Archive for April, 2012


Sharing Wisdom

April 30, 2012

Teacher ArtExchange 11 jan

If you belong to list-servs or participate in chat rooms or any other online communications you are aware of the benefits. I am on an list-serv from the Getty Foundation called Teacher ArtExchange. In the many years I have belonged I have only posted a couple of times but I am always reading what others post and learn a great deal.

Over a year ago a conversation was started on a situation that many arts teachers are familiar with involving choices that high school students often have to make around course selections and decisions on their future. The wisdom provided by a veteran teacher stuck with me. Marvin Bartel responded from his wisdom of many years of teaching experiences. He had what I call the helicopter view. Sometimes when I am stumped I go up into my helicopter and take the big or long view to help me solve the problem before me.

Thank you to Marvin for sharing his wisdom and giving me permission to include his message in this blog post. Marvin is a writer, artist, and retired art teacher. You can learn more about Marvin at or (Art and Learning to Think and Feel).

The original email from an art teacher to provide the context:

This student is an easy shoo-in for any art school with regard to her seamless technical abilities.  It is her creativity that I want to spark.  She has been ‘won-over’ by the science department, but clearly would be wasting a God-given gift. While I know there are integrated art/science opportunities, I steadily and perhaps not-so-subtly, I hope to offer her some ‘wow’ art challenges and experiences.

Marvin’s response:

As an art teacher, it is certainly appropriate to be an advocate for our own discipline and choice in life. Few others can argue the case for art in the world better than we can.

It feels disappointing, but I try to ask them questions to find out their motivations. If they feel they have ability, they may need to see if they find a passion in science. I affirm their art ability, but encourage them to try the other field. When we are young we owe it to ourselves to explore enough to find our strongest passions and purposes. While I want to help them understand the pros and cons of being an artist, I am also believe it is crucial to have real passion for what they decide to do.

Creative art experimentation and discovery learning in art does offer a lot of mind building advantages needed in science. While you can be a good lab assistant in science by being a smart and careful technician, real scientists have to have strong divergent thinking abilities. Without creativity and innovation, they are doomed to be technicians who wash the test tubes and clean up behind the actual scientists. In many labs, the actual scientists are doing the thinking while the assistants are doing all the work.

A scientist at MIT tells me that his grad students are very smart and technically capable, but when they get an unexpected result, they are slow in their ability of figure out what they have discovered. He says their greatest need is to become more creative. A scientist at Rice U. tells me that when her grad students get unexpected results they mistakenly assume that they have made a mistake, so they repeat the lab work only to get the same unexpected result (wasting years of work). She says their science classes in high school and college have not given them practice in making discoveries. They have learned to be careful to avoid mistakes, but not how to learn from mistakes. They lack the imagination and creativity to see their own discoveries when they happen. She says they waste time and energy because they have not learned to actually experiment. Their science classes assigned them lab work where they already knew the answers before they did the lab work.

It is easy to be critical of science education, but did these science students have enough art teachers that challenged them to be creative, or did their art teachers also show them the examples before they did the project? Did their art teachers require them to learn to observe and express their own experiences, observations, and imaginations; or did their art teachers allow them to copy?

And thank you to San D Hasselman, Retired art teacher, Artist, and Puppeteer with links at and San’s response to Marvin’s point:

A good percentage of my puppetry students, and my gifted and talented students (when I taught that many moons ago) were planning on going into the sciences. My classes were the first class they had that didn’t have definitive “look ’em up” answers, but required that they be creative in their problem solving. Not only did they succeed in the classes, but there was a certain amount of joy in the “tackling” of the work we did. I would tell them constantly that the one thing that scientists and artists have in common is the search for the “truth”. I would also let them know that my husband who was a research scientist and I would draw circles, he using a compass, and I, using just my hand. We would cut them out and lay one atop the other. They would be the same. The circles were the “truth”. (of course then they would make me prove I could draw a circle freehand, which then became like a parlor trick).

This conversation points to the importance of having the conversation with colleagues about what each content provides all students. Not just individually but collectively, integratively, and thoughtfully!


Competency Based, Student Centered, Standards Based Education

April 29, 2012


Standards have been around for a long time but during the last (about a) year the conversation has become more serious about what that means. As I’ve said before, the ground is shifting beneath us, and the transition of education to meeting the needs of all students is more focused.

