The Classroom as Art (pt.1)

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My elementary school art class was a welcome break from times tables and science lessons, and often produced seasonal decorations for the classroom (poppies, multi-coloured leaves, snowflakes etc.) or cards to give to our parents on upcoming holidays. Yes, a certain amount of creativity was encouraged but, ultimately, students were being asked to reproduce an object. When I got to high school, Visual Arts was the course I selected, out of three or four options, to fill the Grade 9 arts credit required to graduate. We had more freedom to experiment, but the focus of the assignments was mastery of determined techniques.

Modern theories of learning emphasize the importance of engaging students and encouraging them to explore aspects of a topic or issue that interests them. While many teachers now try to engage their students through the incorporation of technology, the role of art in education is also being explored.

"The Pedagogical Impulse" is a creation-research project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), looking at the relationship between art and education. Artists Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed shared their experience participating in this project at a presentation on September 28th, 2013 hosted by the Carleton University Art Gallery. "Multiple Elementary," as this particular project is now called, was a collaborative art project with a Grade 6 class in Toronto.

Since this project took place during class time, those involved felt that it was necessary to draw links to the Ontario curriculum. They used the Social Studies strand, "Canada's Links to the World," as a starting point. Beyond this, there was no schedule or determined goal for the time spent at the school. The plan evolved as they explored ideas that interested and engaged the students.

They started their exploration by considering a performance piece by David Hammons, titled Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983). In this piece, he made and sold varying sizes of snowballs on the streets of New York City, in the middle of winter. This led to a conversation on the real and determined value of art. The class recreated this experience by making their own snowballs and trying to sell them on a Toronto street. This required the students to determine a value for their product and consider what a valid payment would be. While they did manage to find people willing to pay money for their snowballs, others offered trades for objects in their pockets, such as gum or buttons. Ultimately, the transaction considered to be most valuable (and enjoyable) by the students was the trade of a snowball for a dance.

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Allison Godin

is a student, teacher, and life-long learner. She currently teaches high school with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. Allison studied English Literature and Education at the University of Ottawa. If she won the lottery she would spend her time tutoring and volunteering in a second-hand bookstore.

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