A national benchmark in
Educational excellence through integration of the arts

Integration Station

Creativity: The MacGyver of 21st Century Skills

Creativity: The MacGyver of 21st Century Skills

This is the first of a series of entries by long-time ArtSpace teacher and current Enterprise and Development Manager,“Capt. Josh” Batenhorst that will take a deeper look at the methods employed for teaching and learning ArtSpace.

SWANNANOA, NC, August 24, 2015 — When I was a kid, MacGyver was “must-see tv.”  The character, played by Richard Dean Anderson, was always getting into situations where he had to dexterously call upon his experience and knowledge to solve a seemingly intractable problem, usually a life-threatening problem involving a time-detonated explosive device.  To me, this is the ultimate in creative thinking:  Pulling in knowledge from one domain into another in order to solve a problem or make something new.  

Since ancient times, great minds have pondered the nature of knowledge.

Since ancient times, great minds have pondered the nature of knowledge.

Since the beginning of time, those who were trusted with the tenets of knowledge – priests, philosophers, and teachers – have been interested in what it means to “know” something.  Aristotle famously broke knowledge into a hierarchy of “truths” and considered human knowledge to take “form” through three activities of the “soul” – sensation, thought, and desire.  Dr. Benjamin Bloom famously developed these forms into a taxonomy (Bloom’s Taxonomy) in order to promote higher forms of thinking in education.  This theory was further revised by Dr. Lorin Anderson and others in the early 2000s, and this revision put “Creativity” at the very top of the list of knowledge complexity.  In other words, creating and creative thinking is considered by many to be the most complex human knowledge process.

Around this same time, a group of educators, legislators, and business leaders came together to discuss the question:  “What skills will American children need to master in order to succeed in the 21st Century?”  It was becoming clear that the clasic “Three R’s – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic” were not enough.  In addition to a number of research and personal skills, this group – the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (www.p21.org) proposed the “4 C’s” – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration.

The “4 C’s” pose a special challenge for teachers.  These skills are not easily acquired through traditional methods of teaching.  Students cannot “sit and get” them because their very nature requires being presented with opportunities to problem solve and work closely with others.  The arts provide particularly fruitful ground for the acquisition of the “4 C’s.”  The process of putting on a performance or expressing an idea through a creation requires the intellectual application of a variety of these skills.IMG_4433

Creativity, though, is especially cultivated by the arts.  Essentially, creativity is sparked by what Aristotle might have described as an “impulse of the soul.”  To solve a problem creatively requires one to honor that impulse and have confidence that the solution lies somewhere in the direction of the impulse.

Recently, at the A+ Schools 20th Anniversary National Conference, I watched Michelle Pearson, an A+ Fellow and celebrated performer with a number of dance companies including Dance Exchange, lead a crowd of 200 or so participants in a group dance.  She took ideas from the audience for movements that might represent the conference goals of “Celebrate, Share, and Inspire.” She took the audience choices, altered them ever-so-slightly, and then put them to the beat of a song.  As she worked, I wondered at her capacity to choose and choreograph on the fly.  This was creativity on display.  With her choices, she was taking years of experience as a dancer and teacher, using that knowledge to artfully select movements that the crowd could perform from their seats, and then skillfully pull them together to create meaning and context.  While there was no threat of an imminent explosion, like MacGyver, she had a small amount of time to come up with something that would work, and she achieved it beautifully.

The arts encourage “creative confidence.”  As a student’s skill level rises in the arts, their choices – whether they be a brush stroke, intonation of a phrase, or movement – become ever more complex.  They are immediately challenged or honored through the feedback they receive.  Either the canvas looks like what the artist had in mind, or it doesn’t.  The musical phrase hits the desired note or it does not.  The movement is artfully completed and achieves its intended meaning or it does not.  

This feedback is difficult, but it is the very difficulty that makes it valuable.  As students understanding of the world around them grows, those engaged in the arts make more and more connections – both concrete and abstract – about which pathways will “work” and which will not. Eventually, this continual effort in the arts establishes confidence in the learner’s creative impulses.  These aesthetically and artistically satisfying choices become ingrained in the artist’s experience, in their brain, and in their Aristotelian “soul.”   

Although I don’t remember it being covered in the TV show, I am pretty sure that MacGyver had a broad exposure to the arts as a youngster.  While his creativity often came in the form of ever-more-interesting uses for paper clips (or whatever), his confidence in his knowledge and creativity belies a type of thinking that is trained and evolved through engagement in the arts.  There is a reason that Einstein, when approaching a difficult problem, would pick up his fiddle.  He was massaging those parts of his brain/soul that had solved so many problems in the past.  As we move into a world where creativity is beginning to be acknowledged as an educational end in and of itself, arts education should likewise be acknowledged as the primary path for acquiring this indispensible skill.

Award Winning Music Teacher, Meg Boerner!

Award Winning Music Teacher, Meg Boerner!

Swannanoa, NC, August 18, 2015 — “Ms. Meg” Boerner has only been teaching at ArtSpace for two short years, but in that time she has made an incredible impact on her students and colleagues.  For the first time in ArtSpace history, an arts specialist was awarded the honor of being named “Teacher of the Year” — an annual award voted on by the ArtSpace Faculty and Staff.  In addition to this honor, Ms. Meg was also voted 2nd place in the Mountain Xpress readers poll as “Best Music Teacher.”  I sat down with Meg to ask her a little bit about her experience and what it feels like to receive these awards.

ArtSpace student, Maya Diehn, awaits her part in the 5th grade chorus during last year's Spring Arts Festival.

