Art Works Blog

An Inside Look at Idaho's Arts-Powered Schools Summer Institute

Participants at the 2012 Arts-Powered Schools Summer Institute get hands-on during their final collaborative project. Photo by Idaho teaching artist Mike Shipman

"We can all use imaginative thinking across every part of our lives---and we can all learn to do it better." --- Eric Liu

In 2001, the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the Idaho State Department of Education collaborated on a baseline survey of arts education in Idaho’s elementary schools. The survey results identified a need and strong desire by Idaho elementary teachers for arts education pedagogical training. The outcome was the long-term partnership between the arts commission and the state department of education called Arts-Powered Schools Summer Institute.

Now in its tenth year, with the invaluable support of the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts-Powered Schools’ residential summer professional development institute immerses elementary educators in strategies for teaching in and through the arts. From June 17-22, 2012, nearly 100 elementary classroom teachers and administrators, arts organization education managers, and Idaho teaching artists gathered at the College of Idaho in Caldwell to grow their arts education pedagogical capacity and design teaching-artist residencies for the benefit of Idaho elementary students.

The 2012 Institute focused on “Imagination, Creativity, & Innovation.” Throughout the week, teaching artists led elementary-school teams from around Idaho in active, art-making sessions that stimulated imaginative thinking, which led to creative action and ultimately to innovation. In other words, educators learned how to model---and teach through---the creative process. They learned how to apply experiential learning to instruction supporting Idaho Humanities Content Standards. Then they pulled together learning objectives across multiple areas of inquiry with an essential understanding---in other words, a “Big Idea.” And what was the Big Idea for this year’s institute? We can all use imaginative thinking across every part of our lives---and we can all learn to do it better.

Participants received early inspiration from Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon’s Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility, and the first day’s keynote by Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, authors of Sparks of Genius, the 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People. Building on the Liu and Noppe-Brandon concepts, all institute presenters modeled the authors’ “29-½ Practices” in their sessions, ultimately offering a field manual for ways to spur imagination in our lives.

Through week’s-end, learning was hands-on. Mornings began with “Art Sparks”---large-group mental jumpstarts led by teaching artists. Studio intensives followed---in writing, music, printmaking, dance, and theater---led by teaching artists Malia Collins, Dan Senn, Amy Nack, Kay Braden, and Dwayne Blackaller. These creative intensives offered art-making experiences for the educators, who daily became more conscious in the creative process: how it felt to work in an unfamiliar medium and to struggle, learn, and ultimately succeed in creating something entirely their own. Participants were encouraged---and provided daily opportunities---to experience art-making in disciplines with which they were uncomfortable or unfamiliar.

The participants gathered in their school teams to construct residency plans for their classrooms. Aiding them in this were daily sessions collectively titled, Digging Deeper---Advancing Arts Teaching and Learning Through Reflective Practice, in which school teams from the previous-year’s institute, who had implemented their own residency plans in the subsequent school year, provided documentation of student learning to the participants. These sessions provided daily forums for others to learn from peer experiences. Between the hands-on studio experiences and peer reflections, the new teams acquired knowledge to begin their own residency planning.

And where did the school administrators in attendance fit in? They were residency team members too. They also had their own roundtable, facilitated by Principal Laurie Little of Peoriaud, Arizona, wherein they discussed practical issues for implementation, such as arts integration across curricula, and the complexities of residency scheduling in schools.

Throughout the week, the participants documented their personal learning, modeling the reflective practice they would expect of their own learners in their classroom through the subsequent school year. In the evenings after dining together, teams of participants performed new literary, musical, and theatrical pieces they had created under the guidance of institute teaching artists. Their peers then had the opportunity to observe, describe, analyze, and interpret the work, modeling student expectations under Idaho’s Humanities Content Standards.

So went the week, from morning to night. Then on their last day, in their culminating studio experience, the participants demonstrated “Practice 24” by taking printmaking to scale---with a steamroller for a print drum---creating mega-prints to remind them of their Arts-Powered learning and to encourage them to recreate that sense of creative awe in their own classrooms.

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