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Arts-based Learning and Community Building Practices

Instruction

There is a certain emphasis I have experienced as an outdoor educator on the importance of community. Maybe it is the setting in which this type of learning takes place, or possibly the influence of the field itself, but the forest, in my case, lends itself to discussing community. When my group of students and I gather along the edge of a trail on our first day together, we are not forming a community among four walls, but a community amidst a larger ecological context. This year, I focused on using the practice of arts-based teaching and learning to help build community amongst my groups of fourth through sixth graders. In an interview in 2017 in Sciart Magazine, Harvey Seifter describes Arts Based Learning and Teaching as, “...the instrumental use of artistic skills, processes, and experiences as educational tools to foster learning in non-artistic disciplines and domains” (Ferguson, J., 2017). As an artist and science teacher, I find myself integrating not only the artistic practices I know well and enjoy, but the thinking practices that are cultivated in the arts. In the context of this lesson, how watercolor images can be used represent the qualities each of my students brings to our field group.

Incorporating some of this research into my practice, I decided to use my understanding of the practice of arts-based teaching and learning for community building. As a residential environmental educator, I receive a new group of 10-12 student each week. I find the use of community agreements to be essential to a successful week in the field and am continuously thinking of how I can improve my process in this area. This week, I choose a visual arts integration to help my students express the qualities that they were bringing to the group. This idea was loosely based off of a deck of feeling cards I have used in the past. The cards have images on one side and words on the other. I typically place the images face up after team building in the center of our debrief circle as a way to help students tap into the emotions they experienced during the activity. Students can select an image and explain how they felt. I began to wonder if my students could make their own images.

I began this teaching week with my new group of students by having them participate in a solo walk along a path, as the students arrived at the end of the trail one by one every three minutes or so, they were asked to journal about a positive quality they were bringing to the group. Once all students arrived and had time to journal on the prompt, I handed out small pre-cut squares of watercolor paper. I asked them to represent their positive quality as an image; I had created an example of a coy fish. I told them I would explain later what it meant to me, but I wanted them to do the same. For a few students, representation was a difficult leap in understanding. I presented them with several modifications, one being to select a color that represented the quality, the second, to write the quality in words, then watercolor it. All students were able to successfully participate.

CommunityAgreement TextThe next day, I glued all the images into a circle on a large piece of paper. As students went around and shared what their image represented, I traced the conversation between each speaker. The web represented between all of us that week, represented the strength we have together as a community. The middle of the web was filled with words that defined teamwork. I used the agreement each morning as a tool for goal setting. Students selected one word as their goal for the day. At the end of each day, we debriefed our goals and how we accomplished them.

When thinking about why the incorporation of visual arts was valuable in this lesson, I think about how that week felt with those students. Team building and by virtue of that, teamwork, was very challenging for this group, but individual strengths were mentioned by students in each activity we did. The students recognized that each member brought something different to the community. Additionally, I saw an initial deeper understanding on an individual level from each student as to what quality they were bringing to the group. In comparison, I have had groups select a positive quality without representing it visually and struggle explaining why they choose the quality they did, or what quality to choose. The above experience furthers my belief that the arts helps us as humans make sense of the world around us, help us understand ourselves, and help us represent that knowledge for others.

 

References
Ferguson, J. (2017, February). Art as a means to scientific discovery: the work of Harvey Seifter
and the art of science learning. Sciart magazine. Retrieved from sciartmagazine.com

 

There is a certain emphasis I have experienced as an outdoor educator on the importance of community. Maybe it is the setting in which this type of learning takes place, or possibly the influence of the field itself, but the forest, in my case, lends itself to discussing community. When my group of students and I gather along the edge of a trail on our first day together, we are not forming a community among four walls, but a community amidst a larger ecological context. This year, I focused on using the practice of arts-based teaching and learning to help build community amongst my groups of fourth through sixth graders. In an interview in 2017 in Sciart Magazine, Harvey Seifter describes Arts Based Learning and Teaching as, “...the instrumental use of artistic skills, processes, and experiences as educational tools to foster learning in non-artistic disciplines and domains” (Ferguson, J., 2017). As an artist and science teacher, I find myself integrating not only the artistic practices I know well and enjoy, but the thinking practices that are cultivated in the arts. In the context of this lesson, how watercolor images can be used represent the qualities each of my students brings to our field group.

Incorporating some of this research into my practice, I decided to use my understanding of the practice of arts-based teaching and learning for community building. As a residential environmental educator, I receive a new group of 10-12 student each week. I find the use of community agreements to be essential to a successful week in the field and am continuously thinking of how I can improve my process in this area. This week, I choose a visual arts integration to help my students express the qualities that they were bringing to the group. This idea was loosely based off of a deck of feeling cards I have used in the past. The cards have images on one side and words on the other. I typically place the images face up after team building in the center of our debrief circle as a way to help students tap into the emotions they experienced during the activity. Students can select an image and explain how they felt. I began to wonder if my students could make their own images.

I began this teaching week with my new group of students by having them participate in a solo walk along a path, as the students arrived at the end of the trail one by one every three minutes or so, they were asked to journal about a positive quality they were bringing to the group. Once all students arrived and had time to journal on the prompt, I handed out small pre-cut squares of watercolor paper. I asked them to represent their positive quality as an image; I had created an example of a coy fish. I told them I would explain later what it meant to me, but I wanted them to do the same. For a few students, representation was a difficult leap in understanding. I presented them with several modifications, one being to select a color that represented the quality, the second, to write the quality in words, then watercolor it. All students were able to successfully participate.

CommunityAgreement TextThe next day, I glued all the images into a circle on a large piece of paper. As students went around and shared what their image represented, I traced the conversation between each speaker. The web represented between all of us that week, represented the strength we have together as a community. The middle of the web was filled with words that defined teamwork. I used the agreement each morning as a tool for goal setting. Students selected one word as their goal for the day. At the end of each day, we debriefed our goals and how we accomplished them.

When thinking about why the incorporation of visual arts was valuable in this lesson, I think about how that week felt with those students. Team building and by virtue of that, teamwork, was very challenging for this group, but individual strengths were mentioned by students in each activity we did. The students recognized that each member brought something different to the community. Additionally, I saw an initial deeper understanding on an individual level from each student as to what quality they were bringing to the group. In comparison, I have had groups select a positive quality without representing it visually and struggle explaining why they choose the quality they did, or what quality to choose. The above experience furthers my belief that the arts helps us as humans make sense of the world around us, help us understand ourselves, and help us represent that knowledge for others.

 

References
Ferguson, J. (2017, February). Art as a means to scientific discovery: the work of Harvey Seifter
and the art of science learning. Sciart magazine. Retrieved from sciartmagazine.com

 

About the Author
Meredith Pentzien

Meredith Pentzien is an artist, scientist, and teacher based out of the Seattle Area. She has taught both locally and internationally as a middle school science teacher. Most recently she worked as an outdoor educator at IslandWood, a residential outdoor environmental education center, while working on her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education at University of Washington.