Tag Archives: Boston Trip

Lessons from Boston Continuing to Resonate

Students at the "Innovation and Invention Camps" in Bedford (left) and Solon (right) experiment with materials as they create chain reaction sculptures.

Students at the “Innovation and Invention Camps” in Bedford (left) and Solon (right) experiment with materials as they create chain reaction sculptures.

This summer I am teaching a series of what we’re calling “Imagination and Invention Camp: Creating Chain Reaction Sculptures” at Cuyahoga County Public Library branches. The programs have been the ideal platform to apply what was learned in Boston during our recent professional development trip. These camps are a continued evolution of an 8th grade kinetic sculpture residency that I taught this past school year. This summer, we are enhancing the work of the program by guiding students into incorporating  Scratch and Lego WeDo hardware into their kinetic sculptures.

After conversations during our Boston trip with administrators and students at the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) and directors at The Tinkering Studio, I have been inspired to observe my students on a more frequent basis and provide them with time to experiment void of adult influence. It was incredibly inspiring when a high school student at BAA explained how she formulated her own service project, followed through with its implementation, and completed it with the support, but not leadership, of educators. It was apparent that she had pride in her work, which was obviously a result of her initiative and hard work paying off in a real-world scenario. The importance of this self-guided learning time was also prevalent in the videos that The Tinkering Studio directors shared with us at MIT. It is in my nature to want to jump in and “help” students who are “stuck” by providing ideas, working out sketches with them, and suggesting materials to use. This will always have a place in my teaching, but I have pushed myself to allow students this summer to explore more of their own ideas, make decisions, test them, succeed (or fail) and make iterations. I have found it challenging and rewarding to provide this space and time. This summer,  I have observed students gaining a better understanding of their social dynamics within a working group. I have been inspired by students’ work and have been able to determine additional examples that may be helpful to share, what challenges and excites them, and what intimidates them. This information has empowered me to be a more successful educator, providing opportunities as opposed to solutions.

During our Imagination and Invention Camps, we present students with design challenges.  This work has allowed students to gain a sense of personal responsibility to their project, learn that knowledge can be gained through failure, and begin forming bonds with other camp attendees. As an educator, I’m able to see which students have previous experience constructing an object they’ve designed, which need more assistance using tools, which need to be pushed to experiment with materials they are unfamiliar with, and which groups should be combined to make strong final project teams. I’m looking forward to further implementing the lessons I learned on our Boston trip, along with the types of design challenges we’ve developed this summer, into the residencies that I will teach this fall in our Cleveland Metropolitan School District partner schools.


Filed under Artist-Educator Experimentation, Professional Development, Summer Programs

PAA in Boston: Growth through Conversation and Collaboration

There comes a point during the creative process where it is absolutely impossible to look at one’s own work from different perspectives. It is at this point that outside opinions and experience become crucial to the growth and development of the project, as well as the creator. The coming together of fresh eyes and ideas is how innovation occurs. With this is mind, together with a team of my PAA colleagues, we traveled to Boston, Massachusetts in search of like-minded creators and educators to help inform the work of our arts integration lab and to share with them insights from our recent work. We were certainly not disappointed by the incredible range of artists, inventors, and scholars who participated in our conversations and we were excited that the work we have been innovating was so well received.

I was particularly struck by our meeting with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Representatives from The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco also joined our conversation. We were given the opportunity and time to share our work, and to compare the Maker movement with that of successful arts-integration. We ended our brain-storming session by collaborating with our MIT and Tinkering Studio colleagues and making our own Scratch Lego WeDo kinetic sculptures. Through collaborations, failures, and successes, there were soon sculptures made from Legos and Makey Makeys scattered across the table. Though the sculptures varied in many ways, they all displayed elements related to the senses: sound, touch, and visual effects resounded throughout the room. The video above is from my experiment!

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Experimenting with Natalie Rusk and Eric Schilling in the Media Lab at MIT.


I left the Media Lab with a renewed sense of purpose, full of inspiration and ideas for future projects and residencies in PAA’s partner schools. I have been comparing this productive atmosphere to our brief sessions with students, and I cannot help but wonder what we could do to encourage more of this imaginative thinking. In order to make arts-integration more successful, we need extended time within the classroom. Students need time to fail, to learn from that failure, and to succeed. They need time to understand the various media we provide, and to experiment with them.

