I am so excited to be developing Innovative Arts as a new course in our middle school. This is the second year for the course and it is going very well! I have the first two years designed: kids learn how to create for themselves using my example projects. They practice 3D printing, using CNC machines, vinyl cutters, and basic tools. We fight the withering of their creativity, practice a growth mindset, and kids get a class that is totally different than all the others.
The groundwork is laid the first two years – these next two years will be when it really takes off. Kids will dive into the six creator types that I am busy developing: entrepreneur, hacker, digital media, designer, wordsmith, and engineer. Kids will dive into being a creator of their own choosing! Stay tuned because it is about to get interesting!
How did Innovative Arts get started?
For six years I was a science teacher. During this time, I struggled to break away from traditional instruction. I could use technology in novel ways. Engaging STEM lessons were shoehorned into the yearlong plan. Nevertheless, as long as it was in the context of my traditional classroom, student thinking stayed the same. The state test was the bar and you either passed it or not. There was a need to start from scratch.
The class “Innovative Arts” is a huge leap in that direction. How this class came to our school is the result of forward-thinking, grit, and luck. Starting in 5th grade and continuing through 8th grade, this class is designed to give students the opportunity to move from consumers of content to creators of content. What they create and how they create it is up to them!
Innovative Arts has taken the place of our middle school technology course. The old technology course was focused on teaching kids how to use their devices. The new course teaches them to pursue their interests, learn about themselves, and how technology can be used to help them create and distribute their ideas.
Making incremental changes in my science classroom was never going to change education or even have a transformational influence my students. We needed to create something totally new. I can say, without a doubt, giving kids the tools to move from consumers to creators is a step in the right direction.
Most teachers cannot just forget about the constraints that have forced their classes into their current shapes. Districts, on the other hand, can absolutely make space for creating creators.
Why teach kids to be creators?
The montra my whole career as an educator has been to gather data and then gather more data. If you gather data, you are doing well. When we use data well, kids learn more in our classrooms.
We can feel good about ourselves until we ask the hard questions. Will they retain what they learned? Will that knowledge add up to something over time? When that student is outside of our classroom for a few years, what impact will that data have then? I’ve played the data game to see assessments, reassessments, growth, and mastery. The unfortunate reality is that most of that learning is gone with time. It wasn’t particularly relevant to most students at the time and their brains have pruned and repurposed. We have built a system that measures something that doesn’t last and doesn’t add up to much in many cases.
Innovative Arts: Freedom from assessments
The quest to assess students by standards in the classroom and state level hasn’t been an effective way to help every kid. As the ‘fun’ science teacher, I remember skipping fun and memorable activities to make time for more random content, all for the state test. Everyone would have been better off with the engaging lesson, state test score be damned.
Innovative Arts can replace technology class. There is no state test there.
We need to be teaching kids to be creators. It gives relevance to what kids are doing in school. It allows students to develop and show off their strengths. All types of great things happen when kids are able to dive into activities that they find interesting. For example, I rarely have to address a behavior problem in class. We have all kinds of tools and equipment that I trust my students with. The students who do some of the most impressive work are the special education students. Skills and confidence they build in Innovative Arts shows in their other classes.
Feeling success in Innovative Arts Class
The most gratifying feeling I have had as a teacher is the excitement kids have when they are working to complete or have just completed a project. They are glowing! I have worked for years to make fun and enjoyable science curriculum for my students. Many enjoyed it, more were indifferent. Too many kids need in a feeling of success and mastery while at school.
Every teacher knows of students who would rather act out in class than admit that they struggle. After years of acting out, a student (who started out behind) is now so far behind that they’ll never feel success in school again. This needs to change. As a classroom teacher, it is an impossible situation. You have to cover your grade level standards (never mind that the kids didn’t learn last year’s standards) and the best you can do is behavior management. The habits that this cycle creates in these students is harmful to them. We can do better.
Real world experiences
Students know the difference between an assignment that will stay in the classroom and an activity that has an authentic audience. I have had students ask “who will see this” as they decide how much effort to put into a project. Innovative Arts faces the “real world” as much as possible.
We are looking at tutorials and examples we find online. As kids get older, they’ll be the one who is writing the tutorial. When we try to start a business in class, we only talk about real customers and real money that they can really keep. As fun as it is to pretend to be a billionaire on Shark Tank, the real world is a better teacher. Failure will teach way more than a graded assignment.
Students Gaining Autonomy
The freedom that kids gain by being a creator is freedom that they need. When we make everything about grades or test scores, kids lose out on an important part of life. Anyone who know follows what Innovative Arts students are can see why student autonomy is important. It speaks for itself. Without autonomy, students develop apathy.
All of this is summed up in the “Creator Spectrum” that I have developed.
Please connect to keep up with the class! I am eager to connect with people who see the value in Innovative Arts. Please say hello on social media!