ArtSpace student, Maya Diehn, awaits her part in the 5th grade chorus during last year’s Spring Arts Festival.

Josh:  Give me a sense of your background with music and teaching – instruments you play, educational background, places you’ve taught, other things you’re involved with:

Meg:  I have been playing music for over 20 years!  I started on piano, after that with wooden acoustic guitars, and then began playing flute in 4th grade and never stopped.  I went to Millersville University in Pennsylvania for Music Education where I received a degree to teach Band, Orchestra and Chorus K-12.  I worked as a woodwind technician for Lancaster Catholic High School’s Marching Band for 2 years, which led to my first job as a part-time classroom music teacher at St. Anne’s School in the same district.  I moved to Asheville when I accepted the offer to work full-time at ArtSpace for the 2013-2014 school year.  I direct the 6th grade beginning band, 7th/8th grade band elective, 5th grade chorus, 6th grade chorus, private after school lessons, and I am also involved in assistant coaching Girls on the Run.

Josh:  What does it feel like to be Teacher of the Year at ArtSpace and voted 2nd Best Music Teacher in the Asheville Area by the readers of the Mtn. Xpress?

Meg:  It has been a very humbling experience.  I feel I am still a novice teacher, and I have a lot of obstacles to overcome and goals to accomplish – I’m just getting started!  I’m always looking for things in my day-to-day life that I can bring into the classroom and integrate.  I do stay late at school and take a lot of work home with me, so the recognition from the staff at ArtSpace and community of WNC is amazing and so appreciated!  I hope to continue to live up to the honor!

Josh:  Tell me about your vision for the music program at ArtSpace?  What’s new this year and what do you see it looking like in the future?

Meg:  From day one, Ms. Lori has always encouraged me to “DREAM BIG!” In addition to our band program, we have developed a choral program as well.  It is my goal to have every grade level singing and playing on instruments in some fashion, so each student’s music education grows exponentially throughout their time at ArtSpace. We have some new additions of stations in the general music classroom including: keyboard skills, listening and observations, writing and music literacy.  I’m hoping these individual work zones will be a vehicle for making connections to the curriculum, as well as regional and global cultures.  We have big plans to expand the building and with that expansion I hope to grow a strings program as well.

Kaden Wright (Left) ane Daniel Wiedrich (Right) play their parts in the 6th grade band Spring Arts Festival performance.

Kaden Wright (Left) and Daniel Wiedrich (Right) play their parts in the 6th grade band Spring Arts Festival performance.

Josh:  Why music?  How does music affect student learning?  Does it improve outcomes for students?  If so, how?

Meg:  I strongly believe music affects students learning and provides positive outcomes as a result.  Music is a language in a very literal sense.  The terms used are heavily rooted in Italian and can expand to other Romance languages depending on the piece.  It is an abstract language as well; a type of communication that differs from verbal.  There is a lot you can say through music without ever uttering a word.  It enables students of all social and emotional backgrounds to be expressive.  It relieves anxiety and stimulates brain activity.  Music is math.  It is science of sound.  It can be read, heard, felt, and touched.  I have seen students gain confidence through playing in ensembles.  Parents have told me how much they learned about composers from their child sharing at home.  Finding a way to make subjects and curricula fun and interesting to young learners is much easier with music and the arts as a tool.

Personally, it was a great pleasure to interview Ms. Meg and learn more about her experience and big dreams for the music program at ArtSpace.  If you would like to help with the music program at ArtSpace you can contact our volunteer coordinator: gro.retrahcecapstranull@derlla.nibor.  ArtSpace is also looking for donations of instruments of all types, but especially brass, woodwind and strings.  Please consider donating your gently-used instruments to ArtSpace.

ArtSpace Charter School is a tuition-free public charter school serving approximately 400 elementary and middle school students in the Asheville and Buncombe County areas of North Carolina.  The ArtSpace vision is to be “a national benchmark in educational excellence through integration of the arts.”

All Staff Return for Annual Art Happening

All Staff Return for Annual Art Happening

August 6, 2015 —  Every year the ArtSpace staff comes together after summer vacation to re-ignite their creativity with a collaborative art project.  In the past the staff have created collective visual art pieces, theatre works, an “ArtSpace Runway” fashion show, and even a “two hour opera” – (a musical attempt to tell the story of ArtSpace wholly developed and performed in under two hours).

This year the staff came together for introductions of new staff members and a few activities to re-connect.  After introductory activities, Ms. Lori and Mr. Josh led a brief historical review of the work that occurred at Black Mountain College.  Black Mountain College was an experimental school that existed from 1933-1952 in the Black Mountain area.  Central to the school’s philosophy was the idea that the arts were central and vital to learning – a philosophy shared by the ArtSpace community as well.

One part of the Black Mountain College experience was the development of the artistic “Happening” – a spontaneous event where a variety of art forms were explored simultaneously.    The staff created extemporaneously throughout the theater.  Some drew, painted, sculpted, carved, and arranged flowers, while others focused on movement, music and technology.  Just as we do throughout the year, staff members moved in and out of various collaborations, each artist bringing their own inspiration to the piece.  Mr. Josh, in reviewing the event said, “It was a very exciting and creative way for the staff to reunite and reconnect with the mission of ArtSpace, while learning more about ourselves and our local history through the arts.  I think it was a huge success.”

ArtSpace Charter School is a tuition-free public charter school serving approximately 400 elementary and middle school students in the Asheville and Buncombe County area of North Carolina.  The ArtSpace vision is to be “a national benchmark in educational excellence through integration of the arts.”