March 29, 2016 -- Since 2001, the Creative Arts team at Canterbury has been working collaboratively and across disciplines to deepen learning. Art teacher Ida Bergsen, physical education teacher Julie Lustic, music teacher Karly Bowman and Spanish teacher Jessica Valentino comprise the Canterbury Creative Arts team. Block scheduling, adopted a few years ago, has made it possible to work more seamlessly with each other and with students. The program has been thriving ever since.
Every Friday, students participate in Creative Arts activities during their specials period, sometimes in small groups and sometimes all together as a grade level. There might be preparation for an upcoming performance, with some students working on their song, dance or lines, and others focusing on scenery creation. After children studied the Harlem Renaissance a few years ago, the Roots of American Music came in for demonstrations. Their musical and swing dancing performance served as a fun and tangible capstone.
Each unit can be reinforced in their classroom discussions and are often integrated into the regular classwork in the Art, Physical Education, Music and Spanish specials rotation, resulting in a reputation and deep investigation that allows for curiosity and true mastery. Efforts are currently underway for the upcoming spring school musical focusing on Latin American music.
Technology supporting the arts
Meaningful use of technology is especially important to the Creative Arts program at Canterbury. Using apps on iPads, individual student email accounts, and Google Drive, students communicate with teachers and save their work throughout the project. An upcoming project will have students designing posters on iPads promoting some kind of physical activity. They will share their work with Lustic, who will offer feedback, and once finalized, the posters will be printed and hung in the school.
“Students really look forward to being all together, and they know there will be an out-of-the-box technology piece.” said Bergsen. A recent favorite technology experience has been with the digital animation program, Go Ink. Since iPads are a scalable hardware, students can work on their own level, growing more motivated and skilled after successes.
In 2014-15, one Creative Arts experience ran for the entire year and supported Canterbury’s IB theme, taking care of the earth. During the Upcycling/Recycling project, students participated in recycle relays in the gym, sorting trash and running it to the correct bin. Using the iPads, they created short ‘Talking Trash’ clips, animating their drawings of trash and recyclables to talk, which then debuted on screen before the ‘It’s Easy Being Green’ musical in the spring.
Reflection, empathy and teamwork
Some Creative Arts units are especially poignant. While studying the Underground Railroad, students watched a video, read stories and practiced role playing. Pretending to be on the run, students had to gather information from different people they met, while still staying safe. The capstone was the Underground Railroad immersion demo, held in the darkened gymnasium. Students crawled in silence from the music room down the hall to the gym, and once inside, through tunnels, between fences and other obstacles. They encountered a taped sound of a dog barking and images flashed on a screen. Afterward, they reflected together on the experience: was it hard to stay silent; was anything frightening; how did you stay calm?
“The first year we did it, the Underground Railroad demo was more a regular obstacle course. This one engaged the senses and stretched the kids even more.” said Lustic. The program is flexible and repeat projects are always improving.
“We have lots of ideas, but we have learned to put it together fast. And we work well together; you can’t force a team. All of us are equally invested,” said Bergsen. All four specials teachers are involved in each Friday unit, but one or two teachers might take the lead teaching.
Inquiry and the opportunity to fail
How many first graders are encouraged to ask profound questions? One Creative Arts activity called Higher Order Thinking (HOT) demonstrated how technology can be effectively used to spur inquiry-based learning. In HOT Questions, students scanned QR codes with iPads and different images prompted their responses using reflection, drawing or their imagination. After seeing an image of a repurposed piano, students were instructed to draw their own unique repurposed piano. After an image prompt of Moroccan goats standing in the trees, students had to form hypotheses about how or why they were there. Imagery of a hurricane was followed by the question: if evacuating, what would you take with you?
In Marvelous Machines, students built a Rube Goldberg machine, a contraption over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion, often including a chain reaction. Students worked in groups of eight over 3-4 sessions. The first radical instructions they were given: expect failure. Students had to work together deciding on a task and then design a machine to complete it. They had to keep trying, problem solving and brainstorming, over and over again.
“They are getting better at working together. We have to teach them how to do it, and they have to work at it,” Lustic said. “It’s good to work with another person and they practice listening to a different perspective.”
Shared experiences are powerful
Beyond reinforcing science, reading, math and other academic basics, Canterbury’s Creative Arts program offers an incredibly unique educational asset. According to the program instructors, Creative Arts is one of the only experiences where students from every age and grade level gain the same knowledge and do the same activity, in roughly the same time period. That time period is important, too. Repetition leads to mastery. Regular participation in Creative Arts not only helps individual students think more critically, it builds connections among students, and fosters a stronger community.
Bergsen summed up the essence of the Creative Arts program perfectly, saying, “working collaboratively across disciplines means students get the opportunity to learn without the artificial boundaries of subject area.” Just like real life.
To watch more videos of the Creative Arts activities in action, visit the Canterbury website.