Category Archives: In-School Programs

Dancing into the Arts

Have you ever seen a kosher ham? We’ll, I’m it. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Bob Gralnick and I am the Curriculum and Instruction Specialist at Progressive Arts Alliance, and if given the opportunity to make a proverbial fool out of myself I am going to do so in the best possible way. Participating in dance class with young students in an effort to glean information to ramp up rigor and practices is one of those ways.

As the Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, it is my job to oversee and help build and refine the curriculum development expertise and instructional practices of PAA’s artist-educators. It is my goal, and the goal of PAA, to create rigorous learning opportunities that employ best practices in teaching that utilize an arts integration approach, and there is no better way to become acquainted with our unique program than to participate in it.

During my initial tenure, I have danced with first graders as caterpillars to demonstrate the life cycle of the butterfly. I have performed with the kindergarten pretending to be various shapes to help solidify conceptual knowledge of early geometry. I have participated during printmaking lessons focusing on diversity, biome projects utilizing Scratch coding, stop motion animation projects illustrating cell structure, and the list goes on. Whether it be integration though performing or visual arts, the experiences have provided tremendous amounts of information regarding the amazing things that the PAA brings to students of all ages, as well as providing an avenue to begin to help our artist-educators incorporate practices that will strengthen an already incredible program. Did I mention I had a whole lot of fun, too?

After our last session at a partner school, a first grader, Vicki, said to me, “I’ll miss you.” Filled with the pride and joy educators know from having such positive experiences with children, I said, “When we see caterpillars and butterflies we can think of dancing.” She smiled broadly, and I did, too.

Leave a Comment

Filed under In-School Programs, PAA News, Staff Spotlight, Uncategorized

Guest Blog Post: How Integrating Art into Math Provided Multiple Connections for Me and My Students


By: Theresa Bender, Middle School Math Educator
Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy
Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Prior to working with Progressive Arts Alliance, teaching for me was driven by state exams, academic rigor, and pacing charts. When I heard my school was adopting an arts-integration strategy, I was skeptical and extremely concerned that I would not be able to integrate art into my math class. I just didn’t know how I would blend the two concepts together and still reach the academic demands that were set by my district.

At the beginning of this school year, my school received a grant that launched our partnership with PAA. Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled for the reasons I mentioned earlier.  Yet, I knew I had no choice and needed to see this through. I was paired with Ben Horvat, one of the artist-educators from PAA. We met a few times and decided to create a unit that incorporated the Laws of Levers into a three-dimensional mobile project. Again, I was skeptical because I just didn’t see how this would help me meet my objectives and educate my students in math. I didn’t understand the vision of how all the pieces came together.

As part of the collaborative planning process with Ben, I researched how mobiles were balanced by applying the Law of Levers. Once the PAA program started in my classroom, I  worked alongside Ben and my students on the project. A short time after the project began unfolding, I reached an “ah-ha” moment – I heard my students solve multiple problems using knowledge gained from the arts-integration lesson in other lessons outside of our PAA time. The students were demonstrating to me that they were able to apply the concepts from PAA’s mobile project to other situations and I learned that the students had created connections I hadn’t expected.

In the end, I discovered many things about PAA’s arts-infused lessons I plan to incorporate in my future lesson plans. By collaborating with PAA and Ben, I reached my students in new ways providing them multiple connections to the concept. I also found that my students were engaged at a higher level, and students who normally struggled with math seemed to flourish. Finally, the permanent display of the mobiles in our school’s cafeteria created a visible sense of pride for my students and other students in our school. As a result of these outcomes, I am eager to continue my collaborative work with PAA again this semester.

To learn more about the mobile project at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy, click here to visit PAA’s YouTube channel.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Guest Blog Posts, In-School Programs

Learning From Failure: A Conversation

Artist-Educator Ben Horvat working on a circuit with a student at Hannah Gibbons STEM School during a recent residency project.

Artist-Educator Ben Horvat working on a circuit with a student at Hannah Gibbons STEM School during a recent residency project.

At the close of this fall semester, PAA Artist-Educators Ainsley Buckner, Ben Horvat, and Lauren Sammon gathered to discuss how learning from failure plays a part in their work as artist-educators and as practicing artists outside of PAA. They also reflected on how they observed students learning from failure during their work this semester in our partner schools.

