Tag Archives: Arts

Walk a Mile: A story of entrepreneurship and the Arts

Entrepreneurship is a way for individuals to be fulfilled, express their values, bring their ideas to life, gain control of their lives and contribute to their community. Entrepreneurial spirit is forged and evolves throughout one’s life in accordance with one’s personality, experience and environment

Nathan Gage and his James Lyng Secondary three students knock another project out of the park with “WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES” – a student-curated exhibition that showcases customized shoes, designed and painted by James Lyng High School students. I attended the vernissage and struck by how it made me reflect upon what symbols I would put on my shoes and I can’t remember the last time I went to an art show that left me with such an impression.

Embedded in each of their shoes are symbols which were chosen by the students to tell stories from their lives. Each pair of shoes is accompanied by a short film featuring students explaining the meaning behind their symbols.  The exhibition was conceived and carried out by Secondary 3 students in their Entrepreneurship class. This large-scale, interdisciplinary project involved classwork carried out in five different classes at James Lyng High School.

To help make the project happen, the class wrote Vans Shoes and received a donation of 24 pairs of white sneakers.

Participating students brainstormed meaningful symbols which they would later integrate in their shoe design. After writing about each symbol’s relevance, the students were provided with a new pair of all-white Vans sneakers. Students drew, stitched, painted and stenciled their symbols to create their customized shoes.

In March 2019, the shoes were showcased in a multi-media show curated by James Lyng’s Entrepreneurship class at the school’s Up Next Art Gallery. Each pair of shoes was accompanied by a short film in which the student artist tells the stories behind their symbols.

The students presented a short documentary chronicling the process of conceiving, organizing and curating the show which you can see above.

To complement the customized shoes, a large-scale mural, painted by students under the supervision of local artist, Haks, enhanced the gallery walls.

“It’s not just the fact that you get free shoes. It’s that you get to create something that no one else has, and you can do whatever you want on it,” says Secondary 5 student Keshaun Jarvis.

“It’s about how you feel at the end of the day. It’s a representation of what you think and what you feel.” Student organizer Colby McLean-Ross adds, “It was a deep and meaningful project. Thinking of what to put on the shoes was my favorite part, and now that I have the finished product, I really am proud.”

Walk a Mile was a local winner of the Osentreprende competition for Secondary Cycle 2.  

Strap on headphones and check out James Lyng’s music label website – www.upnextrecordings.com featuring music by their students.

Images from the documentary


Fostering a Growth Mindset in the Arts Classroom

Guest post by Louise Campbell, Artist in Schools

What strategies can be used in the arts classroom to shift focus from ‘getting it right’ to exploring potential? Educators often refer to this as ‘fostering a growth mindset’. As an Artist in Schools, my first task in a music classroom is to use the skills students have developed with their teachers in a way that is surprising. I do this by setting up games. Games have rules, giving everyone clear guidelines that govern how and what to play, making it easy for everyone to participate, in addition to being fun.

The following is one of my favourite game pieces for use in the music classroom. It is a great start to a creative process, since long tones are a fundamental skill practiced in most music classrooms. The game starts out in a way that sounds familiar, and quickly evolves in surprising directions. Due to the process inherent in the game, the students can take the piece in any number of directions, leading them to more unfamiliar sounds and ways of playing.

Sound and silence By Louise Campbell



Instrumentation: for 4+ musicians playing pitched instruments


There are two choices of how to play:

  • a long tone( crescendo and decrescendo)
  • a silence

Long tones can be any pitch in any register on the instrument.

The long tones and silences can overlap in any way, shifting textures and timbres as different instruments come in and drop out at various times.

The next stage of this game is to consider pitch. Here are some variations, following the same rules as above. Musicians can play:

  1. An E in any octave
  2. Any note of a specific chord, such as C Major or E minor minor 7
  3. Any note of specific scale, such as pentatonic, or D Major
  4. Any note from a defined collection of notes, such as C, C#, D, F#
  5. Any note of the chromatic scale

Each of these variations sounds very different, depending on how students listen and respond to each other. The following excerpt demonstrates one version of this game as played by the Lindsay Place Music Étude students during a Culture in Schools workshop:


Sound and Silence,conducted by Louise Campbell. Co-composed, performed and recorded by Lindsay Place Music Etude students.


This is a fairly unusual sound for most students, and helps to create an atmosphere in which curiosity is at the forefront. In the event that a student understands the activity through a fixed mindset, this generally becomes evident when they point out a perceived ‘mistake’.  Hyper-focusing on mistakes can be quite detrimental to the creative process, as it can be quite limiting to what students are willing to try.

Let’s have a look (and listen) at one way in which a mistake may be identified, the self-talk that surrounds it and the way this situation was turned into creative potential.