Educators need time as well, to encourage these innovations; time to collaborate with other artists, and to develop new ideas and processes. During a meeting with Harvard’s Agency by Design member Edward Clapp, he mentioned his “STEAM with stickers” concept. This refers to making something educational, and adding “decorations” for the art portion of the work. In order to promote truly artistic making and collaborative learning, and to avoid the “STEAM with stickers” stigma, extended time in the classroom is necessary for high quality arts integration.

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Filed under Artist-Educator Experimentation, Arts-Integration, Professional Development

Keywords: Agency and Diligence

The PAA artist-educator team arrives at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA.

The PAA artist-educator team arrives at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA.

There are hundreds of things I could write about in regards to the trip our team from Progressive Arts Alliance took to Cambridge, MA this past month. Things like how inspiring the Boston area was, what it felt like to be at MIT and Harvard (the big dogs), or given such little time, how much was accomplished. However, I would like to focus on the effect of one conversation in particular as I think it clearly elicits the quality of information gained on this trip.

On Thursday our PAA team met with Edward Clapp, a member of the Agency by Design team that is part of Harvard’s Project Zero.  During our conversation, we had a chance to cover a few topics, but two things really stuck with me. The idea of having and creating agency among students, and being diligent in that creation of agency. As an artist-educator for Progressive Arts Alliance, I take on the the challenge of developing new residencies to lead in Cleveland schools. Though this might sound slightly ridiculous, the biggest challenge I face in developing these projects (and I think many of the other artist-educators face a similar one) is the question “Could this really happen?”

After talking to Edward at length about what PAA is doing, what we have done, and about the results and personal inferences gained from my projects I came to a firm conclusion:

Testing the boundaries of what is realistic, what isn’t, and what might seem insane is what makes the PAA experience amazing. Allowing myself to be vigilant, to not make the project easier, to expect a high quality result in each of these residencies has not only noticeably increased confidence in many of my students, but has also helped them to find new voices and agency in those voices. Striving towards something that may seem impossible today will be among the first steps to making it a reality in the future.


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Filed under Artist-Educator Experimentation, Arts-Integration, Professional Development

Trip to Cambridge Brings Clarity and Purpose

Boston Arts Academy STEAM Lab

The STEAM Lab at Boston Arts Academy.


I returned to Cleveland from our trip to Boston and Cambridge, MA inspired and with a new perspective. Three lessons were woven throughout all of our conversations we had with colleagues and experts in the field from including those with Edward Clapp at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and Nettrice Gaskins, STEAM Lab Director at Boston Arts Academy.

These lessons include:

1. The process is essential to problem-based learning, and in turn, to real life applications. It is important that this is not lost despite our culture’s demand for product.

2. Staying true to our mission is key. It can be easy to stray when there is a path of less resistance, more funding, or a quicker ‘fix,’ but we must maintain and act upon a clear vision of why we are working in the field of arts integration.

3. We must be vigilant and open to adjustments. From noticing how a student learns and applying it to instruction to being aware of and controlling inflections in my voice to maintain the teaching persona that I seek to embody. Great discoveries may happen at any moment, and without adjustments those discoveries are rendered worthless.

These lessons are simple in theory, but complex to fully implement. I have been focusing on these goals within my teaching and art practice.

There have been several times when I have made adjustments to my actions when students didn’t follow directions. Instead of telling them that their technique was wrong and providing the given instructions again, I informed them of when their technique may be useful and what results it may render prior to guiding them back to the assigned task. I have been trying to honor the process of experimentation within the constraints of time, so that students create new paths of discovery and artistic expression as opposed to me putting up roadblocks for them when they stray from the path that I have outlined.

Since our trip, I have tried to be as vigilant as possible to fully internalize the strengths and learning habits of individual students, especially those who struggle with directions or the comprehension of content. Oscillating between serving a whole class and individual students is something that I continue to push myself to improve on, as I know it is one area I have room for growth.


Filed under Artist-Educator Experimentation, Professional Development