One theme the group immediately came to when discussing failure is the idea of adaptability.  “I’ve learned to adjust my instruction to meet students where they are at.  Even if I’m teaching the same lesson, I know each class is going to be different,” explained Sammon. Horvat also agreed, “As an artist-educator, you have to be adaptable.  You can’t show you’re frustrated when students aren’t grasping a concept.” He added that by making lessons modular this semester, he was able to allow students to experience success when everything came together at the end.  Modular lessons (lessons that are contained to one session rather than over several weeks) also helped him manage classes where attendance from week to week was inconsistent. Horvat avoided having students feel like they were behind and failing by having a different lesson or project each session.

The group also agreed that balance in the classroom is an important part of enabling students to learn from failure. Buckner described balancing activities that allow students to experience accomplishment quickly with challenging tasks that might result in failure the first few times.  “There has to be a series of peaks and valleys in the classroom lab,” she explained.  Sammon agreed.  She described her methods of balancing time on design challenges with other activities students are comfortable with.  She also added, “One way I help to create balance in the classroom is empowering students who are succeeding to help others work through their challenges.” Buckner also mentioned that it’s important to understand how students communicate.  “I’ve learned to balance students’ frustration. If someone is acting out, it might be because they are experience difficulties and do not know how to communicate their frustration.”

In reflecting on their work over the course of this semester, each member of the group has learned a lesson that they are going to be taking with them in their personal studio practice as artists. “I’ve learned that there are different approaches to confronting failure.  As an artist, you have to decide, is this something I can fix or do I need to start over,” explained Buckner. Horvat agreed and also added that he plans to explore collaboration in his practice.  “I’ve learned that it’s important to collaborate to help clarify expectations of your work.  I’m looking forward to dividing labor to help projects succeed.  I learned that this semester.”


Leave a Comment

Filed under In-School Programs, Profesional Development

Guest Blog Post: Why Our School Chose Progressive Arts Alliance

A parent and student work on an art activity at a recent family arts meets academics night hosted by PAA at Dunbar.

A parent and student work on an art activity at a recent family arts meets academics night hosted by Progressive Arts Alliance at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy.

By: Sofia Piperis, Principal
Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy
Cleveland Metropolitan School District

This spring, our school’s faculty and administration decided that we would like to implement an arts-infused curriculum model. We saw this strategic decision as the best option to effectively engage students and to make their learning meaningful. We were also interested in differentiating our school from other schools in our Ohio City neighborhood.

We chose Progressive Arts Alliance as our partner to implement our new arts-infused model because of PAA’s comprehensive approach to arts-integration. Our team was impressed with the strategic methodology PAA implements that includes instruction that address math, science, and other core curriculum standards as well as standards in the fine arts. We were excited to bring PAA in as experts to tie the arts into the academics at our school. Our teaching staff is new to an arts-infused approach to teaching and we believe working with PAA’s professional artist-educators is the perfect way to model what high quality arts-integrated teaching and learning can look like.

As we’ve been implementing our new PAA partnership this fall, it’s been great to see how much our faculty, students, and families appreciate the access to PAA’s high quality arts learning activities. I’ve also been pleased to see how PAA’s work provides the opportunity for our students to apply their learning in the core curriculum to the artistic process. By working in an arts-integrated environment, our students are able to see how their learning in other subjects can be worthwhile in a variety of contexts. PAA has empowered our students to apply their learning and understanding in more modalities than ever before.

Dunbar sixth graders work with PAA Artist-Educator Ainsley Buckner during a recent residency workshop.

Dunbar sixth graders work with PAA Artist-Educator Ainsley Buckner during a recent workshop. The workshop was part of a PAA arts-integration residency exploring the structure of molecules through creating molecular relief models using clay and other materials.

One of the other reasons we chose PAA as our arts partner is their holistic approach to engaging the entire school community in their work. PAA has helped us involve our students’ families in our new arts-infused model. Engaging our families in this work is crucial. Parents don’t always know the depth of what students are working on in the classroom. Through hosting family programming with PAA, we have connected parents with our arts-infused curriculum. Our parents have participated in activities that have allowed them to create new art and build large-scale work side-by-side with their children. We have been pleased with PAA’s ability to better connect our families to our school curriculum.