The following audio track is a sketch I composed, played and recorded for clarinet and loop station (N.B. Loop stations repeat exactly what you play, over and over. So if you make a mistake…)

Sketch for Knitting Lessons, for clarinet and loop station by Louise Campbell. In the words of a wise woman who taught me both music and knitting, ‘If you make a mistake, do it twice. Then people think you did it on purpose. They won’t be any the wiser if you don’t tell them!’


The recording session is going swimmingly until:

ME TO MYSELF: Bah. I made a mistake.

(listens to 1:55 for a few loops and remembers knitting advice: if you make a mistake, do it twice)

Hmmm, actually that’s not bad, kind of foreshadows what I’m gonna do later.

(continues process for section, building new loop)

Now to work in that mistake…

(overdubs several loops 2:35-2:50)

… yeah, cool, that works…

Whoops! I didn’t mean that.

(listens to new ‘mistake’ at 2:50)

Actually that’s pretty cool. I wonder if I can use that…

(follows process to end)


In this case, my initial reaction to making a ‘mistake’ was frustration, as can be the case with a fixed mindset. I wanted the piece to come out the way I planned it. However, on remembering the advice to make a mistake purposeful, I was able to hear the potential in the ‘mistake’, and work it into the piece. In fact, the two ‘mistakes’ featured in this piece became ‘design features’ that are now integral to the piece. If I had stopped when I made the first ‘mistake’, I would never have found out where it would lead me. Re-contextualizing the ‘mistake’ as an unexpected event with potential allowed me to listen in a way that flipped a fixed mindset to one of growth.

This is only one example of the self-talk involved in a creative process, and resembles many discussions that come up with students in the art classroom. This was how I re-contextualized a perceived mistake for myself; listening to students and their self-talk shows the best way to re-contextualize perceived mistakes and help them see and hear the potential in unexpected events.

When facilitating creativity in the arts classroom, establishing an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration is the first step to fostering a growth mindset, and lays the foundation for contextualization of ‘mistakes’ as unexpected events that provide potential for the new and unexpected. Fostering a growth mindset makes for surprising discoveries for everyone, and keeps fun and play at the center of learning, creativity and making art.



Louise Campbell is an Artist in Schools. You can read her other guest posts:

Cell Phones in the Classroom: Music education in the BYOD era
Music, Memory and Making the Most of Earworms

Gaspé Makes: STEAM challenges at Eastern Shores School Board

In early April, a LEARN team composed of Chris Colley and Christine Truesdale visited three schools in the Gaspé to work with students and teachers on the Makerspace idea with our Open Creative Space model. The following is the post published by RECIT pedagogical consultant Craig Bullett on the ESSB blog. We are reposting it.

Eastern Shores School Board showcased our Makerspace initiative as the product of a Professional Development Innovation Grant (PDIG).  The project was a collaboration of Teachers from Gaspe Elementary, Belle Anse, and Shigawake Port Daniel Schools.  The project was coordinated by the ESSB local RECIT, and generously supported by LEARN Quebec’s Open Creative Spaces Team. LEARN loaded up a van with everything under the sun, and brought the Makerspace concept to the Eastern Shores School Board.

Makerspace Promo 3APr2017
The event took place from April 3rd to 6th, and involved…120 students from grades 3 to 8.

  • 11 Teachers (representing 8 different schools).
  • The Open Creative Spaces Team from LEARN Quebec.

Gaspe Elementary, Shigawake Port Daniel School, and the Anchor Adult Ed Center hosted their very own Makerspace concepts with students from their respective communities.


Day 1 April 3rd:

Shigawake Port Daniel School with grade 4-5-6 students from SPDS.

SPDS staff transformed the school’s lunch area and stage into an impressive open space to accommodate everyone.  Students could move freely through the various stations.  STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) applications were blended into each of the various stations including,…

  • Building motorized artbots which draw on their own.
  • Programming the Ollie and Sphero robots to navigate an obstacle course built by students.
  • Building a water dam with lego, to create energy.
  • Creating an homopolar motor, powered by magnets, batteries, and copper wire.
  • Creating a piano with keys made of play-doh, fruit and cups of water.
  • Programing turtle art to draw shapes.
  • Designing and Building a catapult to knock down a tower of cups.

IMG_6545Day 2 April 4th

Gaspe Elementary School with grade 5-6 students from Gaspe Elementary School.

On this day, we converted the entire Gaspe Elementary Gymnasium into the GES Makerspace.  The same Challenges and activities were replicated as done at SPDS.  It is interesting to note the different outcomes with a simple change of venue.  We could have brought the SPDS students to this location, and the experience would have been completely new!  GES students exposed new angles and perspectives not seen the previous day.

Day 3 April 5th

Gaspe Elementary School with grade 3-4 students from Gaspe Elementary and Belle Anse School.

We opened the gym once again to our newest student audience.  The mixture of students from 2 different schools created an interesting dynamic to start the day.  It was clear to see students sticking to their own school group initially. As the day progressed, it was impossible to tell what student was from which school.  They were all Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, Artists, and Mathematicians. The selection of stations and the duration to stay at each was left completely to student choice. It was amazing! No stations were ever empty and none were overcrowded.  Students moved freely between stations in no particular order and without time restrictions.  This phenomenon held true for all of our Makerspace days.  It simply worked!

