Secrets of Arts Education in the 21st Century

Archive for the ‘passion and art’ Category

Get Ready For It

I’ve been missing my blog for quite some time. The new year seems as good a time as any to get back to this format. Watch for updates in the coming months!

At a recent 8th grade campout, students and teachers could choose to be harnessed and hiked up a pole. From this uncomfortable position (think: major wedgies), campers released a rope, propelling helmetted and harnessed humans into free-fall, followed by a wide, swinging elipse as screaming, laughing, gasping participants were gradually lowered to the kissable earth. Unlike my students, I could not compel my hands to release the rope, trusting only my harness.

Hanging by a Thread1 Hanging by a Thread2


Why Kids Need a Way to Express

Slam Poet Emily Hedgecock (my daughter) presents to a Teach for America audience.

Kids are wonderful creatures.  We often see them through the lens of our adult experience.  The novelty of life can dissipate after years of repetition.  The first trip to McDonalds is magical, the second is super fun, the third is great, but after dozens of Happy Meals and crawling through yellow plastic playground toys and running on Astroturf, the place starts to become a burger joint full of loud children and tired parents.  But when kids are in the beginning stages of discovering everything, even the most mundane experience can have appeal.  It’s one of the reasons why teaching kids how to express their feelings when faced with a new experience is so important.  It’s what creative teachers do.  This video of slam poet (and my kid) Emily Hedgecock, is one of the reasons why I support the arts in schools (besides the fact it pays my salary).  If art is a unique expression of a universal experience, then teaching kids how to share these experiences in their own way can connect kids in their shared understanding defining both themselves and their world.

From Legos to littleBits

Ayah Bdeir at TED: Building blocks that blink, beep and teach
How does approaching a complex problem with the mind of a child elicit fresh, creative, accessible new things?  Ayah Bdeir, an artist/engineer looked at Legos and was inspired to consider transistors in a new way.  I have often told my students that art is a unique expression of a universal idea.  This broadens the concept of art significantly.  If we want to inspire creative thinking, we must be willing to encourage and celebrate differentness and its contribution to the creative process.  Diversity, a buzzword for racial and gender integration, takes on powerful meaning in the world of art and education.  Diversity is a necessity for artists.  But children who are different often feel at odds with a system that rewards sameness.  I look at a classroom full of middle school kids and I sometimes wonder if teaching them how to work to a standard is one way to let them off the hook.  Kids do the minimum required rather than push for greater understanding, deeper knowledge, and personal best skill development.  Once a student recognizes the objectives of the academic game, he or she is free to play at any level.  If good grades are the goal, many savvy learners do what is required to get to the goal, but no more.  For those not interested in the game, playing at academics is boring, annoying, or off the radar.  For those who have been trained to believe their grades have some connection to an individual’s character quality, the game of school can produce paralyzing anxiety.

How do we, as educators, provide the assessments kids want without attaching them to a child’s self-worth?  This non-judgmental assessment feature is no fantasy.  Children who play video games live in a world of action assessment.  When a character dies on a video screen as a result of a lack of skill or knowledge, there is rarely a response like some I have seen in school when children do poorly on tests.  The gamer’s reaction to a lack of skill is to get better at the game whether through repetition, research, or online cheats (don’t be fooled by the name; cheats have their own learning curve).  When the expectations for schoolwork reach beyond skill building and touch the sensitive nerves around a student’s developing sense of self, there is room for reassessment of our assessment tools.

Rather than push for homogeny, we could reward new ways of thinking.  The weird girl who thinks differently will be included at lunch because the school’s environment embraces and rewards her contributions.  The weird boy who daydreams will be lured into conversations to mine his mind for unique ideas that cause an upward spiral of abstract thought in the classroom.  We have a role to play as teachers in creating an environment where divergence is no longer frowned upon but encouraged.  In fact, we now know it is this divergent thinking that creates great ideas such as Legos and littleBits.  It’s about time we stop rewarding imitation.  Let’s celebrate the weird kids and give everyone permission to reveal his or her diversity.

Research and Writing in Digitaland

George Lucas

Image via Wikipedia

Lately I have been doing a lot more researching and a lot less writing.  I apologize to my two fans who wonder what in the world has happened to me.  I want to share some of the stuff I have discovered over the next few posts so I will start with a wonderful article from Edutopia (the George Lucas Educational Foundation website for education).  The author has a lot to say about the resources available to teachers that will help us all connect in the 21st century.  While not all the ideas are pertinent to every teacher, it could inspire you to use the available resources, most of which are free, to improve the classroom experience for you students.  Enjoy:

Practical Educational Technology Tidbits

This brilliant young woman is a product of Tulsa Public Schools. I am so proud to know her. She refers to feeling stupid in her blog but she is, after all, sleep deprived and speaking Chinese. This kind of cultural exchange is only one of a dozen reasons we should encourage language learning outside the primary language. Enjoy Kendall’s adventures in China!


你们好! Hey y’all!