The changing landscape of education puts a strong emphasis on standards-based performance assessments and as a result, students often don’t have an outlet for self-expression. The arts are the perfect way in which students can express themselves in a manner in which no one can say what’s “right” or “wrong.” The arts provide a platform for freedom of self-expression and bring joy back to learning and collaborating. I am pleased that my school has made access to the arts a priority for our students and we’re proud to work with PAA to transform our students’ learning experience as a result.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Guest Blog Posts, In-School Programs

Highlights from Spring Semester 2015

We’re pleased to share a selection of highlights from our Arts-Integration Partnerships in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s PreK-8 STEM Network.

Click below to see the exciting work our artist-educators collaborated on with CMSD faculty and scholars.

Leave a Comment

Filed under In-School Programs

Staff Spotlight: Ainsley Buckner

Ainsley Buckner Zoetrope Project

PAA Artist-Educator and Program Coordinator Ainsley Buckner working with third grade students to assemble a zoetrope at Orchard STEM School.

Ainsley Buckner joined the Progressive Arts Alliance full-time staff in spring 2013. In her role at PAA, she serves as both Program Coordinator and Artist-Educator. She is a visual artist who attend the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) where she majored in general fine arts and participated in MICA’s Community Arts Partnership. Her work at PAA includes overseeing the design and implementation of our programs at our partner schools and library locations as well as experimenting in the PAA lab to help test ideas and discover new methods for students to realize their artistic creations.

During the spring 2015 semester, Ainsley collaborated with two of PAA’s artist-educators to help launch new projects that our organization has not implemented in the past. We had a chance to catch up with Ainsley between running from school location to school location to discuss her recent work.

Editor: We’re excited that you’ve designed and fabricated a hydro-powered zoetrope for a third grade residency with PAA artist-educator Jen Craun at Orchard STEM School. Can you describe your process of designing and testing the zoetrope? (For more information on what a zoetrope is, click here.)

Ainsley: The challenge for my design was to use everyday materials to emphasize repurposing of materials and encourage students to think about how they could make a hydro-powered mechanism on their own. The materials I used were a CD spindle, plastic spoons, a piece of Styrofoam, modeling clay, a threaded rod, PVC pipe, a block of wood, nuts, washers, and a cooler chest. When testing out materials and designs I had to keep in mind that 3rd graders would have to be able to construct it and I needed to consider ways that I could scaffold the instruction for the students to be successful, but still leave room for exploration. The other main challenge in designing the hydro-powered zoetrope was figuring out how to change the direction of motion from vertical to horizontal. I solved this issue by using a bevel gear, which the students constructed out of two wood laser cut circles and fluted dowel pins.

Ainsley's planning sketch for the hydro-powered zoetrope project.

Ainsley’s planning sketch for the hydro-powered zoetrope project.

Editor: As you were guiding students into building the parts of the hydro-power system that you designed, what did you notice as the students engaged in the process?

Ainsley: Once the hydro-power zoetrope was complete, you could see students start to compare their hand-powered zoetrope with the energy from the water. The students developed an understanding on how the two different energies affected the motion of their zoetrope animations and which energy source is the most sustainable.  (See the zoetropes in action at the link below.)

Editor: What did you learn as an artist by going through the design process to design the zoetrope and its hydro-powered system?

Ainsley: Going through the design processes helped re-emphasize the importance of being open to learning through testing and letting my mistakes inform new iterations of the design. While building the hydro-powered mechanism with the students, I realized how important it was for me to share the steps I took and the problems I faced in the design process to deepen their understanding of how everyone can learn from their failures.

Editor: 3-D printing is a one of the current and rising trends in the growing Maker Movement. This semester you’ve worked to implement 3-D printing as part of the process of creating installation art with fourth graders at Michael R. White STEM School, in collaboration with PAA artist-educator Allison Bogard. What are some of the challenges of using 3-D printing in the elementary classroom?

Ainsley: I think one of the biggest challenges in teaching 3-D printing is having students understand how the object they’re creating exists in three planes, since they are used to working traditionally in 2-D or two-dimensional planes.

Editor: What did students learn through the process of creating a three-dimensional object? How did students react to seeing their creation come to life on the 3-D printer?

