Tag Archives: making

The Force and Motion of Life

As an Artist Educator, my goal is to deepen the learning experience for students and educators through engaging and innovative project-based learning residencies. In these residencies the scholars participate in hands-on learning experiences that provide opportunities to learn and practice transferable skills. They develop and nurture critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills. These skills not only enhance comprehension of the content from their academic classes, but they also apply to their lives outside the classroom.

Design plans for a chain reaction sculpture.

This fall, PAA organized a kinetic sculpture residency hosted at think[box], Case Western Reserve University’s innovation center.  The goal of this collaboration was to integrate the middle school science curriculum content standard into an experiential learning workshop, including content focused on force and motion. Five schools participated, serving approximately 150 students over a one week intensive residency.  Each scholar participated for two full school days in designing and building chain reaction kinetic sculptures at think[box].  Experiential learning opportunities like this provide avenues for students to explore force and motion in a hands-on way; enhancing their ability to incorporate theory into real life examples. Students worked in teams to collaboratively plan out their design based on the materials provided, thinking critically about the relationship between the material and the science.  They continually learned from their mistakes and tested out new methods and materials to come up with creative solutions.

Construction phase

Construction phase at the think[box].

These innovative residencies also provided invaluable teachable moments. I observed instances where the students referenced their own perceived abilities related to force and motion. Many students struggled with their self confidence in their ability to build a working chain reaction sculpture. In particular, one student struggled to recognize her own potential.  At the beginning, she expressed to me that she identified as being “stupid.”  I explained to her that what we are capable of is often determined by our mindset.  With coaching and encouragement she built up the self-esteem to participate in the project. Metaphorically, she is a ball at the top of a ramp filled with potential energy and the support we provide as instructors is the gravitational force that allows the ball to roll down the ramp and change into kinetic energy.  The hands-on learning of force, motion, and chain reaction became a relevant metaphor for her own lack of self-confidence transforming into kinetic energy.

Completed kinetic sculpture

Completed kinetic sculpture

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Lighting Up the Libraries

working with paper

PAA Artist-Educator Ben Horvat (right) works with a student at a recent wearable technology workshop at the Gates Mills branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

This fall Progressive Arts Alliance has teamed up with the Cuyahoga County Public Library to host a series of wearable technology workshops. Students learn the basic physics of circuits, fiber optics, and the almost endless applications of paper as a material, all while making something that is personally useful to them. It is amazing to see what the students can come up with after just a short 35-55 minute demonstration on LEDs, fiber-optics, and paper-craft. Some have created awesome props like jetpacks, a light disk (like from TRON) and one of my personal favorites, a woven paper constellation map where the ends of the fiber-optics acted as stars. It it wonderful and inspiring to watch these creations unfold.


As a practicing artist and designer who makes technology-integrated reactive clothing and costumes, it has been eye opening to see  the students realize their ideas quickly and unhindered by overly complicated things. As my practice has been refined and has become more of a repeating process than exploration, it is sometimes hard to keep the work fresh and original. Seeing how carefree and fun these mini-projects are for the students reminds me that there needs to be playfulness in making. One has to be able to explore with materials, test, try, and remake until they find something worth putting hours and hours of process into. In the same way I act as a guide for the students through their learning of the technical aspects of making, the students act as a reminder for me about the joys of art making and what originally inspired me to become an artist.

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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

Exploring Conductive Creativity in the Informal Classroom

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Experimenting with LEDs with a student at the Southeast Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

Winter can be a cold, harsh season here in Cleveland. To get everyone out of the house and into creativity, my colleagues and I have been teaching Conductive Creativity workshops at the Cuyahoga County Libraries over the past several months. These workshops focus on teaching students how to make an LED circuit and how to create a piece of art in the form of a light box. We provide them with all of the materials, give them a brief introduction to circuits, and let them explore. As a fine artist in the education field, it is incredibly fascinating to observe my students as they explore and create with artistic and scientific media that I am just beginning to understand. The freethinking attitudes present in these workshops contribute to communication, as well as innovation amongst peers, students, and teachers alike.

One student's light box.

One student’s light box.

There is such inspiration to be found in the informal classroom. In our most recent workshop, I gave students a variety of multicolored plastic film, LEDs, and foil, with which to decorate their light boxes. Students gravitated towards the various supplies, creating light boxes that I would never have visualized. They were all unique, despite having the same initial box and circuit structure. For example, two sisters of similar ages participated in the Middleburg Heights Library workshop. One sister gravitated towards the visuals, creating elaborately decorated light boxes with only a few circuits. The other went on to create an elongated series circuit, choosing to focus entirely on the electronics and the LEDs. It was exciting to see two dissimilar and opposite projects come from two very alike individuals.

Lighting up LEDs is always exciting.I try to encourage advanced students to assist their peers during the making process. At one point, I began noticing that when one student struggles with his or her circuit, another student will instinctively offer assistance. This exchange of knowledge and seamless collaboration and experimentation is something that has naturally occurred in the Conductive Creativity workshops, and it is something I wish to perpetuate in all of the programs I facilitate at Progressive Arts Alliance.


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Filed under After-School Programs, Artist-Educator Experimentation, May 15 feature

Shining a Light on Social Issues


A student demonstrates their light box projector.

During the fall 2014 semester, I worked with the 7th grade at Orchard STEM School.  This residency project was my first “solo” residency that I completed with Progressive Arts Alliance. It was a learning experience for both the students and myself. When developing this project I thought back to when I was in 7th grade. What were the worries or struggles that I dealt with? I couldn’t think of anything specific, but I knew that when I was twelve I began to express myself in many different ways. I found the music that I liked, I grew my hair out, and I actively made decisions between doing one thing or another. The theme was expression. Students at the end of middle school are beginning to find the things that make them, well, them. Often with this new found expression there are many problems, almost like riding a bike for the first time, or learning to swim. The learning curve is a bit steep and can be dangerous, but once you learn how to do these things effectively, they can literally save your life. The ability to effectively express yourself is no different, and can be used to help more than just one or two people.

I decided that each student would make a lightbox projector. These lightboxes, when illuminated, shine a super bright LED through a plexiglass etching of a collage that each student developed around a social issue of their choosing. Some students made imagery about bullying and ending violence, others questioned why we accept advertising but not graffiti, or why is there even such an idea as gender inequality.


Students’ etchings they created around social issues.


Each student crafted their own box. This included soldering a series circuit composed of a battery pack, an LED, a resistor, and a switch, which allow the light boxes to be turned on and off. They each assembled the components of the boxes together using wood glue and hot glue, making sure that the LED would project clearly through the etching in front of it. Each student also had the opportunity to manually etch a piece of real glass using acid.


Students collaborated to construct their boxes. The wood for the boxes was laser cut at the think[box] at Case Western Reserve University.

Along with the making side of things, the 7th graders also did an amazing job at grasping the concepts of image, narrative, and installation art, and how they interrelate.


Examining a finished box in class.


In the second semester, there will be a day in which all of the lighboxes will be installed and the school will have the opportunity to see these expressions of the 7th graders and raise awareness around the social issues each student addressed.


Projecting our completed light boxes onto the classroom ceiling.


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