NMWA’s “footprint” may be in downtown Washington, D.C., but its Education Department is working to support schools nationally, as well as locally. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, NMWA is developing Teachers Connect: Distance Learning in the Arts. The overriding goal of the program is to support classroom teachers who are incorporating the visual arts into existing curricular objectives, particularly literacy-based objectives. Teachers Connect grew out of the museum’s first U.S. DOE-funded project, which lead to Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) curriculum. The ABC curriculum promotes visual literacy by developing students’ skills in observation, reflection, and arts creation. It also unites visual art and writing through the creation of artists’ books, an art form especially suited to linking imagery and language.
When we began Teachers Connect, we asked ourselves: If we could design and create online professional development for elementary school classroom teachers to support the ABC curriculum and integration of the visual arts into the core curriculum generally, what would it look like? Together with partner teachers in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have spent the last three years seeking to answer that question. The program provides participating 4th– and 5th-grade teachers with multi-day Summer Institutes, as well as on-going, web-based professional development throughout the school year.
The 2009-2010 school year marks the final year of the grant, and project manager Kathleen Anderson and I recently returned from Summer Institutes held in both participating school districts. Teachers gave us valuable feedback about the ABC curriculum and the Teachers Connect resources we’re providing through our blog platform. At both sites, we focused on skills related to paper choice, media exploration, and sculpture. Teachers had time to complete a final book project that unified book format with content and integrated visual arts and science, math, or social studies. Additionally, they practiced accessing and posting to our new blog site, through which we disseminate support materials, visual aids, and instructional videos on topics ranging from the proper use and care of paintbrushes and creating an accordion-fold book to core curriculum links. During the coming year, teachers will be encouraged to post comments, suggestions, and ideas to the blog in order to support one another as a learning community. We’ll continue to add resources based on their requests and concerns. Eventually, the blog resource and other support materials will be made available for free through our website, just as we did with ABC—so stay tuned!
About the Author: Deborah Gaston is Director of Education at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.