So it’s 8:30 PM here on Thursday. That means it’s 6:30 AM Thursday for you guys. Today was our first full day in China. I’d say it went fairly well. After waking up about 4 in the morning and then going back to sleep until about 8:30 (at which time I was still tired), we slowly started our day. The shower was actually hot this morning although as expected the water pressure was little to none. First we went and registered with the College of International Education. We are now thrice insured (by our parents, by OU, and by Minzu…yay), have a placement test tomorrow at 8:30 AM, and must be sure to leave the country by August or face fines and deportation.

Next we went to find food. We walked up and down the street outside the East Gate (东门儿). We basically chose a restaurant based…

View original post 428 more words

How to Recognize a Good Education (via The Arts Room)

Cover of "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire:...

Cover via Amazon

This post from TheArtsRoom (in Rhode Island) preaches to the choir but I think you will enjoy many of the quotes. The book mentioned in the post, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire  by Rafe Esquith, is one of my favorite teacher resources. I have a copy in my bookshelf and I ordered one for our school’s library. Enjoy the rest of the reblog!

“I soon learned a basic truth about the arts: students involved in arts education are learning about things far beyond the art they study.” -Rafe Esquith, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire This weekend marks the midpoint of summer vacation for those of us with school-age children in the house.  So, while I will continue to set aside the back-to-school Lands End catalogs and ignore the Staples ads in my inbox, there are some reminders of the fast-app … Read More

via The Arts Room

Let People Know, Arts Education Matters

Kennedy Center seen from the Potomac River.

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote an email to my state’s arts council and the education director who read it got so excited, he posted it in the newsletter.  The lesson for me is this: When we think our voice is not heard, our letters go unread or our children’s accomplishments go unnoticed, we may be wrong.  Rather than wait for the acknowledgement fairy to visit, we can all write an email to encourage an arts group, thank a teacher or influence a legislator. Trust me, what we think matters.  Here’s a reprint of the August 2011 Oklahoma Arts Council Newsletter article in its entirety:

Quality Arts Education for All Students – Why It’s Important

August 1, 2011

by Michael Eddens

Prompted by ongoing national and statewide conversations on the economy, budget cuts, and government programs, along with an emphasis on student test scores and decreased attention given arts education, I’ve been thinking about the impact (and potential impact) of arts education on Oklahoma students.

As director of arts education programs for the Council, my work involves evaluating arts education programs funded by the Oklahoma Arts Council in schools around the state. From music and theatre camps to visual art programs and innovative arts integration projects, I’ve been impressed by arts education’s power to unlock learning and greatness in young people.

Recently I was greeted by a wonderful email that speaks directly to what’s been on my mind:

Dear Michael,

My daughter, Emily is the 2011 recipient of the 2011 VSA (Very Special Arts) Playwright Discovery Award, a prestigious honor culminating in a professional production of her original work at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Emily, now a 2011 graduate, was encouraged by her drama teacher to enter the competition for plays featuring a character with a disability. Though Emily does not have a disability, she has friends who do. One friend in particular inspired Emily to write the award-winning play, “Handspeak” about a deaf girl and her developing friendship with her interpreter’s non-hearing-impaired son. The VSA representative who called Emily about her award told her it was very easy to select her play as it stood out for its excellence

Emily also won first prize last year in the local City-County Library System Young Author’s Competition with a different play about how mental health issues affect families in her updated and exploratory modern take on the Lizzie Borden tale. One of the contest judges who is also a university professor and director noted that it was the best student play he had come across in his five years directing the library plays. This is a prestigious honor for a local kid and as a proud mama I wanted to tell you!

All of my children love and participate in the arts. It’s important to their success as students. Because even with the positive things they do academically there is no way I could get them out of bed in the morning without a vibrant arts program in their school.

Sally A

Thank you so much Sally, for that story. Sally’s letter provides an example of why it’s important for us to ensure quality arts education for all Oklahoma students.

While some youth have the means by which to explore, experience, play, practice, and learn to develop their creative talents, many students are not as fortunate. And while most children may not endeavor to become an artist, Sally’s letter demonstrates the importance of students being allowed the opportunity to participate and grow in the arts should they choose. And though students may become accountants, doctors, home builders, or business managers, the skills and knowledge acquired from arts education will surely transfer to their adult lives.

Sally’s letter is also an example of how relevant arts education remains for today’s youth. This is not only an example of how youth can create great art, but also an example of the deep level of social conscience and relevance the arts can inspire. How could anyone argue against the value of such work? Any good parent would be proud to know their child, student, friend, or neighbor had communicated something artistically that could make a real difference in our world.

Overall I am most impressed with Emily’s accomplishments. I love the idea that it actually CAN be our children, Oklahoma children, who achieve things like this if we simply give them the opportunity to do so. Perhaps by preparing our children now, they’ll be equipped to do a better job of dealing with the issues with which we struggle.

Michael Eddens (Director of Arts Education Programs) joined the Council in 2008 after a ten-year career teaching visual art in the Oklahoma City Public School district. Eddens provides oversight for the Council’s school and community-based arts education grants and programs and the Teaching Artist Roster. He also provides consultation on the development of arts education programs and assistance with professional development and arts education advocacy. Michael can be reached at (405) 521-2023 or”