IMG_6574Day 4 April 6th

The Anchor Adult Education Center with grade 7-8 students from New Carlisle High School.

We brought the Makerspace concept to The Anchor to share the concept with the Adult Ed Community.  On this day, we brought High school Students to experience the concept, while Adult Ed staff could also appreciate the phenomenon.  The concept of stations is making it’s way into Adult Ed Centers across Quebec, and there are similarities to the makerspace concept.  I think we planted some seeds for community Makerspace ideas to emerge from the event. Several Teachers commented on the lack of discipline problems and interventions needed to keep students engaged.  Students were proud of accomplishments, really stuck to the task, and got through some difficult challenges.

This makerspace event could not have succeeded without the proper framework guiding it.  It was important to start with the appropriate mindset.  We started each day by reading a story.  We chose The most Magnificent Thing, but any similar story could work.  It is important to talk about overcoming challenges and not giving up with a challenge.  It is also important to emphasize that mistakes are ‘okay’.  Finally, remember to have fun!

We concluded each day with reflections from students.  This allowed learners to consolidate their experience and identify what about the Makerspace concept, makes learning fun. Typically similar words came from each session.  Choice, empowerment, autonomy, creativity, cooperation, trial and error.

We can say without a doubt that we learned something new everyday.  We, being everyone involved!  Organizers, Teachers, Administrators, and  Students.

The most notable observations were the absence of conflict, the seamless cooperation, and the easy transitions between activities.

Here are some nuggets captured over the 4 days.

Makerspace moment Twitter

  • Full coverage of Tweets over the 4 days


  • NCHS Students explain their hydraulic lift.


  • NCHS Student demonstrates hydraulic design


  • GES Student playing piano with Play-Doh and Apples


And…My 2 favorites…

Grade 6 experts imparting their knowledge to younger students.

Makerspace Gr 6aMakerspace gr 6b

10 Years Later: Is Creativity Still Being Killed in Schools?

Image by Verena Roberts CC BY-NC-SA

After watching Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” in 2006, I have been actively looking and searching for creativity in schools. Are we seeing the evidence that creativity is as important as literacy in schools today? Is creativity dying a slow death in schools, if it was even there to begin with?

Sir Robinson told us that many brilliant people don’t think that they are brilliant, “because the thing that they were good at in school wasn’t valued.” He noted that brains work by connecting and interacting in many different ways and we aren’t encouraging similar connections and interactions through interdisciplinary studies in our schools. Is there evidence to support the existence of interdisciplinary studies in all of our schools?

My son has been reading the Unwanted book series. Throughout this series aimed at middle-school readers, creativity is seen as the most important ability in order to save the world. The series begins with a group of children being sent to their deaths because they are the “Unwanteds”. A person is “unwanted” based on the Quill’s society fixation on order, the lack of identity and limiting people’s abilities to think for themselves. However, instead of heading to their deaths, the “Unwanteds” are welcomed into a world called Artime, where creativity is seen as the most important ability in order to save the world.

Evidence that Creativity in Schools Can Save the World:

The “Maker Movement”

In Maker Spaces, students are provided with a wide variety of materials and encouraged to make or create something in order to experience learning in action which is guided by design thinking. The learner is encouraged to fail and persist through their own learning process in order to produce a desired outcome. Learning is based on designs, prototypes and first versions – very similar to our current technology market. Learners are encouraged to take their ideas and create a new product or item to change their world.

Jackie Gerstein’s “Stages of Making”

Copyright Jackie Gerstein, used with permission. https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/stages-of-being-a-maker-learner/

Maker Spaces are also motivated by crowd sourcing or participatory culture. This means that learners learn to support one another in creating learning opportunities for themselves – instead of a consumer based culture where learners consume the learning they are given.


Similar to Maker Spaces, gamified classrooms encourage critical thinking. I recently listened to Scott Hebert present about how gamification has transformed his science classroom.

The 6 Player Types – Scott Hebert ERLC EdTech Innovation Summit

One of the key aspects of his learning was that every learner can be included in the gamification of a classroom – every learner has a role to play. Everyone is included in the learning process and encouraged to use their unique strengths and talents in order to create new learning opportunities for others.

Closing thoughts

In the Unwanted series, the Unwanteds are taught how to create magical weapons using drama, fine arts and design to defend their creative world. The Maker Movement promotes the idea that creating your own idea is the way to develop and extend your own learning. Unwanteds also set out on Quests to save other people from their hostile and totalitarian worlds. Gamification also encourages quests and collaborative learning adventures.

As we think back 10 years to Sir Robinson’s plea to promote creativity in schools, I am delighted to see some clear evidence of creativity in action. However, I still think we have a long way to go. Are we still killing creativity in our schools?

