Albert Einstein Academy Wilmington, Delaware
Jennifer Borders is the art teacher at Albert Einstein Academy, a K–5 private Jewish day school near Wilmington, Delaware. She is at the center of a unique experiment at her school, a curriculum initiative called "Einstein Explores the Arts." Because of the unconventional and intriguing nature of this theme, we are focusing this month's Educator Profile on the combined efforts of the Academy's staff rather than the individual efforts of Jennifer. Throughout the school year, teachers integrate their core curriculum with the arts, exploring how the visual arts can make meaningful connections between disciplines. Jennifer explains, "Each morning [over the school’s public address system] the whole school explores the connection between the curriculum and our theme. [Then, in the classroom] we follow with a discussion about the elements of the arts with a series of visual thinking strategies—talking not about the historical context of the artwork but rather what can be seen. The students are very able to do this, to understand art critically—the composition or the content or more subtle aspects of the works of art." In fact, even the Academy's youngest students can talk about line, form, pattern, and composition, and continue to do so with greater sophistication as they get older. "Many mornings we use ARTstor’s [digital database of art images] to gather the images we need. We started with prehistoric art and are now up to modern art." In Karen Bradley's combination fourth- and fifth-grade class, students explain their projects. Jake introduces himself and notes, "This is some of the art we are doing." His classmate Avery adds, "We are researching artists and I chose Jasper Johns." Avery has researched Johns and found a picture of him from the web. "He uses actual things, like a coat hanger, in his paintings." The students later combine their choices and research into a slide show presentation. Talia introduces another project from the class: "We stand in front of a projector and someone traces the silhouette of our heads. Then we find words and pictures that represent us. We glue these descriptions onto the cut-outs of our heads and add things we remember from when we were little [in the form of a poem]." Connecting art with environmental studies, the class also constructs "porch pals"—sculptures of themselves made out of clothing stuffed with plastic bags and other recycled objects. Ariella describes poems the class composed, connecting things they enjoy with the shapes of meaningful objects: "Jake likes baseball, so he wrote his poem on a baseball. And we also wrote haikus based on what we thought about this picture [a painting of a sandy ocean scene]. We thought it was kind of lonely, and some of the haikus are illustrated."
"We have a big curriculum celebration at the end of February," Jennifer notes. "All of the classes are going to present what they have been working on in the arts, so many of these projects are in preparation for that event." The third-grade class is currently studying math and Hebrew with Osnat David: "Our Hebrew curriculum is very visual. We connect pictures and artwork with vocabulary, coordinating with an art project whenever we start something new. For example, when the students were writing about their friends in Hebrew, they created descriptive pictures to accompany the words. When we studied geometry we learned about arrows, rays, and mirror images. We try to introduce art lessons for everything we study." Tracey Friedman teaches social studies to the third-grade students. "We finished a unit on Delaware, and examined the state flag. Then the class created their own state flags, and each student included symbols that he or she thought made Delaware unique." Student Ezra describes his state flag: "I include DuPont because it's a big factory in Delaware." In addition to the factory, Ezra included a canon to symbolize Fort Delaware (Tracey shot down his plans for a "flame-thrower canon"). Other flags include blue hens, peach blossoms, ladybugs, and drawings of the Delaware River. The third-grade class also read Peter Pan, and is now completing dioramas depicting scenes from the book. Diane Fretwell's first-grade class project involves sewing squares for a quilt. "We started with a unit on how people moved west. They took their art with them, and the class thought about what their art might have looked like. We studied some of the decoration people put on their furniture, their painted plates and jugs, and the art they sewed into their quilts. And we looked at the quilts from Gee's Bend, Alabama, and talked about how those quilts are valued. Now we are creating a traditional block pattern from a log cabin quilt. Each of my first graders has to sew two of these blocks. I will add three more and we will then have twenty-five blocks to combine for a big design. Another group is working on paper for a collage project." Diane finishes with a smile. "Right now, I need eight hands." Jennifer moves to a series of life-size cut-outs hanging in the hallway. Students lie down on a sheet of brown butcher paper and assume a pose, which is then traced and cut out. "Each student assumed a pose that indicated an action word," Jennifer explains. "For example, this student is 'flicking.' Then they represented that action visually [with lines and shapes they draw within their outline]. These are from the first and second grades." She points out two students who both chose the word "dancing." "Notice how his is a very controlled pose, while her dancing has this flow." As the students walk through this hallway, they see their outlines and react to them. Jennifer points to one outline. "She is an artist already. 'Imagining'— now that's a word!"
Lindsay Creed's second-grade class is studying civil rights. "We read the book Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Each student chose a quote from the book and we looked at an interview with Brian Collier [the book's illustrator] and his discussion about how he made the collages in the book. Using their chosen quotes as inspiration, each student is making a collage to illustrate the words." One of Lindsay's students, Shira, shared her quote: "'Love is the key to the problems of the world.' This is how I'm going to line it down [on the page]," she points out, "Just like this. The quote is sticking off [to the side]. To represent love, I'm going to make a heart and inside the heart I'm going to put a key." Kindergarten teacher Jill Masters adds, "One project I'm working on involves sunflowers [based on Vincent van Gogh's masterpiece], and another focuses on the food pyramid. Students create 'pyramid people' to show what they have learned about healthy eating. We're doing a whole 'healthy bodies' unit right now." Karen Moss's Judaic studies class is studying Edward Hicks's painting Noah's Ark from his Peaceable Kingdom series. "Each student chose a part of the painting they liked and they had to explain why. Now they are reproducing that section of the painting. Along the way, they noticed that the elephant doesn't look like an elephant might look, and the chimpanzees don't look quite right. And we had some ideas about why." Student Shana offered one explanation: "He never saw the lions and the elephants in the zoo. He only had pictures in books." "With this initiative you can see how art integration works across the grade-level curriculum," Jennifer adds as we finish our tour. "We worked a lot with the teachers on trying to get everybody to a comfort level to be able to do this. It takes a certain security and knowledge level for teachers to buy in and do it. It helps to have the resources and it helps to have an environment where teachers won't be criticized if something doesn't go smoothly."
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