Friday, June 28, 2019

Trauma Informed Education: Teaching for Artistic Behavior Curriculum Experience

A Curriculum That Addresses Adverse Childhood Experience

Twenty one percent of all children in the USA under the age of 18 live in poverty.
Approximately 50% of all children in the USA will experience their parents separation or divorce.
Approximately 1 in 5 children will suffer from a significant form of mental illness during their school years.
More than 1 in 5 children are targeted regularly for bullying.
Thirty percent of all children in the USA will have experienced three or more adverse childhood experiences before the age of 18.

Disaffected, disengaged, disruptive, angry and alienated children exist in vast numbers within America. In the USA, statistically significant numbers of children experience trauma in one form or another. The school inherits the affect of the trauma experiences those children carry with them.
Does the mechanization of school curricula structured around behavioral objectives exacerbate the problem of children affected by adverse childhood trauma?
How are schools in the USA doing responding to the needs of students who suffer from adverse childhood trauma?

My answer: Not very well.

Why is there a school bullying epidemic?
Why are school districts continuously reporting thousands of student behavioral infractions each year to their state departments of education?
Why is the USA's high school drop out rate at or above 10% across the country?
Why is teen suicide the second highest cause of death in the USA?
Why do significant numbers of children hate school?
Why do vast numbers of young people who are eligible to vote, not vote?
Why are children bringing guns to school?
What is the affect of increased computer screen time on the developing minds of children? Is increased school-based screen time neurologically and socially beneficial to children?
Trauma in the lives of children is a problematic conundrum for school districts to address because administrators and educators are under great pressure to assess children's learning with high stakes standardized tests regularly (10-20 standardized test events) throughout the school year.

This means the curricula, the reason for the school's existence and single greatest activity event experienced by the child in school, is structured around high stakes standardized testing content.  Make no mistake, wherever schools are judged by the state with student test data, the curricula is fundamentally a standardized test preparation experience centered upon information processing activities and learning objectives the child has had little or no part in developing.

The school counselor, nurse or concerned educator might consider the child's psycho-emotional conditions and constant evolving present but does the curricula?

A child volunteers to work on a public art project set up inside our Teaching for Artistic Behavior art room.
If we are to recognize the biological nature of the human condition (mind), one that concludes the architecture of the child's mind (and all humans) is based in the emotional realm, then we recognize that TAB is a responsive educational experience that responds to time sensitive and emotional needs of the learner.

The TAB curriculum IS designed by art teachers for child autonomy from a multiplicity of entry points.
There is a whole lot of learning and possibilities for creative activity going on in TAB classrooms!
TAB classroom art studios feature learning centers and instructional menus that facilitate children's time sensitive desire to learn at their own pace and schedule.

There are many factors involved in effectively alleviating, treating and caring for children affected by trauma. The TAB classroom offers a safe, supportive, nurturing environment, opportunities for empowerment, self-expression and affirmation of the individual through the pursuit of personal art ideas. Considering the work of trauma care specialists Roger D. Fallot, Ph.D. and Maxine Harris, Ph.D, Teaching for Artistic Behavior learning environments and curriculum structures meet or exceed the core values utilized to ameliorate and care for trauma affected individuals. Those values are safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.
TAB studio learning environments are designed for student autonomy and the stimulation of student agency, creative collaboration and alternative forms of creative learning experience. The primary curriculum is always focused on art.
In a TAB classroom, students have choices to direct their learning. In this photograph children examine research, develop special projects, engage in individual projects or collaborate.
Collaboration and art play are a natural feature of TAB learning activities.

Because TAB curriculum experiences can be learner driven and are consensual, the child has control over the content, schedule, learning objectives, methods and materials of their learning activity. 

Teaching for Artistic Behavior educational practice features the core values of Fallot's and Harris' trauma informed care protocol as a way to access, develop and enhance an individual's unique creative capacity. TAB learning environments are special places where all children, including trauma affected individuals succeed and learn naturally. The conditions for authentic creativity that exist in TAB classrooms are not a periodic subset in week long intervals but exist round-the-clock. This environment is inclusive, provides unconditional regard for the individual's creative ideas, and offers abundant learning opportunities.

In a TAB classroom, trauma affected children can regain self-confidence and repair their human spirit within the context of authentic creative learning experience.

The Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

For mental health professionals:
Creating Cultures of Trauma Informed Care

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Indiana State Museum Cardboard Engineering Experience: Part 3

Stephanie Nold Thomas was so kind to us. She and Gail Brown provided us with everything we needed to build including excellent double and triple-ply cardboard we would integrate into the recycled materials we had brought. Our idea to recreate an extinct pre-historic animal out of cardboard was received enthusiastically. One catch. Could the animal be based on an extinct species from the museum's collection? Our answer? Absolutely! Bethany suggested we consider a saber tooth lion, a giant ground sloth or perhaps a mammoth or a mastodon? Clark and I mulled it over. A mastodon? Indiana is a mastodon state!

There are over 300 mastodon excavation sites in Indiana! Farmers will plow their fields or heavy equipment operators will dig into the soil and then "clank!" Giant bones from these distant relatives of elephants emerge from the soil. As a child I remember going to the Walkerton Public Library in search of books on dinosaurs. The small library had an excellent collection of fossilized mastodon teeth, vertebrae, skull and leg fragments. My imagination and desire to learn more about ancient life was fired up every time I looked at those specimens!

The mastodon challenge was on. We needed a lot of cardboard. We were going into uncharted territory. We had never built something this large before. We knew we would need a sturdy framework to support the exterior of the sculpture. Our sculpture method of connecting sticks of cardboard to a reinforced skeletal framework would work just as well for a mastodon as it would for an apatosaur. We just needed to begin. Over Winter Break, I transformed the neck piece of the apatosaur into a mastodon spinal column. Hips, head, shoulders and leg sections would come next. We had a primary structure to begin attaching, connecting and weaving cardboard sticks that would become Fred Jr. Off and on, over the course of three months, whenever we could put in time, we fleshed our life size mastodon sculpture out.

We estimate Fred Jr. the cardboard mastodon weighs about 190 lbs. 
Clark reinforces new cardboard to Fred Jr's back leg.

Fred Jr. is 9.5 feet tall and nearly 20 feet long with his tusks!

Fred Jr. with two jubilant sculptors!
More on Fred Jr's creative process soon!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Indiana State Museum Cardboard Engineering Experience: Part 2

Clark Fralick (standing on ladder) and I, artists in residence at the Indiana State Museum (2019).
Clark and I still have our capacity to play (thank goodness). If you put the two of us together in a room, it will result in playful conversation or playful story telling or playful art making. Sometimes our conversations start out playful but end up very serious (see Clark's podcast). We are each our own individual with unique characteristics that are different yet similar. One of our similarities is play. Another is building with our hands.

After we completed "The Beast," I suggested (playfully) we create a marble run inside a cardboard dinosaur. I even drew a picture of one with Clark in it for fun!
Concept drawing of our new idea.
If a dinosaur sculpture was woven with sticks of cardboard, conceptually, we could easily situate the marble run inside the structure. I was certain this idea would work if given a chance. I created a model apatosaur at school to look at design possibilities. Clark was open to the idea.

A cardboard apatosaurus experiment.
I was so excited about building a cardboard dinosaur, I began laminating neck sections of cardboard with medieval book binding glue (a secret recipe). Children in our class kept asking me, "What are you going to do with that cardboard Mr. Gaw?" My response, "Wait and see!"
Boxes rescued from the trash/recycle dumpster wold form the basis for our new creation!
Before my zeal took me any further, I thought it might be a good idea to contact Stephanie and ask her if it would be ok if we could build this monster. Would the museum be receptive to a 40 foot apatosaurus in the gallery space? I realized after our communication, I had made a mistake in selecting a creature from the Mesozoic era. Because the Indiana State Museum had one of the World's greatest collections of pre-historic mammals in their building. It would be more appropriate if a creature from the Cenozoic era, whose fossilized remains were discovered in Indiana, was created. The challenge was on!