If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to watch the full TED talk:

Burgundy Jazz: Exploring Black History Within a Local Context

February is Black History Burgundy JazzMonth, a time to learn, honour and celebrate the achievements of black Canadians. An interesting entry point for you and your students to explore black history is Burgundy Jazz: Life and Music in Little Burgundy. The Curio.ca site describes the Burgundy Jazz project as “a multi-platform web documentary about Montreal’s incredible contribution to jazz through the legendary Black musicians of Little Burgundy.”   It is a springboard into learning about black history in Montreal, particularly around the middle of the 20th century. The focus of Burgundy Jazz is not just about jazz but also about the life of porters and the kind of employment opportunities that were available, the role of the church in people’s lives, as well as other issues faced by Montreal’s black community. From there it is easy to make connections to other topics, relevant to Black History Month, such as the underground railway, slavery, civil rights.

The Burgundy Jazz project includes an excellent Educator’s Guide available for free in both English and French (see links below). The guide contains five teaching units, each emphasizing different curriculum areas (social science, language arts, the arts). While there is an app, an eBook and a CD of music connected to the project, none are essential to the units in the guide. You can pick and choose from the units and the videos to suit your classroom objectives. The use of technology is encouraged throughout, in a seamless and purposeful way both in exploring the issues and in a final production.  Students are encouraged to work collaboratively to demonstrate understanding through the planning and production of videos, podcasts, photo montages, digital stories, digital maps, even websites. These units can be an inspiration to you, to use similar techniques in a variety of other contexts.

Curio.ca, a fee-based service, is an initiative of CBC and Radio Canada. Some teacher guides can be downloaded for free but the videos and audios can only be streamed by educators with a subscription. Check the curio website to see if your board has a subscription. Fortunately, the Burgundy Jazz project is open to all.

What we find particularly compelling about Burgundy Jazz, is that it addresses local issues, uses primary source documents (interviews, song lyrics, photographs, maps) and invites teachers and students to take on the role of local historian by ultimately asking the questions: What makes my community unique? How has my community changed over the years? How does Little Burgundy, historically and currently, compare to the situation in my own community? How is it the same or different now?

The web doc, which is comprised of fourteen video capsules, is a central part of the project and includes photographs, narratives and interviews which capture the essence of the time. Attached to each video are photographs, audio extracts and an additional video capsule. These are rich resources to explore.

For those who want to investigate other aspects of black history, there is a historical timeline which gives you a sense of the major events of the times. If music is your focus, there is a list of musicians with short bios as well as numerous audio examples of music of the era. One of the units looks at how black music has evolved. Students can be inspired to create their own hip hop music or spoken word poetry.

To learn a little more about the project, watch the video below.

According to the Educator’s Guide the content in Burgundy Jazz is appropriate for students from grades 6 and up. The units do, however, include some mature topics such as prohibition, drug use, burlesque dancing and prostitution. Viewed in context and deconstructed with the guidance of an educator, the videos can help students come to understand why this was a part of the jazz scene.

How have you approached Black History Month in your classroom? What connections have you made to the curriculum? How have you made it locally relevant to your students? Please share with us in the comments section below. And let us know if you are using the Burgundy Jazz resources in your classroom.

English resources:

Burgundy Jazz Site

Burgundy Jazz Educator’s Guide

Celebrating Black History Month (for curio.ca subscribers, a fee-based service)

Ressources en français :

Site Jazz Petite-Bourgogne

Guide pédagogique Jazz Petite-Bourgogne

Geolocalize it: The global context of everything

The idea for this blog post came to me after I presented a short webinar on the mapping and drawing application Cartograf last week (Archive available here).   Previously I had published a post about Cartograf’s incredible power for subjects like History and Geography.  (Cartograf info and tutorials here!)  But interestingly my web event attracted educators from a variety of different subject areas.  I thought, why such broad interest in a mapping application?  What relevance did it have for them?  I wanted to find out more, so I gathered together a few friends from different domains to brainstorm some potential uses for Cartograf (and for geographic skills in general) in subjects other than secondary Geography and History.  

Over a few days I interviewed or corresponded with:

  • Annie-Claude Valois, Consultant for F.L.S (French) from RSB
  • Sylwia Bielec, Consultant for the Arts from LEARN
  • Anne-Marie Desilva, Consultant for ERC (Ethic and Religious Education) from EMSB
  • Susan Van Gelder , Consultant for ELA (English) at LEARN
  • Craig Bullet, RECIT and SS (Social Sciences) consultant for the ESSB

Below are not exact quotes from our exchanges, but rather short paraphrases of some of the suggestions they made.


Location, location, location


Paul:   Is location important for your subject area?  Why should students in your subject know where things are taking place, where things are made, created, written, imagined?   In Cartograf you can mark precise points on the globe, and within that “marker” you can provide or they can interpret information in the form of texts, images, even videos.  But why should students care about the where?

