Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A TAB Studio Center As Community Art Project

In March of 2017, Greenfield City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Ellen Kuker, Hancock County Arts Coalition member Steve Vail and professional artist Chris Sickels made a fascinating proposal to our art program at New Palestine High School. Could we create a large ceramic grid portrait mural, designed by Chris's 13 year old son Owen, of Indiana WWl hero Harvey Weir Cook. Weir Cook was born in nearby Wilkinson, Indiana in 1892 and was an American aviation pioneer. Indianapolis International Airport's terminal building is named after Weir Cook. I thought for a split second, "Yes! We can create a separate work space in the art room and include this project as an activity option for students in our TAB art program." The project would require the creation of 1247 2 inch ceramic tiles  the twisting of 2494 three inch wires. The portrait tiles would be tethered to a 7.5 foot by 5 foot steel mesh grid, so the presentation of the image would be pixelated similar to a Chuck Close portrait. It would be our honor to honor Harvey Weir Cook, a legend in American aviation history.
Our TAB art room layout. Students could create tiles at any of our work tables while the wire mesh frame could be transformed into the image of Weir Cook at our mural center.
Once the steel frame and grid was delivered to our room we began to experiment with the construction of the clay tiles. Considering the work would be exhibited outside, we consulted with Amaco-Brent Ceramics company for the best clay and glazes to use. They recommended White Clay
#25 and Teachers Palette Glazes.
Building the tiles individually became too slow and cumbersome. I taught interested children how to roll clay slabs of the right thickness and then measure and cut the tiles in larger batches so we could expedite the tile creation process. Making the tiles was the first problem to overcome. Assembling them onto the right grid became the second problem we would tackle.
I created portable menus for the project and a white board diagram for students to examine. I explained the project to our students. Their participation would provide them with an opportunity to be a part of something very special! Most of my students were involved in their own projects, but several seized on this opportunity and enthusiastically began producing clay squares. Unfortunately, a quality control problem soon became apparent. The tiles had to be perfect one and three quarter inch squares and a quarter inch thick. Not all of the tiles produced could be used for the mural. Some of the children, either because they lacked manual dexterity, focus or patience, were not able to execute with precision the square tiles that were required. More practice would be needed or a new method would need to be explored. We came up with a new method.

The tiles would be rolled out into a large slab, trimmed, measured and re-cut into uniform tiles that would be perforated then glazed. 

Not only did we have to cut precision tiles, but we would have to create custom colors by mixing glazes together in numerous combinations. There were 14 custom colors that we would have to create for this composition.
Working with larger batches of tiles became much more tenable. We loaded the kiln with glazed tiles in addition to our regular output of ceramic projects over the course of the project and fired our kiln up! Most of the time, we were happy with the results!

The kiln was fired to a temperature of 1800 degrees. Temperatures lower than 1800 degrees did not produce a finished glaze quality to out satisfaction. Our kiln got quite a work out!

Tiles would have to be formed, hanging holes perforated, glazed, fired and then attached to the grid.
Student on the right is rolling out a clay slab while another student attaches a tile to the grid.
Finding the correct position on the grid and selecting the right color for the grid position and the tile was a complex mental task that several of the children enjoyed doing. It only had to be done 1247 times. Twisting two wires to attach each tile required hand strength and dexterity that may of the children did not have so I did some recruiting. 

Selecting the right color of tile, attaching and then reflecting on the work in progress requires higher level thinking. The selection and assembly of numerous tiles in order to be true to Owen Sickels plan was one of the most complex tasks of this art experience.

Sometimes, students who worked on the project for long periods of time took a break in order to work on other collaborative experiences. In our Teaching for Artistic Behavior studio setting..there can be 20-30 different projects going on simultaneously.

Over the course of 13 months, with steady effort, we were able to complete this work.

On September 28, 2018, Ellen and personnel from the Greenfield Parks Department arrived at New Palestine High School to pick up the finished work!  Some of the students helped load the mural into the trailer.  We had finished what we had started! What a thrill!
We set the work carefully into the trailer, strapped it in for safe passage and waved goodbye!
The work now rests in downtown Greenfield, Indiana mounted on concrete inside the "Living Alley."
Thank you to the City of Greenfield, Hancock County Arts Commission, the students of New Palestine High School, Owen and Chris Sickels and of course, the Family of Harvey Weir Cook!

Best Wishes!