The term standards-based, competency based, and student centered are terms that we are hearing more and more. The terms are not just for high school students but include elementary, middle, AND high schools. So, what is the different now from 1997 when the state originally adopted the standards document, Maine Learning Results? I see three differences:

  1. The Maine legislature has put in place LD 1422 which states that the graduating class will leave high school having successfully shown that they have achieved the standards. It will no longer be determined by completing each year, K-12, of schooling. Not based on seat time, but showing proficiency of meeting the standards.
  2. The Maine Department of Education recently released the strategic plan called Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First which “sets out objectives and action steps for building an education system in Maine that meets the needs of all learners, from early childhood into adulthood, and prepares them for college, careers, and civic life.”
  3. Educators who have been around a long time participating in many conversations are more than ready to take action. The Maine Coalition for Customized Learning which started as a handful of school districts working with the Reinventing Schools Coalition work is now up to 20 Maine school districts. They are working collaboratively to share and create resources to continue to move in the standards based direction. The first cohort started in July 2009.

Not to long ago I read in the news two articles that provide information on what is happening across the country with education in this standards based/proficiency based/ competency based environment. I hope you will have the time to read about our neighboring state, New Hampshire, to learn about their work in an article called N.H. Schools Embrace Competency-Based Learning written by Catherine Gewertz and published online February 7, 2012 (Education Week). And, the second article called ‘Competency’ Approach Challenges Colo. District written by Christine A. Samuels and published online March 26, 2012 (Education Week) provides a look at Adams 50 who has been working on a standards based system for several years.


Henry Reacts to Music

April 28, 2012

Video shows man in nursing home responses to music

Artist educator Karen Montanaro shared this YouTube video with me. Henry is provided with an ipod and immediately reacts Henry has while listening to music. Philosopher, Immanuel Kant once called music “the quickening art”. In this video Henry responds physically, emotionally, and verbally to the music as it appears to awaken him.


Famous People Painting

April 27, 2012

Discussing the Divine Comedy with Dante

In 2006, three Chinese/Taiwanese artists, Dai Dudu, Li Tiezi, and Zhang An created an oil painting with 103 figures from world history. If you hold your cursor over a figure you see his or her name. If you click on the figure it will take you to Wikipedia where you can access the historical information.

I can imagine building an interdisciplinary unit with the arts and social studies. The painting contains artists and musicians.

Click here for the painting.


The Science of Learning

April 26, 2012

How much is too much?

Practice makes perfect or does it help to really learn something. For a short period I gave end of unit “tests” to see if students had learned the concepts and skills related to the artwork. This was often very separate from assessing their art work.

In an article written by Annie Murphy-Paul she discusses the idea of practicing and how much it takes to really learn something, overlearn it, learning beyond mastery. Scientists are studying how the brain performs when learning something new and the continuous process of learning. I wonder how this information relates to teaching and learning in the classroom setting considering most arts educators see students for relatively short time each week. And how much impact the student who works individually “practicing”?! You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Thank you to friend and colleague Anne Kofler for sharing this article.


Maine Art Education Association Spring Conference

April 26, 2012

Creative Literacy Conference – May 5th

MAEAs spring conference at USMs Wishcamper Center, Portland campus on Saturday, May 5th, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM. Registration is $50 for members and $75 for non-members. Contact hours and CEUs are available upon request. For more information, details, and registration please go to or read about it on the Upcoming Events page found on the right side of the blog.


Waynflete Music Teacher, Jarika Olberg

April 25, 2012

Talk about the importance and value of music literacy

Jarika Olberg is a young music teacher at Waynflete School in Portland. Fortunately for us, her first concert in December 2011 was videotaped and shared on YouTube. Below is the video embedded of the first 5 minutes of the first concert. In this video you will see how Jarika starts out each of her music classes with grades 4 and 5. She also provides an example of how she includes music literacy in her instruction. It is AMAZING!


In Today’s News

April 24, 2012

Congratulations to Old Town High School Jazz Ensemble

Old Town High School Jazz Ensemble has much to be proud of! Over the weekend they were at Disney performing at Festival Disney in Orlando. They brought home top honors. You can read about them by clicking here and see a short video from WABI TV5 of their arrival home including their trophies! YAY!


Another Arts Teachers’ Story: MaryEllen Schaper

April 24, 2012

Featuring one teacher’s journey as an arts educator

Representative David Webster, MaryEllen, Maine Alliance Chair Elizabeth Watson

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts telling arts teachers’ stories. This series will contain a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.