Annie-Claude (FLS):   In French it is very important for students to learn about Francophone culture, from here but also from around the world.  Students often read stories that take place elsewhere, or do a formal report on a topic external to Canada, like war, or poverty. Cartograf and the use of Google Satellite view could help students actually see where things happened or where they are happening now.

Craig (SS):  In elementary cycle 1 students learn to construct and represent their space, by mapping simple things like their neighbourhood, key buildings, etc.   Cartograf markers could be used to identify these places even at young ages.  Images in the markers could help teachers convey information.   In their History courses students could tag specific locations too.  For the explorers to New France students could mark where they came from and also where they landed and later settled.

Sylwia (Arts):  If you believe art history is important and are a teacher that likes to provide historical contexts for art, then location is important.  Consider a group like the Impressionists and how learning about where and when they painted will provide a context for what and how they painted.   Location can also be seen an impetus to create.  For example, geographically-based conflicts or events have often inspired artists to create works based on their reaction or interpretation of the situation.  Showing students the location of the conflicts, with specific examples using the marker tools in Cartograf, could inspire them to respond to those conflicts or events themselves. They could also mirror the process and seek out local issues that are important to them and use those as an impetus for creation.

Anne-Marie (ERC):  Location is essential to understanding religions and religious culture.  In the elementary program students need to know how to locate religions in their society and also around the world.  For example they need to understand which countries are predominantly Muslim, Christian, and so on.  They also need to understand information about those countries, like whether state and religion are separate entities.  Students learn also about the founders of religions, so marker points in Cartograf could include information about those individuals, where they were born, how they lived, as well as where and how they founded a religion.  Similarly, students learn about famous religious places.  Cathedrals, mosques, temples of course,  but also sacred regions like Jerusalem.  An explanation of why a site is important to a particular religion could be added to a marker, an image or even a Streetview panorama could provide more information about that site today.

Susan (ELA):  One might forget that in English we often read books from authors outside of Canada.  When reading literature from other countries, students could locate specific scenes on a map, and include images and texts to help them flesh out an understanding of the area.  Similarly, when learning about the authors themselves, students could mark locations for them too.  Have the authors travelled? Has this influenced their writing?  Learn about where they live and how this might relate to their stories.  As a class, using the share codes in Cartograf, we could even build up a common map of the authors we’ve read.


Leaving a trace

New York Simple Map

Paul:   Could tracing routes or delineating territory be useful?  In Cartograf you can draw simple maps, lines and shapes that delineate borders, land use, relationships between territories?  Could these type of cartographic skills come into play in a learning scenario in your subject area?

Annie-Claude (FLS):  Some stories are complex geographically, like one about a Quebecois child, whose parents are of Haitian descent, whereas his grandparents were African slaves.  Using Cartograf we could mark the origins of the family and trace their voyage, their immigrant experience, from one place to another.

Sylwia (Arts):  To understand art sometimes we need to understand schools of art, as they existed in a geographic area.  Think about the Bauhaus movement and the particular German cities in which it developed, the regions in which it took place.   Or think of Rome and the religious art that developed around and along lines marked by the spread of Catholicism.   Students could learn about these types of art and influence through simple maps, or they could trace equivalent patterns of influence today on maps of their own?   These sort of activities could help springboard them towards finding their own “religion equivalent” if you will, their own artistic movement to follow.

image005Anne-Marie (ERC):   At the secondary level students could enhance their understanding of religions by plotting the routes of famous pilgrimages!  Cartograf’s ability to include information in shapes means the route could be explained at each stage.   Another common activity asks students to trace religions down through time, to show how they from one place to another.  Again, information added to each line and shape could note why people moved, how and why beliefs spread and transformed.  Think of the silk roads, think of historical contexts like the Crusades or the spread and retreats of Islam.   And even for the Ethics competencies I think simple maps could be used, to help delineate differences between one country to the next, as concerns children’s rights for example, or perhaps the legality of homosexuals.   Even ethical issues stemming from certain events, like the movement and acceptance of refugees, could also be better explored by tracing maps of their routes and of their origins.

Susan (ELA):  Often the storyline of a book takes us to a variety of places.  Using Cartograf students could trace the routes that different characters take.  Call it a Cartograf lit trip!  Think about books like Underground to Canada, Walk Two Moons, or the Grapes of Wrath.  Sometimes the routes taken are almost as important as the development of character or plot.  Keep in mind too that knowing how to read maps, images, any sort of media or graphic representation, all that could be considered part of ELA too.  “Texts” are much more than just words.


Does an image paint a thousand words?

Sketch on street view

Paul:    Cartograf also contains powerful ways to use and analyze images.   Photographs can be localized and explained inside a marker point (i.e.  “attached” and thus geolocalized to a specific location, a city, a street corner, a cliff side, a mountain top, anywhere on the globe.)  You can also access Google Street panoramas, and insert actual street-level imagery and point of views for consideration, maybe for comparison.  And what is more, you can even sketch on top of images, labeling, tracing shapes, adjusting transparency, using advance drawing tools right in the application.  Could you use images in any of these ways?  What type of learning activities could students do using Cartograf’s image analysis tools?