With members of the Weir Cook Family, Owen Sickels, art teacher Monica Holden, Monica's students who created banners throughout the gallery space and the Mayor of Greenfield!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Clark Fralick: Conditions for Creativity in K-12 Classrooms

Clark Fralick is a voracious reader. He is fueled by a passion for understanding and promoting children's authentic learning experience. Clark and I have been team-teaching in one form or another since 1997. We have had countless discussions and collaborations, including our 1998, '99, '01 participation with the Indiana Department of Education's electronic portfolio pilot programs. Authentic creativity was the Holy Grail we were searching for. We were pretty good at facilitating project based learning and also good at designing rubrics with students in order to get the snappy projects we were after.  

One day in 2001, a child brought in his personal drawings and Clark and I asked him to write about his work. The results were dramatic. There was a vitality to the reflective writing from the boy's home art that was lacking in the reflective writing we obtained during our rubric driven experiences. We knew there was something amiss in our curriculum but we didn't quite know how to address change.

After our visit with Katherine Douglas, Diane Jaquith and John Crowe in Denver of 2004, we knew we had to feature agency, diversified learning, security, stimulation and inspiration to our curriculum. Here are the conditions for creativity we believe are beneficial to children's creative learning experience.

1. A responsive, generative art teacher managing a safe and stimulating learning environment is critical when considering creativity development. The child has to know tolerance of idiosyncratic creative processes will be accepted unconditionally including provisions of space and time. The incubation process varies between students.

2. Art teacher provides consistent opportunities over time where agency and self-direction is featured.
Interaction with art teacher is rich and ongoing. Interventions are non-threatening. Children cannot develop a sense of their intentionality without extended non-threatening interactions with these creative care-givers. A sense of trust and nurturing is essential.

3. Environment allows the child to progress through their unique developmental stages within the biological timeline endowed to them. Respect for the individual is paramount.

4. Environment is rich with opportunities for experimentation and exploration. Programs that advertise autonomy yet encourage passivity and helplessness by removing decision making from the individual's hands will have negligible impact.

5. Structure and clear parameters within the environment imbue a sense of security to the child. Firm yet reasonable limits within an environment of support, empathy and warmth are crucial.

6. Stable communities and neighborhoods are critical in allowing the child to focus on their creative and intellectual desires and interests outside of the art program.

7. An inspirational teacher who models creativity and artistic behavior, understands the unique cognitive conditions of his/her student groups and understands the developmental and psycho-emotional rhythms of his/her students.

Conditions for Creativity adopted from Stanley Greenspan's, "The Growth of the Mind: The Endangered Origins of Intelligence" 1997.

During the summer of 2017, Clark suggested we record a podcast so we could elaborate on
the conditions for creativity and critical findings related to our TAB practice.

You can listen to our podcast on iTunes or Podbean: https://blockspaperscissors.podbean.com/

Clark and I will be working with cardboard at the Indiana State Museum over the 2018-19 school year. TAB Teachers interested in working with us can contact us here: cgaw@newpal.k12.in.us 

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Dueling Experiences Part V: Rhizomes Decentralize Curricula and They Expand

Educators and administrators interested in rhizomatic learning experience need to understand the power of emotional drive when curriculum is decentralized.

Be prepared. When student directed classroom activities intensify, the synergy of this curriculum model will provide students with authorization to connect their learning to subject areas throughout the school. Are educators who advocate for connected, innovative and authentic learning models like a Teaching for Artistic Behavior art program, prepared to deal with the logistical dynamics of such a curriculum model?

The teacher who is interested in releasing human potential, the child's innate desire to explore, to question, to find, to imagine, to connect, to take risks, to make, is unlocking a powerful natural force. 

A special dark room is available for this student to project images for a mural project.

Many students will desire mobility. They want to be in specific locations to execute their learning plan. Educators will need to consider if an individual's learning experience can be enhanced outside of the classroom.

A child considers the next color placement in her abstract composition.

When time sensitive learning events require learning outside the art classroom, is the school willing to accommodate student needs? How responsive is the school to students? 

Do schools advertise student-centered learning experience when actually a centralized, linear curricula that encourages learner passivity is experienced by children?

TAB art programs offer dynamic curriculum experiences where intellectual emancipation and integrative reconciliation can be realized by the child.  

Art is a very big subject. 

