Category Archives: Guest Blog Posts

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.

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Filed under Guest Blog Posts, In-School Programs

Guest Blog Post: Learning from PAA to Build our Capacity

Librarians from the Cuyahoga County Library system worked with PAA to learn how to use tools to fabricate Rube Goldberg machines.

Librarians from the Cuyahoga County Library system worked with PAA to learn how to use tools to fabricate Rube Goldberg machines.

By: Heidi Andres,  Teen Services Librarian
Cuyahoga County Public Library,  Middleburg Heights Branch

As a librarian with over 15 years of experience working with teens in a suburban library setting, I know the types of programs parents want for their children, as well as the kinds of programs teens will most likely be interested in attending. My library system, Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL), is fortunate to have Progressive Arts Alliance (PAA) in our community to assist us in providing young library customers with innovative and engaging programs. From Scratch animation and wearable technology workshops to a variety of multi-day camps (music production, stop-motion animation, and kinetic sculpture building, to name just a few), PAA’s artist-educators have helped local youth develop an array of skills and techniques necessary to succeed in an ever-changing academic environment and job market. PAA’s programs are built on the concept of project-based learning (fostering young people’s learning processes through problem-solving and creation) as well as the importance of the arts in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programming – all concepts which dovetail perfectly with Cuyahoga County Public Library’s youth programming philosophy.

This past September, several Progressive Arts Alliance artist-educators presented two professional workshops for CCPL’s youth services staff. The topic of the first workshop was exploring circuits through creativity. Much like the sessions PAA conducts for youth, the artist-educators asked library staff to share what we already knew about the topic (conductivity), provided us with some circuitry basics, and then gave us a challenge: create a circuit which would illuminate a small LED bulb. With limited assistance from our instructors, library staff worked in pairs to incorporate what we’d learned into (usually) working circuits. Being students, as opposed to our customary roles of program facilitators, allowed library staff to experience first-hand how teens in our programs approach challenges and use problem solving skills and teamwork to create a finished project. Click below to see a video from the workshop that includes the work we completed using Chibitronics circuit stickers:

Building and designing kinetic sculptures (i.e. Rube Goldberg contraptions) was the focus of the second day’s workshop. The artist-educators provided an overview of kinetic sculptures, followed by instruction on safe ways to use tools in programs (should library staff opt to do so). CCPL staff then worked in teams to plan, draft, and build our own miniature kinetic machines – working teeter-totters. Just like the teens in library programs, final results varied, but library staff left with a better understanding of the benefits of and requirements needed to lead such a program.

Although there are more exceptions than not, library staff can sometimes seem hesitant to plan or lead STEAM programs, often due to a perceived lack of confidence in their science, engineering, and/or math abilities – there’s a reason most of us became librarians and not rocket scientists! Throughout the two workshops, PAA’s artist-educators readily shared their best practices on how library staff can conduct hands-on STEAM-related programs which allow teens to develop their presentation skills, critical thinking abilities, and self-confidence. The knowledge and guidance provided by Progressive Arts Alliance’s artist-educators during the two workshops helped library staff become more comfortable with our own abilities to continue providing these vital and necessary programs for the young people we serve.

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Filed under Guest Blog Posts, 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.

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Filed under Guest Blog Posts, In-School Programs

Guest Blog Post: PAA’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp Empowered Our Daughter to Dream Big

Guest Bloggers Ken Espenschied and Regina Jolly Espenschied of Olmsted Township with their daughter Liz following last year’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp concert performance.

By Regina Jolly Espenschied and Ken Espenschied

Like most parents, we try to find fun and intellectually stimulating summer activities for our kids. Over the years our daughter Liz has attended a variety of camps including: chess camp, science camp, string camp, and skating camp.

PAA’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp stands out among the rest. The combination of technology, visual art, music, and dance results in an exciting multi-faceted camp that encourages students to challenge themselves as individuals, helps them step out of their comfort zones, and keeps them focused as a team to create a performance experience to share with the Greater Cleveland community, all while having fun.

The camp faculty are incredible teachers who are world-class artists. They have the passion, energy, and expertise to teach young adults in a technical, yet entertaining and engaging way. The faculty consistently encourage the students to keep a strong work ethic, maintain a growth mind-set, and make a difference in the world.

We often have to pry information from our daughter about her camp activities. Hip-Hop Camp was different. Each day Liz came home excited and shared with us her activities: a visit to MOCA or think[box], new dance moves she tried to perfect, or even Skype sessions with Darryl McDaniels from Run-D.M.C. and break dancer Storm (all the way from Germany).

