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Arts in Academics is a journal where I post ideas about creative thinking in relationship to teaching and learning. 


Habitats for Pollinators

Students Design, Build, and Install Public Sculpture at Coventry High School, 2016

Across from the Coventry High School (CHS) main entrance is a Pollinator Habitat, a home for insects. This real world, multidisciplinary project would not have been possible without the collaborative work of approximately 90 students, teachers including Ms. Celeste (art), Mr. Dufault (technology), and Mr. Brew (science), as well as RI-based industrial designer and artist, Amy Leidtke.

According to Leidtke, “This project exemplifies an academically integrated approach to making artwork and symbolizes the human – nature connection. It gave students the opportunity to experience the Participatory Design Process while exercising skills in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art (and design) and math). As a result of executing this work, students not only added beauty to the campus, they learned about design thinking, research, 2-D and 3-D visual communication methods, environmental conservation, teamwork, democratic practice, and creating objects that have meaning. I am very proud of the work our team made and am grateful for the opportunity to work with the CHS community. Kudos design team!



Collaborating in the Classroom


Description: This collaborative artwork was created by seventeen G5 Community Preparatory School students, along with Arts Educator, Janine A. Lee and Master Teaching Artist | Industrial Designer | Educator, Amy Leidtke. It represents the culmination of a multiple phase project, developed to activate children’s minds and hands in meaningful academically integrated curriculum that is engaging, fun, and creative. Title: Collaborative Observations of the Ordering Principles of Symmetry, Geometry, and Nature (a Kaleidoscopic Research Investigation, Pilot II) Size: 6’h x 6’w x 2.5” d Materials: acrylic paint, ink, paper, graphite, and wood panel Date: January – February, 2014Community Preparatory School, Providence RI (2014)

As a professional industrial design practitioner, artist, and RISD faculty member, one of my goals is to practice 'community-engaged scholarship(Boyer, 1996). I believe this work, which is focused on researching and designing academically integrated arts curriculum and products, in the pursuit of producing educational ‘gifts’ (Froebel, nineteenth century education pioneer), is an important way to positively impact the lives of young citizens in Rhode Island, and New England.

Children benefit from access to practicing artists and designers, and I am happy that my background, education, faculty position, and research interests make it possible for me to serve in this role.  Children need greater access to opportunities to experience the arts in meaningful and multidisciplinary ways.

Student Reflection: “This experience changed the way I look at the world. You realize how many shapes and details there are everywhere. If you look closer at your surroundings there’s a whole other world of shapes and colors that you can’t imagine. I didn’t know what I was capable of and Ms. Amy and Ms. Lee helped me find what I could do. The geometry that was mixed in help me comprehend shapes more. …(This project) helped me feel like I was doing a great job and (gave) me confidence.” – Maeve, Grade 5
Funding: It is important to note that the experiences created in arts classroom at Community Preparatory School were partially supported by RISCA funding. The funding for this particular project partially covered time and materials. Thank you to RISCA for helping to support this form of work.
Engaged Scholarship: “The term 'scholarship of engagement' is an emergent concept first used by Ernest Boyer in a 1996 article by that title. The term redefines faculty scholarly work from application of academic expertise to community engaged scholarship that involves the faculty member in a reciprocal partnership with the community, is interdisciplinary, and integrates faculty roles of teaching, research, and service. While there is variation in current terminology (public scholarship, scholarship of engagement, community-engaged scholarship), engaged scholarship is defined by the collaboration between academics and individuals outside the academy - knowledge professionals and the lay public (local, regional/state, national, global) - for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. The scholarship of engagement includes explicitly democratic dimensions of encouraging the participation of non-academics in ways that enhance and broaden engagement and deliberation about major social issues inside and outside the university. It seeks to facilitate a more active and engaged democracy by bringing affected publics into problem-solving work in ways that advance the public good with and not merely for the public.” Source viewed online, March 26, 2014, New England Resource Center for Higher Education.



Is teaching our children design thinking valuable?

For an insightful commentary about the value of teaching designing thinking skills to children, see An Experience of "Yes", by Peter Gow, Independent School Magazine, Spring, 2012.


Top 10 Skills Children Learn form the Arts

This appeared on the ARTSblog, a program of Americans for the Arts.

By Lisa Phillips

1. Creativity – Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.

3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.

4. Perseverance – When a child picks up a violin for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn’t give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.

5. Focus – The ability to focus is a key skill developed through ensemble work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.

6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.

7. Receiving Constructive Feedback – Receiving constructive feedback about a performance or visual art piece is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is part of learning and it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally. It is something helpful. The goal is the improvement of skills and evaluation is incorporated at every step of the process. Each arts discipline has built in parameters to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.

8. Collaboration – Most arts disciplines are collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.

9. Dedication – When kids get to practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. In the performing arts, the reward for dedication is the warm feeling of an audience’s applause that comes rushing over you, making all your efforts worthwhile.

10. Accountability – When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. They learn that when they are not prepared or on-time, that other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a regular part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen. We acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.


All Hands-ON in the Classroom!

Lecture: A Case Study of Using Drums as the Entry Point for Teaching, Learning, and Participating.

Presenters: Janine Lee, Community Preparatory School, AND Amy Leidtke, Department of Industrial Design, Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island Art Educators Association State Conference

Theme: See Create Recycle and Problem-Solve

Location: Salve Regina University, Newport, RI

Date: Saturday, November 3, 2012, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

This presentation will tell the story of a participatory design education project for G6 middle school students from Community Preparatory School and G17 industrial design graduate students from Rhode Island School of Design. Learn how the students set about answering the essential questions, “What is a drum?” and “Why do people drum?” by using design thinking in order to create a unique drum of their own. See how, working through a process common to the industrial design profession, students explored different cultures and technologies, experimented with a variety of materials, investigated physical properties and components of a drum, generated potential ideas, modeled ideas three-dimensionally and iteratively, and constructed and demonstrated how to use their final design solution. The project successfully integrated social studies, engineering, visual arts, and music curriculums. At the heart of this project are the themes, problem-solving, visualizing ideas through making (seeing and creating), and working with recycled materials, all of which relate directly to the conference theme.

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