Prism.K12: We get to be the artist!

From October 2019 through February 2020, teachers from Maryland and DC participated in an arts integration course offered by the University of Maryland and The Phillips Collection. “Connecting to the Core Curriculum” provides PK-12 educators with the opportunity to blend the visual arts seamlessly into the core curriculum, using The Phillips’s Prism.K12 arts integration strategies and resources. The course culminated in an exhibition of student artwork Energizing Education: Teaching through the PRISM of Arts Integration, on view through April 5, 2020. Teacher Kory Sutherland shares her experience in the course.

I found out about The Phillips Collection’s Arts Integration class through an email that I almost didn’t open. I’m so glad I did because “Connecting to the Core Curriculum: Building Teacher Capacity for Arts Integration with Prism K-12” is a gem of a class that I can’t speak highly enough about. Co-taught by Hilary Katz of the Phillips and Kenna Hernly of the University of Maryland, the class is designed to support teachers in teaching with and through the arts. The group of teachers in this year’s cohort represented a wide range of subjects, grades, and abilities, from PreK through high school. Together we learned how to use art as an entry to other subjects by exploring the Phillips’s galleries, reading articles, and creating lessons. We practiced slow looking techniques, made blackout poetry, tried blind contour drawing, and, my favorite, we created stop-motion animation videos. With this time and guidance we were able to better understand what arts integration is, what resources are available, and how we can best bring these exciting techniques to our own classrooms.

Kory Sutherland (right) with other UMD-Phillips Prism.K12 participants learn how to use stop-motion animation. Photo: Travis Houze

I’m a teacher at Temple Emanuel’s Early Childhood Center in Kensington, Maryland, so I don’t fit into the target demographic for the class. For my students the languages of painting, building, and sculpting often come more easily than spoken language. We are a Reggio Emilia-inspired school, so my students have a lot of practice representing their thoughts visually. Incorporating art into an early childhood setting is a natural fit but this class helped me to elevate our learning to another level. When I showed my three-year-old students the work of contemporary artist John Grade, they were eager for more. Looking at Grade’s work Middle Fork, a 150-foot replica of a Western Hemlock tree, we found the values of collaboration, teamwork, and care of the natural environment. After learning about how Grade and his team worked together, we used Prism.K12 strategies Connect and Express to create our own large-scale sculpture of wooden blocks, “A Gathering Place for Foxes.” Through the process of building we measured tree stumps, wondered if wood is alive or had blood, learned about foxes, and imagined what animals would need to feel comfortable and happy in an environment designed for them. The children ended up expressing their ideas by adding snacks, internet, and plumbing to the structure, as well as places “for animals to play and be cozy.” My students envisioned the structure, problem-solved, and then brought it to life, inviting other children, teachers, and parents to help along the way. A students said, “We’re working like the artist! We get to be the artist!” This is the kind of connection that I’m looking forward to seeing more of as I continue my arts integration path. I can hardly wait to continue my class’s study of trees and forests by introducing them to other artists.

A Gathering Place for Foxes created by Temple Emanuel’s Early Childhood Center students

For my colleagues with older students, an interdisciplinary approach to teaching is less common. Throughout the 12-week class I loved hearing about the range of projects they came up with. To name a few examples, students learned about dance, math, architecture, fashion, heroes, and family history. At one point, a classmate remarked that using art to teach AP World History changed the entire mood of his class, taking pressure off of his students while not sacrificing any of the rigor of the lesson. Another classmate described the pure delight of her students as they worked together to build robots and write code to make them draw in novel ways. Giving students an opportunity to work collaboratively was a benefit that many of the teachers described as an unexpected bonus to their projects, encouraging communication and mutual respect. To me, the examples of my colleagues show the promise of what art can do to spark teaching that is dynamic, engaging, and inclusive. I’m proud of what we achieved together and I hope you enjoy the richness of our community exhibition. 

A Gathering Place for Foxes created by Temple Emanuel’s Early Childhood Center students

A Gathering Place for Foxes created by Temple Emanuel’s Early Childhood Center students

One thought on “Prism.K12: We get to be the artist!

  1. Wonderful write-up about our experience taking this class. Thank you for sharing in detail the process your class of 3-year olds used to create their masterpiece!

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