Ainsley: The students learned how to simplify the complex components of a bird’s figure into simple shapes. After breaking the body into simple shapes they were able to see how each body part of their bird informs the body as a whole. The students were very excited to see their 3-D models come to life. They were amazed by the additive sculpture method that takes place during the 3-D printing process. The printer takes plastic filament, similar to how a hot glue gun works, and heats the filament so it can be extruded as a liquid. The liquid then hardens back into a rigid plastic after seconds.

Editor: What does engaging in the process of designing and creating interactive installation art provide for students?

Ainsley: I think teaching students about interactive installation art shows students how they can not only transform a space through visual art, but also how they can inform and educate people through hands-on engagement of their audience.  (Take a peek at the link below to see the process of creating a 3-D bird.)

Leave a Comment

Filed under In-School Programs, PAA News, Staff Spotlight

News from our Artist-Educators

Why Arts Integration Matters

Progressive Arts Alliance serves over 1,300 students each week with arts-integration programs in Cleveland’s PreK-8 STEM Schools. PAA Artist-Educator Dina Hoeynck discusses how students learn how to embrace the interconnectedness of disparate subjects and more while collaborating. Discover how this work develops students’ 21st century skills by clicking below. Click Here to Read More
Scratching the Surface
PAA is collaborating with the MIT Media Lab

Last year, PAA formed a partnership with the Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group at the MIT Media Lab. Primarily our work has been collaborating in Scratch, a visual programming language for kids. This month our team of artist-educators dug more into Scratch to discover how to use the program in our residencies. Artist-Educator Jen Craun discusses a recent training program and the possibilities of Scratch. Click Here to Read More

Fall Semester Project:
Building a Wetu
Residency Connects with Native American Curriculum
PAA Artist-Educator Marcus Brathwaite discusses his design process for a 1st grade project at Orchard STEM School. He explores how the design process that was implemented failed during the first day of the program and how he iterated the implementation to yield the successful, desired result. Click Here to Read More

Leave a Comment

Filed under In-School Programs, PAA News

Kicking off 2nd Semester

design challenge

During a recent professional development session led by PAA, educators from Mound STEM School participated in a design challenge that fosters team building skills.

This month we’re kicking off second semester in our partner schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School’s PreK-8 STEM Network with a series of planning meetings and professional development sessions with our partner classroom teachers.  Among the work we are engaging in during this process is a rigorous evaluation of our residencies from the first semester.  Each faculty team at our partner schools has been working with PAA to use the Buck Institute for Education‘s eight essential elements of project-based learning to critique our work. This school year, we’re making sure each and every one of our residency experiences in our partner schools is crafted to nurture students’ voice and choice as they work in the classroom labs our artist-educators create. We’re excited that the collaborative work of our partner teachers and artist-educators puts equal weight on content standards in both the arts and  STEM subjects.  To learn more about the experience in our partner classrooms, click here.


Soldering irons are among the tools our students, artist-educators, and classroom teachers will be using during residency projects this semester. Recent professional development sessions allowed our partner classroom teachers to learn about the proper way to use a soldering iron.

Leave a Comment

Filed under In-School Programs, Profesional Development

Semester finale at our partner schools

PAA at Gibbons

1st graders from Hannah Gibbons STEM School share the work they completed with PAA during a presentation at the Great Lakes Science Center.

Our residencies in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Pk-8 STEM Schools culminated this week with an exhibition of students’ work at the Great Lakes Science Center. This semester, students used such art forms as sculpture, dance, mixed media, video production, animation, and digital photography to deepen their understanding in a wide variety of STEM content areas. Read more about the arts-integration work of our artist-educators in CMSD’s STEM Schools by visiting their blog here.


Watch the video below to see this semester’s work in action:

Leave a Comment

Filed under In-School Programs, PAA News

Fun with Families

IMG_9687Last night at Michael R. White STEM School, we hosted STEM Family Fun Night and engaged students and their families in a variety of hands-on activities that brought visual art together with geometry.  Among the activities that were offered were painting with a pendulum or harmonograph, screen printing, creating a button using a spirograph, and helping assemble a large-scale art installation by creating a platonic solid.  To learn more about our art installation, click here.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family Programs, In-School Programs