Annie-Claude (FLS):    We often use images during activities where we pose questions to students.  Sometimes students also use images in order to make predictions.   Images inside localized points on maps could inspire other questions about location and the environment as well.

Sylwia (Arts):  Google Streetview in Cartograf could be used to find and display works of art that are relatively permanent, like a graffiti by someone like Banksy for example!   Or a series of graffiti examples could demonstrate a general street art movement.   Murals on buildings in certain cities, in certain countries, could also be tagged and explained, in terms of location, but also in terms of culture, or local social issues.  In Competency 3 students appreciate an image, and must talk about it in terms of things like artistic techniques.  Certainly the drawing tools could be used to help identify techniques in images they attach to points, the play of light and shadow, pointillism, etc.  As an actual creation tool I am not sure though.  When it comes to using technology, multimedia art teachers are more likely to introduce their students to more specialized drawing or photo editing software, like Photoshop.

Anne-Marie (ERC):  Religious places could be compared by using Cartograf’s image editor, to combine and compare images, like now-and-then image pairs, or uploaded photographs juxtaposed or overlapped with streetview images.  Religious art could also be labelled and thus explored, in terms of location yes, but also as concerns their meaning or significance.  For example, for Michelangelo’s David, you could include it in a point where it was created, then place it again where it stands now, and then make an analysis of the statue using text and drawing tools as well.   Of course there is also religious architecture, its identifying features and making an analysis of individual differences as it appears in different locations.  And finally, at specific sites, or as part of specific cultures, students often identify and analyze religious expressions, like an object, or the way someone prays to express their faith.  Using a tool that also helps localize the religious expression can only help to explain them, to show differences and to show contexts.  For example, an object in a Montreal mosque might be compared to one in a Saudi mosque using two images in marker points at their respective locations.


But why bother learning geographically?  What is the “place value”!?

Paul:  Okay, I always understood that our world is… “a complex battleground of physical and human interactions. [And that]  Local is no longer local, but a collision point for the interaction of many ‘locals’ drawn from a global stage.”  (Tony Cassidy)   But after these few conversations and brainstorming sessions (thanks folks!) I also discovered that what we learn, in pretty much every subject area we learn, is only about our little corner of the world insomuch as it relates  to everyone else’s.  Everything has relative place value.

image009That being said, the question I still asked myself at the end the day was why?   Or for me specifically, why should my son, who is about to graduate high school, care about where things are?   I found some of my answers in how these short reflections show that geography, and the maps we live by, help us understand who we are and what we know, in pretty much every way we learn.   But then I also stumbled on an excellent little video I thought I’d share to end this post, by (who else other than) National Geographic, called “Why is Geo-literacy Important?”    Geo-literacy, it said, is basically about sufficiently informing the decisions we make (where sufficiently now also implies globally) so that we can better take action, and so our decisions are healthy, balanced and real in the global context in which we live.   Pardon me?  What?  Where was all that said again?  Well, in this case, right about here!


Information on Cartograf:

CartoGraf is an interactive web-based mapping application to enhance learning in geography and history classes in schools and colleges. It is free and Open Source and produced by following partners:

Conceived and developed by RECITUS,  in partnership with LEARN and Parks Canada
En français @ http://www.recitus.qc.ca/ et http://cartograf.recitus.qc.ca
In English @  http://learnquebec.ca  and http://cartograf.learnquebec.ca
More information here @ our Cartograf info page >> 

Why Our Schools Need the Arts: A New Perspective

Photo by S. Bielec
Photo by S. Bielec

I recently read Why Our Schools Need the Arts by Jessica Hoffman Davis (2008), founder of the  Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Reading this book hot on the heels of Susan van Gelder’s post last week about Makerspaces, I was struck with its unique perspective on the Arts in education and its emphasis on the tangible art ‘making’ in all Arts domains: visual arts, drama, dance and music.

Like most of what I write about, I have a personal relationship to the topic. As a child, I attended F.A.C.E school here in Montreal. The acronym stands for Fine Arts Core Education and in the 1980’s it offered (and as far as I know continues to offer) its students Arts subjects every day taught by specialists. Today, I am not a professional artist, nor did I exhibit any overwhelming talent for singing, playing the clarinet or visual arts (although I was a fairly good actor). And despite all this, I strongly believe that who I am and how I see and interact with the world is in large part due to my experience at F.A.C.E.

