I love when teachers change school from, “maybe someday I’ll be able to do that”, to “I can do that, I might even be able to do better”.
Some of the art teachers in the district use Art Sonia (artwork created from kids around the world can be shared and enjoyed by everyone). It can be a lot of extra work, but also has some advantages. Here we see one of our great art teaches showing students how to connect clay together.
Last year when doing a similar project she would show students pictures of clay gargoyles to stimulate ideas. This year she also searched gargoyles on ArtSonia and used shared student work with her students. The conversation changed from, “I’ll probably never make a gargoyle in real life”, to “I can make something like that.”
The skills learned in Art are of course transferable. The facility to use pens and other tools in art help us to concentrate more on what we are writing and less on how to write. As we practice coloring, drawing, writing letters, words, and finally sentences all of these skills combine to form writing. A higher level skills that allows us to think.
While everyone knows that art is useful in education, it is very hard to quantify just how important, The science of learning is slowly evolving. The research is slow and often disregarded as lacking in rigor.
The gold standard in research is generally considered a double blind study of a large and representative population. Think of a large drug study where thousands of volunteers of various ages and backgrounds who all have the same ailment. Half the people take the drug being tested and half take a placebo and nobody knows who gets what until after the test is completed. The results are carefully considered and written about, then completely different groups do a similar studies. Finally, if they all get the same or similar results we can say this drug works.
Education is not like that. No two teachers are the same, even if they are asked to read a script exactly the same there are so many variables, like; class size, testing schedules, home life, nutrition, personality, mix of students, etc… that the results almost always end up as inconclusive or a very small effect, over time. At least that has been my impression as I periodically check in on the What Works Clearinghouse.
That doesn’t stop research of course. Lately (past 10 years or so) there seems to have been more of a push to look at underlying human functions and design learning based on that “brain” research. This isn’t new really, B. F skinner built and sold learning machines in the late 50’s and early 60’s and he wasn’t the first to think of it. According to Audrey Watters many of the technology revolutionaries today are just repeating these past mistakes.
All that being said and done, there are some generalities we can say about effective teaching.
- When students care about an activity they do better.
- When we create we are more involved and tend to learn more
- We put more effort when we know our peersare going to be looking at our work
- Parents and teachers don’t count
- There is a zone of proximal development ( Lev Vygotsky ). If the activity is too easy we don’t learn anything, but if it is too hard we give up before getting the chance to learn.
- This has less to do with the material and more to do with how it is presented and supported. We regularly present advanced; language arts, science, and sometimes math at appropriate levels for students.
What does this mean in the classroom?
Here are three examples from this week.
Some student work I found on the copier.
When students ask about us, and they always do, don’t be afraid to share. I have no picture, but I walked into a classroom on Wednesday and the teacher was cutting up grapefruit she brought back from Florida, which led to a quick impromptu lesson on fractions.
Use technology to help create not practice. On Thursday at the middle school we talked about using Google Presentation to create vocabulary lists.
Try this method of creating flashcards. (Can be individual, small group, or whole class)
- Students create one slide with the word
- Students create a second slide with a picture and definition
- Put a cool transition between the slides
- Put a cool transition before the definition comes up (so the picture is kind of like a clue)
Students can search the web for the picture or they could use Google Draw to create the picture, or even draw the picture by hand and upload it to the slide.
After this activity is done students who need extra practice can be asked to upload the best definitions and pictures to your favorite flashcard web 2.0 tool. So that everyone can use them to study and quiz each other.