Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Teachers learn how to fuse art with lessons

Chris Butler / Idaho Statesman


Linda Wolfe calls her self portrait “Crazy Redhead.” Wolfe, a ICA Teaching Artist from Pocatello, joined 120 other teachers last week at the ArtsPowered School Institute held on the Albertson College of Idaho campus in Caldwell.

Take a bit of calico, add a little plaid, paisley and a spring print, and it can become a self-portrait.

It’s inspiring to find your personality buried in the fabric, said a group of Idaho elementary school teachers at the ArtsPowered Schools Institute held on the Albertson College of Idaho campus.

But it wasn’t just an exercise in self-discovery. The 100 Idaho teachers who created fabric portraits or other artistic projects at last week’s workshop were learning techniques to take back to their classrooms this fall.

“Art makes us better thinkers, not just better feelers,” said Christine Goodheart, an education arts consultant from Rochester, N.Y., who served as a core presenter during the week.

Arts make teaching more effective, helping kids remember what they learned, Goodheart said. Integrated art programs can help improve parent-school relationships, attendance and community relations, she said.

In its fifth year, the ArtsPowered Schools program is presented by the Idaho Commission on the Arts in partnership with the State Department of Education.

Peggy Wenner, Arts and Humanities Coordinator for the State Department of Education. said ArtsPowered Schools is the only program that offers elementary schools arts development. Teachers can earn two classroom credits for participating.

“By the end of the week, teachers are able to see possibilities for integrating the arts into lessons in ways that support arts learning and enrich subject content.”, adds Ruth Piispanen, Arts Education Director for the Idaho Commission on the Arts.

David Miller was the lone male participant in the Mexican folk dance workshop where teachers were learning a dance that they would perform during the closing events.

Miller readily joined the group on stage, putting his hands behind his back and tapping, turning, swaying and clapping with the women.

Miller, principal at the new Sorensen Magnet School for the Arts in Coeur d’Alene, brought 17 teachers with him to ArtsPowered Schools to help his staff learn to integrate art into their program.

For Miller, the program affirmed that the arts and humanities can be used in academics as well as socially and emotionally.

“You can use the arts and not compromise state standards,” Miller said. The arts can be used in a “strategic, intentional and purposeful” way to accomplish learning.

Charmaine VanBuskirk, a third-grade teacher at Chief Joseph Elementary School in Meridian, said she was “nervous at first” to participate in an arts program.

“But I am really enjoying it,” she said.

VanBuskirk wants to incorporate the arts in her classroom, “just to get kids moving.”

For example, she said, she might have students tell the story of a plant by physically demonstrating how it grows.

Amber Armstrong, a teacher from the Christine Donnell School of the Arts in Meridian, participated in a storytelling workshop each afternoon. At first, she didn’t think she had a story.

“Someone starts with (something like), ‘I was brave, I jumped off a diving board, I was 6,’ then you leap from there,” she said. “You think of yourself at 6. Suddenly, it’s, oh, I do have a story to tell.”

Armstrong said elements of the storytelling include a problem that gets resolved and an interesting character.

“The best stories are tied to our emotions,” she said.

Back in the self-portrait class, teachers learned techniques such as using glue sticks or iron-on fusing material to bond material, said Terrie Kralik, a quilt artist from Bonners Ferry, who taught the class.

Kralik said teachers can do the same project in their classrooms or vary it, making note cards or something more complicated.

For Amber Armstrong, a teacher at Christine Donnell School for the Arts, the weeklong program was like art camp.

“It is an opportunity for us to come and be students for the week,” she said. “We can take that back to the schools.”