“With an eye to what matters, along with and not instead of the teaching of subjects like science and math, arts advocates must argue for the lessons of engagement, authenticity, collaboration, mattering and personal potential.” (Davis, 2008, p. 28)
by permission from Teacher’s College Press

Jessica Hoffman Davis’ jewel of a book (it’s short, an easy read at 150 pages) was for me packed with Aha! moments and unique ways of putting into words what I believe about giving arts education equal air time with academic subjects. While primarily a book intended for arts advocates, I related as a parent and educator to what she wrote about how we can interact with the art-making process and product of children of all ages (and discovered that I was of course saying exactly the opposite of what I should be saying to my own pre-school aged daughter!). But the heart of Davis’ book is her presentation of the unique features of the arts, those aspects of life that the arts bring into learning that other subjects do not. It is through these five unique features that Arts education is positioned to meet the particular needs of today’s world and the world of the future (for more on education for the future, read an earlier post on the Cross-Curricular Competencies).

“I’m not saying there aren’t right or wrong answers associated with the arts, I’m just saying they might not be the most interesting aspects of arts learning.” (p.35)

The Heart of Why Our Schools Need the Arts: The Five Unique Features of the Arts

1 – Tangible product: Imagination and Agency

All the arts offer the child/learner the possibility of making something that can be experienced, that is, seen or heard at the very least. According to Davis, this tangible product (for example: sculpture, dance choreography, musical creation or performance, skit) allows children to think beyond the given, to explore the possibilities of “what if?”. What if I put on an accent, or lower my voice suggestively? What if I pinch this clay like so? In the moment, there are no wrong answers, only possibilities. The flip side of imagination and possibility is agency – the idea that we can be agents of effectiveness and change, that what we DO makes a difference to the outcome of a piece or a performance. What power! Imagine if we all felt fully capable and fully convinced that our actions were instrumental to our workplace, community, the world?

2 – Focus on emotion: Expression and Empathy

Davis’ second point is that the Arts allow children/learners to express and recognize their feelings in a variety of modes. Making art can be about expressing one’s current feelings, or expressing a feeling: “This is how I feel, this is how this piece makes me feel.” But sharing one’s art and exploring the art of others also makes one aware of and attentive to the emotions of others, to appreciate “This is how you feel”. Children who regularly engage in art practice develop an awareness of the role of emotion, both in themselves and in others. How many of us have been on teams or worked with others and experienced first-hand the impact of emotions on the group’s ability to generate new ideas and move forward productively?

3 – Ambiguity: Interpretation and Respect

What struck me was this third one – ambiguity. The Arts lay the foundation for understanding ambiguity as children engage in interpretation of their own works and in the works of others. As they interact with a work of art, they realize: “My contribution to this art relationship matters. What I think matters”. When they listen to what others see and think when they interact with a work, they realize that there is no single answer, no right answer. The artist can have one thing in mind, but can accept that what you see is valid as well and that it adds to the conversation. This ambiguity and lack of clear-cut right or wrong answers allow children/learners to realize that what others think matters, that there is between the artist and audience a conversation that is fluid and meant to be engaged in fully. In a world where we are constantly confronted by opinions and views that differ from our own, having the ability to navigate these differences and nuances with equanimity is a valuable skill for team members and leaders alike.

4 – Process orientation: Inquiry and Reflection

Educators of all academic stripes have long championed process over product and learning from mistakes or wrong answers. Making something new is fraught with the potential of fruitful errors, of the oops! discussed in Makerspaces. When exploring the unknown (an unexplored medium, a new artist or work), inquiry takes on an added urgency as learners ask: what do I need to know in order to move forward? Because making art is tangible, students see immediately the impact of their inquiry (process) on the product and are reminded once again of their agency in directing that process. In addition, making art creates very real opportunities for reflection at each step of the process: How am I doing and what will I do next? These reflections are not just nice to have, but occur naturally as children/learners are confronted with an in-progress piece. Every addition, or repetition demands a step back and an assessment: How did that go? What do I think now? Drawing attention to this natural reflection process can certainly help learners gain self-awareness in all academic areas.

5 – Connection: Engagement and Responsibility

Here in Quebec, as elsewhere, educators strive to increase student connection to school and to life through projects and extra-curricular activities. The Arts often provide the backdrop for these initiatives, with plays, concerts, art fairs and performances common in many schools. Indeed, “the arts in education excite and engage students, awakening attitudes to learning that include passion and joy, and the discovery that ‘I care'” (Davis p.76). Caring about something, about anything, is the pathway to engagement in all spheres. Discovering that they are united with human beings everywhere in their ability to make art and to make art for a variety of the same reasons allows children/learners to be open to others across cultures and times.


We are fortunate that our Quebec Education Program outlines rigorous competencies for each of the four Arts – the challenge now is to make sure that the time allocation for arts is adequate to fully develop these competencies and take advantage of the five unique features that the Arts bring to education.

Jessica Hoffman Davis has written other books about the Arts in education, including the follow-up to this book, Why Our High Schools Need the Arts (2011). Her voice is compelling and her use of narrative brings to life her ideas about art education for her readers. My copy is full of highlighted passages and exclamation marks and I am sure yours will be too!

