impulse to confer relevance and provides opportunities for students to bring their personal voice to subject matter. In Eric’s words, “Students use their own voices to make stuff they care about.”

To unleash the potential of the arts to help learning to become personally relevant and meaningful, teachers explored various arts disciplines during hands-on workshops in puppetry, water color, experimental music, and dance, and experienced the intellectual and emotional processes required to reveal themselves through their artwork. Each arts discipline workshop emphasized the importance of reflecting and refining in the creation of art, with a nod to educational theorist John Dewey via Eric Booth, “reflection is where the learning is.”

College credit was offered for the successful completion of project plans for units of classroom study built around an essential question or “big idea”. Teams of teachers, administrators, and artists met each day to design artist residencies that would enrich individual schools’ inquiry around their “big idea” and provide opportunities for students to bring their own lives and experiences into the exploration and demonstration of learning.

I have had many “ah ha” moments this week. Many times, I found myself choked up by the emotion I felt for what I was learning-personally and professionally. For our residency, we developed the essential question we will explore with our students this year-“what is beauty?” In my heart and mind, I will begin each activity next year remembering and bringing forward the beauty I discovered here.

Many of the things Eric presented caused me to reflect deeply on important issues. I re-evaluated many of my teaching philosophies, and the things he spoke on have caused me to change the way I design & present my lessons.

Every day I ended with my mind full of ideas for tweaking my teaching and lessons to truly move them into the third space. I often felt validated for what I was already doing well, while also being challenged to improve my teaching. I also felt challenged to continue my own artistic endeavors and try new experiences.

ArtsPowered School 2006 drew on research by the Arts Education Partnership, Third Space: When Learning Matters, and the Habits of Mind principles.