There is something you should know about me. I love art. I love to look at it, I love to think about it, I love to talk about it, I love to make it, and I love to teach it. But most of all, I LOVE how it helps me learn and communicate! Making art helps me understand the world around me and connects me to it. It always has. It offers me an opportunity to become invested in and to see myself personally in the new concepts and ideas that I must master. Producing art magically causes anything I am tackling cognitively to embed itself in my memory banks in ways that are useful to me and long-lasting. Art is so powerful! There is something else you should know. Art holds the same power for you as it does for me! And it holds the same power and opportunity for our students!
So why not harness and capitalize on this power in our 21st-century classrooms? Why is art always the first thing we cut out of the educational equation during budget and scheduling woes? How is it that educators (the smartest people on this planet!) continually forget about and abandon this magical ingredient while they struggle to empower their students with the creativity they need to excel in the classrooms of today and the boardrooms of tomorrow? It's strange, isn't it?
I'm happy to report that the great minds at GOMI are hard at work thinking about all of these questions and more. They have seen through the flawed thinking behind this tragic oversight and have decided to add the magical "A" to their fabulous STEM program to create some STEAM for their teaching partners and, in kind, their students. Recently, at an arts-integrated leadership training conference, John Terry and John Halloran became inspired by the possibilities for teaching, learning, and presenting that they experienced when art was added into the mix and decided that they wanted to learn more. Having once been a colleague of John Halloran's at the Rupert A. Nock Middle School in Newburyport, MA, I became the lucky art educator asked to help out. John, or, "Hal," as he is known to his colleagues, was looking for some movement to incorporate into the teacher's training day that he would be facilitating in Newburyport on October 21st. After a few conversations and a couple of planning sessions, we were off-and-running with ideas and activities for a great day of art and MWEEs (meaningful watershed educational experiences) at Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center and the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.
Our day began with an introduction to field journals and an exploration of several different types and styles that could easily be created by students. We demystified sketching in the field by learning some basic drawing tips and techniques, then put these new skills to good use while making observational drawings of the salt marsh in our newly-created sketchbooks. We also learned about mandalas and how they are drawn and how they can be used as graphic organizers or a nautical instrument such as a compass rose. Next, we were off to our MWEEs. Hal led one that focused on the salt marsh, while Ellen Link (see book review) led one about invasive species, and I led a third, focusing on turning beach refuse into ephemeral art. We finished by presenting our MWEEs to the whole group, focusing on all the different ways that they were hands-on, multidisciplinary, outdoor investigations made up of standards-based activities and assessments that included student actions such as restoration, advocacy, and service learning. It was a truly wonderful day filled with great energy and excitement.
I want to thank GOMI for inviting me to contribute to and participate in this wonderful teacher training day. I learned a great deal from the experience and was truly inspired by the passion of the teachers I met and was able to work with. They know that you can't spell smART without ART. They also know that the eARTh without ART is just "eh." And I know that "eh" is never good enough for GOMI, its teachers, and their students!
Kim Salathé is a passionate art educator with more than two decades of K-12 public school teaching experience in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts school systems. She is also a working artist and award-winning ceramic designer and lives on the Seacoast of New Hampshire with her husband, Paul.