Indiana State Museum's "Fred the Mastodon" awaits!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Indiana State Museum Cardboard Engineering Experience: Part 1

Clark Fralick and I have been collaborating for some time now (1996 to be exact). We have explored, analyzed and conversed on all manner of subjects related to art education including creativity (

One of our habits is to "play" around. In the summer of 2016, we were invited to play at Dr. Christopher Nunn's maker space in downtown Indianapolis! Christopher had an amazing maker space/community art studio that included a laser cutter and all kinds of wonderful tools and materials, including cardboard! On the day we visited Christopher, one of his dear friends, Bethany Nold Thomas stopped in to visit. Bethany is the executive director of education programs at the Indiana State Museum! Bethany joined in the creative fun-making and watched Clark and I play with a cardboard marble run that we were working on. We had a marvelous morning of conversation and creative experience!
Clark with Bethany Nold Thomas and Dr. Christopher Nunn!
In August of 2018 Bethany contacted Clark and I. She wanted to know if we would be interested in working inside a cardboard engineering exhibit she and Gail Brown, the ISM's director of Public and Family Engagement were putting together. Our answer? YES!

Clark and I arrived at the ISM in early September. The Cardboard Engineering Exhibit was a fabulous maker space loaded with materials, informational menus, tools, works spaces, ancillary supplies and examples of cardboard engineering! Clark and I would provide the inspiration. We were the artists in residence!

What we observed during our time inside the exhibit was the human capacity for natural creativity, or emergence.  Museum visitors walked into that exhibit cold without preconceived notions of what they might create. After embarking on a creative experience with cardboard, they walked out with fascinating, imaginative sculpture objects!
Children create cardboard wings at the ISM's Cardboard Engineering Exhibit in order to fly inside their imaginary play space!
Our job during the exhibit was to provide inspiration for museum goers. Our first large sculpture was a pichinko game Clark titled, "The Mesmerizer!"

The Mesmerizer was a big hit the day we made it. Lots of folks were passing by to see what we were up to and when it was ready, we encouraged families and their children to give it a try. Ping pong balls powered by gravity would bounce through a maze of obstacles on their way to numbered slots where the player could score points! Folks were mesmerized by the balls bouncing at high speeds inside the labyrinth! The Mesmerizer was a big hit!

There is something about moving orbs, cardboard tracks, engineering and structures. Clark had an idea for a marble run for the exhibit. Not just any marble run, but a monstrosity of a marble run! Clark and I came in one morning in October and we began to build. Over three days we worked on a structure titled, "The Beast!" This creature was 12 feet tall, and had multiple track possibilities. Clark built a "scrambler" that would bounce the marble around different obstacles creating chance entry points for the marbles depending on Newton's laws of gravity. Clark even built a hand powered marble elevator. It was a center point of interest inside the exhibit!
Clark works on "The Beast" in the back of the Cardboard Engineering exhibit space during a busy Saturday afternoon at the Indiana State Museum!
A player watches his marble travel through the gravity twister inside the belly of "The Beast!"
After our work on The Beast, we realized our time at the ISM would soon be over.  By the end of Spring the exhibit would be closing. We had to come up with something new. What could it be? 
We had built large cardboard sculptures before including a thirteen foot eagle puppet that was a huge hit at the Lawrence, Indiana 4th of July Parade. What was possible and what would the museum allow us to do? We had some ideas!

"Fred" the mastodon of the Indiana State Museum, was excavated near Fort Wayne in 1998 and has been at the ISM since 2013.

Friday, June 14, 2019

TAB Teacher Roles: Art Games

My association with Clark Fralick goes back to 1996 when I first met this new hot shot art teacher out of Purdue University who was hired into our district! Clark and I began to teach a gifted and talented class on Wednesdays early in the morning where we would develop one of the first electronic portfolio programs in our state. Later, Clark was putting together summer art camps and invited me to teach in one of them in 2005. That experience evolved into our Blocks Paper Scissors Summer Art Camp program.

One of the learning strategies that came out of our camp experience was the concept of the "art game." Art games can be developed or directed by the teacher or the students. Art games can be implemented individually or collaboratively. Art games are wonderful interventions for students who for one reason or another are not creating art.

One of the art games that Clark developed that exploded my mind, was marble painting. Marble painting is a one of a kind experience that is multifaceted and can easily be developed with some simple tools. Of course one needs marbles, paper, bottle caps filled with paint and a cardboard box!
The cardboard box is tilted from side to side, back and forth, creating gravitational forces to move the paint-covered marbles across the surface of the paper.
Plop the marbles into the caps of paint, drop them onto the surface of the paper, now tilt the marble painting box from side to side. Let's see where this activity will lead us? What will happen if I move the box this way or another way? Is this a game? Or is it something else? Marble paintings work with little kids, and they work with big kids! What other mark making games can be devised by the teacher or the students?