Why Our Schools Need the Arts by Jessica Hoffman Davis (2008)  is available from Teachers College Press.

To read more about the Arts in education

Quebec’s Culture in the Schools Program (to bring an artist into your school)

Why Arts Education is Crucial and Who’s Doing it Best – Edutopia

Arts Smarts – Génie Arts

To read more about Jessica Hoffman Davis

Kristen Paglia’s Review for the Huffington Post

Interview with Jessica Hoffman Davis on Tinkerlab

Interview with JHD on the Art:21 blog Part 1 and Part 2

Jessica Hoffman Davis’ website

Teacher Profiles: An Interview with Julie Greto

Julie Greto

This year, we will be featuring on our blog talented and committed educators from our community. I hope that the personal paths and ways of doing of individual teachers inspire you as they do me.  Enjoy this first teacher profile! – Sylwia Bielec, ed.

Teacher’s name: Julie Greto, M.A. Art Ed.
School: Marymount Academy, EMSB
Subject: Visual Arts
Levels: Sec. I – Sec. V
Experience: 20+ years

Q: How do you decide what to do in your Art classroom?

Julie Greto answers: My approach has always been, regardless of whether I’m teaching adults or younger people, that I “workshop” what to do in the classroom. I start with whatever interest there is in the classroom and I build on that. So, if there are different things that students want to do in the context of a project, then I am fine with that. I am following their interest and they are going to be more interested in what they are doing and more likely to follow up on what I want them to do! It also deals with looking at the strengths and weaknesses of any particular group or individual. If you go with what THEY want to do, then I think, and I’m not 100% sure on this, but I think you are starting with the strengths of the group or the individual. I haven’t tested this mind you! This year, with my sec V class, we are choosing a theme or an idea unanimously as a class, and then each group chooses a way to approach the idea, which includes the materials and media they choose to use.

Q: What is your personal philosophy about teaching Visual Arts?

Julie Greto answers: Authenticity. Process. Whether the work stems from a person’s background or a person’s interest, it has to be true to them and their experience! I also want a person to really understand THEIR process. Very difficult! It took me a long time to understand my process, so it’s no easy thing.

Q: How do you make sure you cover the curriculum with such a student-centered approach?

Julie Greto answers: At Marymount, we have a school curriculum that we created several years ago as a PDIG (Professional Development and Innovation Grant). It was difficult to do, because the department kept changing, but it allowed us the time to sit down and ask “How DO we want to carry out the curriculum as it is set out in the QEP, how DO we set it up so that it makes sense for the teacher?” We looked at the skills that we needed to develop, and the elements of art that we had to cover. Designing a curriculum also allowed us to cover different materials and techniques over the five years of high school, because what was going on before was that a student would do one thing in sec. I and then do the same thing or a similar project in sec. III – because there were new teachers or because teachers did as they wished without consulting each other. Now we have the progression of learning, which is new, but I haven’t had the time to really digest it and the impact it will have on what we came up with. It’s not an easy thing to do, making sure you cover the whole curriculum, and I’m still working on it.

Q: How do you handle evaluation, with so much group work?

Julie Greto answers: I’m the Rubric Lady in town – not that anyone actually calls me that! I use rubrics a lot and always share them with my department. I just find it so much easier when I have a rubric for a subjective subject such as art, where my own tastes can get in the way of a fair appraisal. It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, what matters is whether someone has fulfilled the criteria for the project! And a rubric helps me see that. I also like to use the same rubric from year to year – for example, my presentation rubric is the same no matter what grade I’m teaching because the elements of presenting something are the same at any level. It is the knowledge content that changes and the rubric is structured to evaluate that as well.

Many of our projects are done in groups but there has to be an individual component to this type of learning and evaluation situation. Otherwise, there are students who have a tendency to rely on the strongest students in the group…and other group dynamics issues surface. And that’s how it can be: one or two students sustaining the group and everyone else going along and the product never getting completed in the manner one would wish. Ideally, the individual develops and also learns to work in a group. In the animation project we did last year, I had each student make their own storyboard, and that, along with the contents of their sketchbook, combined to create their individual mark. I used another rubric to evaluate the group work – the actual way in which the group operated. Within that, they self marked their contribution and product and also marked the group’s progress and process. I average the group marks and get rid of any obvious outliers. The group work evaluation contains questions about problems encountered and solutions proposed and enacted. It’s quite easy to see if someone did not engage in the process, because they tend to say that there were no problems at all!


Final remarks

After spending time in Julie’s classroom, it is also clear that authenticity and process are what Julie brings to her students. She sets up the learning environment to encourage authenticity and authentic creation by placing the onus on students to come up with topics or ideas that interest them. She engages her students in a process and values the various milestones and other evidence of process as much as the product being worked on by according time and value to that part of the project.


Do you know teachers who should be featured in our Teacher Profiles? Are you such a teacher yourself? Leave a reply and we will get back to you!