Brush Up on Your ABC’s: NMWA’s Teacher Institute

This year marked the seventh Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute at NMWA. For one week this past July, 18 teachers from New York to North Carolina came to NMWA to explore ways to combine the arts with other classroom subjects.

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ABC participants; Photo: Casey Betts, NMWA

The ABC curriculum encourages growth in students’ visual literacy and critical thinking through the creation of artists’ books. It also incorporates the cultural contributions of women artists and provides teachers with resources to help them integrate the visual arts into their classrooms.

Participants began this year’s program with a visit to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC), where they were able to view a selection of artists’ books from the museum’s collection. After seeing examples of the different techniques, participants buckled down to create their own books.

A tunnel book creation (left); Carol Barton assists with paper folding techniques (right); Photos: NMWA

A tunnel book creation (left); Carol Barton assists with paper folding techniques (right); Photos: NMWA

Over the course of the week, participants created a portfolio of artists’ books and writing samples to use as future classroom models. Highlights included the opportunity to learn pop-up techniques from paper engineer Carol Barton. Attendees also experimented with printmaking methods by designing journal covers inspired by the exhibition Alison Saar In Print, currently on display in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery. Over the course of the week, the teachers also learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a method of facilitating discussions about art that encourages close looking and engaged thinking.

ABC participants practice Visual Thinking Strategies in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

ABC participants practice Visual Thinking Strategies in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

At the end of the week, teachers brainstormed ways to adapt the presented book formats for students of varying ages and abilities. Each teacher completed the program by submitting a lesson concept that incorporated one of the book forms for their own classroom. Ideas ranged from using accordion books to compare French and English fairy tales to flag books examining the similarities between ancient and modern symbols.

These creative lesson concepts showed the many cross-curricular applications of the ABC curriculum and left the participants excited to adapt the ideas for their own classrooms. One teacher commented, “The course gave me wonderful ideas to use in my classroom. It introduced me to new concepts, and got me excited to use more art and creativity in my classroom.”

To access the free curriculum, visit the ABC website. To learn more about the annual ABC Teacher Institute, check out NMWA’s Teacher Institute page.

—Hannah Page was the summer 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

ABC’s of Art: The 2015 Teacher Institutes

NMWA offered the week-long Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute for the sixth year, and for the second time also held the Advanced ABC course for returning teachers. Participants spent the dog days of summer, July 13–17, 2015, learning arts-integration techniques. The ABC curriculum is ideal for third- through eighth-grade educators. During the program, teachers explored new avenues of creativity.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

One teacher’s book art project; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, ABC encourages growth in visual literacy and critical thinking, while also highlighting women artists’ achievements. In particular, the work of Maria Sibylla Merian inspired “bug books,” which encourage students to focus on insect life cycles and habitats.

As NMWA’s education intern, I learned as much as the enrolled teachers. I was largely unaware of the many challenges educators face—particularly in issues of literacy in D.C. schools. The Advanced ABC participants discussed ways in which artists’ books could provide visual literacy as a pathway to reading.

Unfamiliar with artists’ books, I was not aware of their practical applications. Teachers found new ways to incorporate concepts into their own curriculum plans. One educator based his flag book on famous women of the American Revolution. Another teacher said these techniques would allow her to “feed the artist in my classroom.” Ranging from investigations of traditional Native American cultures to literacy interventions, many advanced lesson plans were ready to be shared with colleagues by the end of the week.

Teachers wear their hats; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Teachers with their hat creations; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Participants also constructed sculptural hats and “star books”—books with complex folds and covers that demonstrate knowledge of shapes and primary colors.

The Advanced Institute teachers delved deeper and experimented with circuits to add lights and motorized elements to their books.

Toward the end of the program, the two groups converged during a crafty happy hour at the museum. Program participants enjoyed wine and refreshments and then experimented with paste, marbling, and watercolor techniques during a paper-making activity.

While creating personal portfolios of artists’ books, teachers learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)—a method for facilitating discussions about art.

VTS encourages close looking and deep thinking, where each student feels his or her opinion validated. This method provides an equal playing field for art appreciation and creative engagement. As an art history student, I often ask about a work’s title, artist, or time period. However, I was exposed to new points of view through hearing participants’ personal connections. VTS creates a culture of thinking where students work together as storytellers.

To access the free curriculum, visit the ABC website. To learn more about the ABC Teacher Institute, check out the museum’s website.

—Brittany Fiocca was the summer 2015 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Teachers Connect: Distance Learning in the Arts

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.

Pocket accordion fold structure with removable “trading cards” featuring key people, places, and events from Mississippi history

Pocket accordion fold structure with removable “trading cards” featuring key people, places, and events from Mississippi history

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.

“Whoville” sculpture from Albuquerque workshop that explores different kinds of lines—zig-zag, curved, straight, etc.

“Whoville” sculpture from Albuquerque workshop that explores different kinds of lines—zig-zag, curved, straight, etc.

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.