The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

August 14, 2010

Teachers learn in summer school

For the Commercial-News

DANVILLE — While students found ways to spend summertime freedom, a group of Danville High School teachers went behind closed doors practicing new ways to inspire and educate them.

In June, teachers associated with the new arts-based ACE House underwent training for the Leonard Bernstein-inspired Artful Learning program.

For a week, teachers became students and the day’s outcome depended on which hour you happened to stick your head in the room.

One day, a team of teachers is vividly re-enacting Washington’s Delaware crossing.

The next, they’re creating and becoming a human machine, joining hands and making beeping sounds to describe a pre-specified concept.

“This is about fundamental change, not incremental adjustment,” said Patrick Bolek, whose California-based Momentum Project Lab was picked to train DHS teachers in the new education-delivery approach. “They’re essentially ‘the kids’ for two days; they start looking at it through their students’ eyes.”

He called the training an “intense five-day experience” where traditional teaching forms are neatly folded up and flown out the window.

“It’s a concept-based, interdisciplinary approach,” he said. “It’s not about task completion.”

Under the system, teachers direct students to research, discuss and collaborate on projects, help identify a “unifying concept” that underlies their findings, then let them form a project to illustrate their understanding.

The system is outlined in Artful Learning’s key concepts of “Experience, Inquire, Create and Reflect.”

And he said the teachers have latched on to the training.

Meghan Luke, a two-year math teacher, said the training sessions were spawning all kinds of classroom ideas.

“Math can be very dull and very cold to some students,” she said. “When you think math, you don’t necessarily think arts. But you can make a lot of connections if you just sit down and think about it.”

She said core lessons will still be taught, it’s just a matter of finding physicality in the numbers that students can latch on to. The “function machine” teachers participated in during training is a good example, as teachers joined together to illustrate a concept.

“I’m not so scared of change,” Luke said, “because I don’t really have a set way of doing things.”

Thirty-two-year music teacher Marty Lindvahl said even longtime staff were embracing the new concepts.

“There have been a few skeptics, but for the most part people are really jumping in,” she said. “I think we’re going to work more together as a staff and it will be exciting to see the whole House incorporating it. We’re not changing curriculum because we have the same state standards that have to be met.”

Phil Cox, DHS assistant principal and ACE House director, said connections between teachers, who overwhelmingly voted for the House structure, had grown stronger as the fall semester nears and teachers finalize new lesson plans. He, too, took the Artful Learning training.

“There’s an element of trust that develops and an element where (teachers) have to step out of themselves a little bit,” he said. “Now we’re going to ask students to do that. This is not a classroom transformation — it’s a whole school transformation. We’ve taken the first step.”

“This (concept) gives an opportunity for everybody’s experience to come shining through,” said Bolek, a former director at the GRAMMY Foundation-Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning. “They really internalize it. I loved the buy-in here.”

He said few U.S. high schools had adopted the concept and he and his trainers were excited at the opportunity to expand and tailor it to DHS.

“This doesn’t happen overnight,” he said, adding the decision by school leaders to make such massive change was impressive. “We see the value here and know we can build this up. It’s a laboratory of sorts at the same time. We think it’s a perfect fit.”


The four Artful Learning concepts include:

Experience: Students experience and respond to a large concept using a “masterwork” (art, music, drama, dance, scientific innovation, architecture, literature, mathematical formula, etc.) through sight, sound and movement. Serving as a catalyst for immediate student engagement, the masterwork awakens ideas, emotions and new understandings through visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities. Students leave this phase curious and wanting to know more.

Inquire: Students begin a substantive investigation triggered by questions and observations raised in the masterwork experiences. A “significant question” guides the inquiry while students employ a variety of research techniques and constructivist explorations — utilizing the interdisciplinary content — to investigate more about the required subject matter.

Create: Students design and complete an “original creation” — a tangible, artistic manifestation that synthesizes and demonstrates their understanding of this new knowledge. Thinking moves from divergent to convergent.

Reflect: Students cogitate on their journey through the “unit of study” and ask “deepening questions” about what and how they learned. They document this process through detailed narratives, maps and metaphors. Students discover new ideas and connections while considering what they can use in practical application. Valuable skills are identified that will serve them in life and students set new goals for becoming more self-directed as learners.