In TAB art programs, art class becomes a conduit to learning throughout the school, providing children with active, conscious minds opportunity to make powerful connections with their art ideas to learning content within the rest of the school curricula. Nothing could be more important than the school's mission to develop and refine the child's intellectual capacity through interdisciplinary learning. TAB art education experiences are transformative, catalyzing children to move beyond direction taking. The TAB art room becomes one of the most important learning environments in the school.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Dueling Experiences Part lV: Despite the Happy Talk, Does Data-Driven Instruction Impede A Child's Social and Emotional Development?

Are "innovation schools," educational efficiencies and market-driven education a good thing when it comes to child development?
Looking at The Center for Disease Control research archives, I am struck with the statistics of children in the USA who are either suffering from mental illness, trauma or have given up on this World and taken their lives.

Knowing what I know about abundant curricula and authentic experience, that authentic learning is profound, capturing the heart and mind of a child, one in which learning becomes spiritual, where the child wants to learn more. I am asking the question what is happening to children in this Nation's schools?

How are US schools doing in supporting the emotional and social growth of children?

This question: Are schools whose administrative and instructional focus is on computer-based information processing tasks, rewards and punishments, data collection and classification of a child's standing in their educational "cohort" with numerical data harming children?

Other questions for policy makers and citizens to consider:

Despite the outdated gun laws in the USA, if schools are sanctuarys of learning in this country, why are students returning to the school to harm others?

Are schools providing adequate learning experiences that benefit the child's social, emotional and creative consciousness?

Are learning experiences outside the decision making processes of the child, concocted to meet the needs of the state? Or....are learning experiences responsive to the time sensitive interests, strengths and desires of the child?

If a child is in love with his learning, why would a child want to do harm to a classmate?

My thoughts related to school shootings?

Guns are too easily accessible to disturbed or angry individuals in this country.

But we also have an education problem here.

Many children who become citizens in US society, become disturbed through the school experience of non-consensual high stakes testing participation, including behavior modification curricula experiences, i.e. grading and data collection. High stakes testing, corrupts a school's regular capacity to provide a dynamic atmosphere whereby learning is a spiritual and most joyful matter experienced by the individual.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dueling Experiences Part lll: The Educational-Psychology Structures Where Teaching for Artistic Behavior Programs Exist.

Forty six percent of children in the United States under the age of 17 have experienced the marital divorce of their parents. While divorce can be an amicable process between married adults, for the child it is a time filled with immense anxiety. Many marriages are filled with dysfunction and that seriously complicates matters for the child. Emotional abuse, physical abuse, poverty, parental rejection, food insecurity, shelter insecurity, substance abuse and other genetic and environmental conditions outside the child's control impact levels of anxiety, stress, cognitive functioning and emotional receptivity to learning. Consider also that school systems are designed for efficiency, to mass produce standardized experience, an experience that externally tasks and controls children to move through a sequence of activities motivated via rewards and punishments. In radical behaviorist learning structures, administrators control thought and action. The organism is not in control. In K-12 learning experiences within schools, children are instructed what to do, thinking is managed by a daily schedule, thoughts and action incessantly prompted, controlled and monitored.

Is it possible that tightly structured radical behaviorist learning experiences might cause adverse neurological deficits of at-risk children affecting their emotional and intellectual maturation?

Children of divorced parents are at-risk from many forms of trauma. I won't get into the painful details of my own childhood experience, but I think often about students in my own classes who may be experiencing similar situations.  Shouldn't school be a sanctuary for children? Shouldn't the school's mission be to provide optimal learning experience, ameliorate psycho-emotional pain while the child is in the care of the school and expand consciousness and intellectual capacity? What I experienced as a child and observe today is that K-12 curricula experiences create additional pressure on the child because the school's mission is to imprint upon that child what the state values. What does the state value? The state values children who score well on timed, high stakes standardized tests, the content of which the teacher nor the child control. This situation guarantees that teachers of tested subjects must hurry children through a state mandated curricula employing radical behaviorist instructional practices.

Considering the mind, it is the single most important entity in the process of education. Looking at reams and reams of state and corporate sponsored documents and literature prescribing standardized content and best teaching practices, I have not once, viewed language from any state department of education document that defines the human mind or provides a description of the process of learning. This is a critical shortcoming of state sponsored departments of education because the mind and the process of learning at a fundamental level is physiological. Learning that lasts a lifetime, does not occur because the teacher is an expert at classroom management or instructional techniques, but results from a multiplicity of factors that takes into account a child's executive functioning capacity.