Attending Hip-Hop Camp was a unique and meaningful experience for our daughter. The welcoming environment, honest feedback, and ability to work in small groups with seasoned professionals empowered her to dream big and feel that she can achieve any goal that she sets.

Get the latest news about this year’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp by signing up for our mailing list here.


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Filed under Guest Blog Posts, Hip-Hop, Summer Camps

Guest Blog Post: PopMaster Fabel on Creating and Dancing in Scratch

Legendary hip-hop dance pioneer PopMaster Fabel recently joined us for our weekend workshop on President’s Day in which students from our RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp learned how to use MIT’s Scratch programming language to code a dance animation. The workshop was a part of PAA’s partnership with the Scratch Team. Read more about the partnership here. Below are PopMaster Fabel’s reflections on participating in the process and creating his own dance animation.

PAA students with hip-hop dance pioneer Popmaster Fabel during a recent workshop in which students learned how to use Scratch to code dance animations. Photo by Jared Akerstrom.

PAA students with hip-hop dance pioneer PopMaster Fabel during a recent workshop in which students learned how to use Scratch to code dance animations. Photo by Jared Akerstrom.

The first challenge in producing a Scratch project was thinking of a concept that could be effectively executed with the tools and templates provided. After seeing samples of what can be done, the possibilities seemed endless, hence opening the floodgates to creative thinking and processing. I instantly thought of a few concepts that might effectively illustrate the magic and wonder of Scratch. Some were very elaborate while others seemed simple yet effective. I chose to go with one I was already very familiar with, The Puppet. It was a performance piece I created with my first dance partner, Mr. Wiggles, where he was the puppet and I was the puppet master. In this case, I was both characters for the first time ever. This was an exciting thought and possibility!

Here is a clip of me and Mr. Wiggles performing The Puppet:

Storyboard for PopMaster Fabel's dance animation in Scratch.

Storyboard for PopMaster Fabel’s dance animation in Scratch.

Transferring the ideas onto a storyboard was the next challenge. The creative process warranted careful consideration of the series of still images and positions that were to be photographed and sequenced. The interaction between puppet and puppet master consists of a series of movements that needed to be precise in order to pull off the effect. This challenged me to think of the simplest equation that would still be effective and contain the essence, mechanics and functionality of the performance piece. This process challenged my way of conceptualizing movement since dance choreography isn’t usually storyboarded or prearranged with notations. I was forced to get my point across in the simplest terms yet remain creatively entertaining. A true example of how less can be more.

Popmaster Fabel shares his storyboard with students during our recent workshop with the Scratch team.

PopMaster Fabel shares his storyboard with students during our recent Scratch workshop.

The final challenge was learning how to sequence and manipulate the images with the Scratch interface. The use of layers, backgrounds, audio files, sizing, speed, etc opened doors to an infinite amount of possibilities. Although my knowledge of video editing gave me somewhat of an advantage, I still had to get acquainted with a new programming system. For the most part, creating an animation in Scratch was mostly based on experiential learning. We were given the tools, taught how to use them and the rest was based on trial and error. In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to learn how to navigate through any software and/or computer application. Hands on. Big fun!

Fabel and Team

PopMaster Fabel (right) works with PAA artist Jared Akerstrom (left) and Eric Schilling from the MIT Media Lab coding his dance animation in Scratch.

Watching the animation come together was absolutely magical! It was as if we were breathing life into inanimate objects. Every aspect of the process brought about a thrill and sense of achievement, from adding the background and music to sequencing the images and finally bringing it all together. The experience was self-empowering and leveled the playing field on an artistic platform. Just about anyone who follows good direction and enjoys being creative can have a wonderful experience with Scratch.

Click the image to view PopMaster Fabel's animation he created as part of our Scratch workshop experience.

Click the image to view PopMaster Fabel’s animation he created as part of our Scratch workshop.

What excited me about the students’ animations were their brilliant concepts and creative thinking. Their ideas all varied in themes and were extremely unique. See their animations by clicking here. Some of them seemed to transform themselves into cyber super heroes while others created new dimensions and characters in time and space. The students truly enjoyed the experience and their level of achievement was contagious and much appreciated. It made me wonder, what if this system was used to teach subjects in schools? Would the “edutainment” factor in Scratch add motivation and artistic flavor to the presently stale approach to lesson plans and curricula? If you ask me, the answer is YES! The Scratch project can help revolutionize the teaching methods used in schools and learning institutions. Scratch can be the wave of our educational future and I’m honored to have been able to surf that tide!

It’s more fun to compute!
Jorge “PopMaster Fabel” Pabon

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Filed under Guest Blog Posts, Hip-Hop, PAA News