After I began working at New Palestine High School in 2014, I began experimenting with the facilitation of collaborative games. One group of boys who were energetic varsity baseball players, were very responsive to a game we developed called "U-Draw, I-Draw." This game can be played with simple materials, including pencils, rulers, paints, stamps, stencils and any other mark making material one can get their hands on.

The game is simple. I take a turn at drawing a mark or an image on a large piece of paper. I could have a time constraint in order to move the game along. Once I make my mark, I pass it on to the next player. Everybody takes a turn. Now the marks can be connected to other marks. Once we have drawn enough marks, we can begin to paint the spaces. What will the image look like once the spaces have all been painted? The painting process can be achieved with students working simultaneously. Once the work is done, what kind of conversation can we have about this experience? What could we write about this experience? The artist statements will be very interesting!

"I draw, U draw," can be played with very simple rules including rules the players create on their own. In this example, the players were very interested in painting in the spaces they had created so they took turns to paint a space so the other players could critique their painting method. This led to a very tightly painted abstract work with lots of hard geometric edges. During the event, we talked about "duende" and it's meaning to the Surrealists.
The role of the TAB art teacher is to facilitate art learning that is meaningful to the student. This often means consensual learning. What Clark and I discovered is that when children have ownership of their activity, whether it be a game or an experimental format, consent and the sharing of power about how one directs their activity is incredibly important. What other art games could be developed for children who are reluctant to participate in traditional studio centered art making? Is there power in a collaborative art making experience that affects certain children as opposed to singular activities?

The teacher collaborates with a student in a game of "I-Do, U-Do. The teacher introduces the student to stenciling and the concept of layering mark making materials."

Thursday, June 13, 2019

TAB Teacher Roles: The Art Trap

"If things don't work well, do it differently. Be the scientist in the laboratory of learning."
K. Douglas 2019

At the 2015 NAEA National Convention in Chicago, Nan Hathaway presented a concept she described as the "art trap." Nan's idea took many TAB art teacher's breath away. I know it did mine. The art trap is a method of gaining a reluctant student's consent to participate freely in an art activity or in the creative process.

The art trap is a way of providing students with fail-safe creative learning activity that has a high probability of enjoyment and success.

As Diane Jaquith explains, "An art trap is a simple provocation, something unusual and unexpected set up in an area where students will happen upon it and choose to engage or not engage."

One of our favorite art traps at New Palestine High School is the "sacred square." I will have introduced the concept of symmetry and the square as a structure to facilitate symmetrical mark making in a previous lesson, however, I will not impede students desire to utilize asymmetry or other design concepts if they so choose.  Our favorite material for this art trap? Cardboard.

This student chose to experiment with value, space and form.
After making one sacred square, this elevated her practice, wanting to create many, many more. Her work figured significantly in the completion of the wall pieces as she gained confidence in her abilities to initiate art.
As I do with all my classes, I observe which students might be reluctant to participate in art activities. There are numerous opportunities to make art or engage in research or self-reflect. Unfortunately, there are students (for reasons I will not discuss here) who choose not to participate in art making despite my efforts at inculcating this activity. I often have informal conferences with them. I do not want to draw attention to them, but in our classes, I am having conversations with all of our students throughout the week as much as possible.
If six squares look good together, what would happen with 36? Now we begin to play with the concept of emergence.

The "sacred square" art trap begins with me walking up to the unsuspecting student, and dropping off a water bottle cap of tempera paint, a skinny brush and a 5 to 9 inch square near the vicinity of their seating area. Then, I walk away. I have observed, the invitation rate for painting on the cardboard square is quite good, about 90%. Sometimes the child becomes very competent at painting squares, and the cardboard square becomes their new go-to activity.
The painted cardboard squares look great hung as 2-D images grouped together. What would happen if we used the square as a sculptural module? 
These modules will look better if they are connected systematically.
With direct instruction, students can help glue the modules together.
There are other configurations we can explore.
The more we build, the more students want to paint squares.
Another view of two sculptures made entirely of scrap cardboard squares painted by students.
What's next?
What are some other art traps that teachers might conceive of to help students overcome their fear of failure or reluctance to create art?
What else could emerge from a TAB laboratory of learning? Are outcomes fixed in a TAB classroom? How did the concept of emergence figure into this kind of activity?