MaryEllen Schaper teaches dance, physical education, adapted physical education and dance. She co-directs the Bonny Eagle Middle School Drama Club, and directs and choreographs the spring musicals for Bonny Eagle High School in SAD/RSU 6. She is responsible for about 260 students in class, and about 100 more for both drama clubs. MaryEllen is in her 36th year of teaching.

MaryEllen was on the team who developed the first set of Maine Learning Results in 1997 and she served again on the writing team for the Visual and Performing Arts 2007 Maine Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction. MaryEllen was recognized by the Maine Alliance for Arts Education this year for her many years of commitment to arts education as the recipient of the 2012 Bill Bonyun Artist/Educator Award.

What do you like best being an arts educator?

I like moving all day. I love teaching others how to use their bodies as the medium for creative expression. Sometimes as they’re working I see a “moment” that I will never see again, and I feel so honored!

Tell me what you think are three keys to ANY successful arts ed program?

  1. Skilled and knowledgeable teachers who understand and can interface the creative process, child development, and the corresponding pedagogy.
  2. Excitement about your art form and excitement about your students and their work is vital, as well as respect for the students to push them to their full potential.
  3. Community interest and support certainly help!

What specific way(s) do your assessment practices tie into the success of your program?

Primarily that my students are part of the assessment creation and implementation. I provide them with essential questions, and they decide how to answer them. We develop a rubric for good, better, and best work. The students rate themselves on their work habits and their products with justification, knowing that if I don’t agree (which is very seldom…they’re remarkably accurate!), I win. 🙂  Until the final day they can edit their work so that they turn in their best. If they want to put in the extra time to continue to refine their work (which doesn’t happen often, but it does happen), they can until the end of the quarter. This gives me more time with individual students as the students are doing  the “heavy lifting”, not me.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?

Having a cohort of people to work with who are interested  in improving learning in the arts through better assessment practices. Sharing best practices and the learning that goes along with that is so valuable. It’s wonderful knowing that I have a group ready and willing to improve as an arts educator.

What are you most proud of in your career?

That I have been able to introduce students to dance and theatre, and see them “run with it” not only as students, but often into adulthood.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

I wish I still could teach with the freedom I could 30 years ago. Kids really were the center then, and I was more able to take the time to mine their skills and creativity in a way that isn’t possible in the same manner now. Today everything is so scrutinized for unimportant things before it can even leave the launch pad, that it’s much more difficult to take the calculated creative risks that I once felt empowered and supported to take.

Apple or PC?


What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

Teaching dance to as many students K-college as I have, and making sure that dance education is always invited to the table at the local and state levels for as many years as I have has always been an ongoing accomplishment through hard work and determination. Dance isn’t valued on the same plane as other art forms. It’s cultural worth has declined precipitously in the last few generations. It presumes certain things about the dancer’s body image or sexuality that makes many uncomfortable. And no one seems to “understand” modern and post modern dance! There’s no “luck” or “circumstance” against those odds. It takes stubborn passion and the willingness to often quite literally go it alone so that my students have the opportunity to learn the joy of using their bodies as the tool to make art, and grow from that experience.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Be passionate about what you do and those you’re doing it for. Be willing to fight for that passion. There will be politics, budgets, ignorance, and sometimes isolation in your work, but focus on your purpose. Take your work with your students seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. Have a sense of humor. Make sure your life has balance. Did I mention a sense of humor?

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

$500,000 before or after taxes? (Sorry I’m writing this on Tax Day!). A half million dollars would be good seed money for an endowment to keep the arts in my school district for a long time (there are currently proposed cuts), or for an arts scholarship. It could also feed or house a lot of people, or help a lot of animals. I could help out my family. It would also make my retirement much more comfortable than it looks now. I would like to think that it would be one of the more altruistic things I’ve mentioned.

Thank you MaryEllen for taking the time to tell your story (and for always using your sense of humor in your work and play)!


Once Upon a School

April 23, 2012

Dave Eggers’ wish

A wonderful story about Dave Eggers and his journey making an impact on public schools. He asks that people become engaged in their local schools. Not an educator by training but someone who understands the value of “it takes a village”!

Please take 24 minutes and 33 seconds to view this video. Thank you to colleague Bronwyn Sale from Bates College and a member of the Maine Arts Assessment Inititiave Leadership Team for sharing this link.

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