Despite authorization as a safe space by the state for the purpose of education, school can be an intensely difficult place for children.  In particular, how does the school ameliorate the emotional trauma children experience when their parents marriage's dissolve into a dysfunctional state of disunion. Divorce in the United States is a societal affliction that affects nearly
50% of all marriages.  Because large percentages of children already come to school having experienced violence and dehumanization within their family situation, classroom experience related to an explicit and prescriptive curriculum that has nothing to do with the child's current crisis state, exacerbates psycho-somatic maladies brought on by the parents divorce.  For educators, school counselors or administrators to make the pronouncement that children of divorce are plucky,  resourceful and over time will "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" while resuming regularly scheduled standardized test-driven curricula is totally inadequate as an educational intervention. The curricula should buoy the child during this traumatic time. The curricula should capture the child's imagination and serve as more than a work experience. The curricula should in and of itself  ameliorate any emotional distress the child is experiencing. The act of learning and the act of study should not be a rigorous chore, but a profound, self-sustaining spiritual experience. Creative learning experiences that compels a child to continue to pursue learning without the teacher's prompting are the experiences I regularly observe in my TAB classrooms.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

YAM 2018 Celebration and Remarks

My sincerest appreciation to 2018 Indiana Youth Art Month Co-Chairs Carrie Billman and Shayla Fish along with AEAI President Mary Sorrels, our fabulous YAM Volunteers, the hardworking events coordinators Terry and Ned at the Indiana State Capitol, AMACO-Brent's receiving specialists Dale and J.C. and our keynotes, Indianapolis WFYI Radio Host Matthew Socey and Nashville, Tennessee based singer-songwriter Caroline McKinney!

Here are some pics of the event and my remarks to the audience:


Art class is the best way for children to experience creativity at school.

Fine Arts experience can excite the child's emotional realm and strengthen neurological systems while providing opportunities for creative self expression!.

Inside the body’s nervous system, myelin..a fatty protein that covers connecting axons between nerve cells, expands during these special learning events.

What does this mean? It means memory systems and action impulses work faster inside your brain, improving  the mind’s capacity to learn and think.

There is an immense amount of historical and biological evidence that reveals learning through the visual arts is vital to children’s cognitive development.

Five years ago, I remember speaking with a 7 year old child.

She was stretching packing tape over her wet tempera painting.

I asked her what she was doing.

She said, “I’m making shiny surface art.”

I said, that's fascinating!

She wrote in her journal, “ Art is a part of being creative. When you’re creative, you’re doing better than you are when you’re not.”

I thought to myself, “Why is she doing better when she is creative in school, than when she is not being creative in school?”

Think about this.

During critical phases of cognitive development, mental operations are realized primarily as a result of a child's interactions with the World around them.

There is a biological reason human beings are endowed with hands.

The hands are the key to intellectual growth!

Sadly, many children in the United States don’t attend schools where fine arts exist.

Compounding matters, there are scary trends in education today.

Among certain policy makers, there is this idea that tethering young children to digital screens and tasking them to select answers on multiple choice questions... is somehow a quality education.

I am here to tell you that finger taps on a flat, two dimensional screen, hardly passes as multi-sensory experience.

A school day consisting of screen-based learning is great for collecting numerical data but blunts participation in an abundant curricula. The worst case scenario? Excessive use of digital media introduced by the state during a child's formative development will increase the likelihood that child may become addicted to digital screens.

Seven years ago the Art Education Association of Indiana surveyed its members. We found 60 instances where arts programs were cut.

In 2010, Purdue University art education professor Robert Sabol surveyed over 3400 art teachers from across the United States.

A summary of the findings?

Children’s visual arts and creative learning experiences are being sacrificed on the altar of data collection and standardized testing.

I was admiring this years Youth Art Month exhibition earlier and I have to tell you it is a spectacular visual experience.

The children's art reveals they are developing special powers of creativity.

These children are fortunate to have families, teachers, administrators and communities who support their creative development and school art experiences.

As a parent or citizen advocate you have a powerful voice! I urge you to advocate for children’s art programs when you can. Send local, state or federal policy makers a loud and clear message either face to face, by telephone, snail mail or email to adequately fund and preserve fine arts programs for all children!

We cannot afford future failures of imagination!

I thank you!