Art Prize

Today my family visited the second annual Art Prize, a huge art competition displayed all over Grand Rapids. The art is displayed both inside and outside of buildings all around downtown and anyone who registers can vote for their favorite pieces, American Idol style. There were many incredibly creative pieces and it was a lot of fun to explore and find them. Some of my kids’ favorites were the interactive ones that they could touch such as this sweet harp that “plays” based on sonar detection of sound waves or one of the many pianos randomly placed around the city.

We started the day parked in front of the Waters Building, a historic spot downtown. We arrived before the “official” start of Art Prize and wandered off to look at some of the outdoor exhibits. At the end of our day when we returned to our van there was a sign indicating that there were art entries inside. We went in and looked at the exhibits. Many were in small rooms off from a main hallway. We found this exhibit of hundreds of ceramic pieces that look like shells on a wood floor.

My son immediately joined some other kids who were playing with the “rocks.”

My daughter made her name with them, but my son started sorting out by color into ones that he liked the best.

I couldn’t help but think about learning. I didn’t have to tell my kids, “Go play with this art.” I did not have to give them any instructions. They automatically started doing learning on their own. It is human nature to perform math-sort and organize- and to be creative and spell.

What if we used kids curiosity more in schools? I have been practicing spelling words with my son for two weeks. He does not like it and I think I hate it even more. What if I gave him a bunch of objects and had him “spell” his words? Would he “learn” them faster and better?

What if social studies showed a students a tool like How Big Really? and let students explore landmarks? Would students learn geography better? Would it lead to questions such as why was the Great Wall of China built?

What if history class started with today and went backwards? What if class started with current events and then would students ask how things got they way they are today?

I love the science class that I have with my son whether it is building a raft , walking in the woods, or picking vegetables from our garden. Science teachers who throw away the scripted labs “get” what learning looks like.

What if we skyped with students from other countries and then we taught students how to write letters? What if we studied the world’s problems and used that knowledge for social action?

What if math “happened” when students needed it to solve one of the many questions these explorations would lead to?

What if Language Arts was sharing all of these amazing experiences with the world through writing, blogging, videos, and podcasts?

We don’t need to teach students to be creative artists. We need to get out of the way and let them be artists!

I really think the “unschooling” movement has some very valid points of letting students play and learn at their own pace and in their own way. Maybe the definition of a teacher should be someone who creates wonderful learning opportunities and environments (read not scripted!) and lets kids decide what to learn in them.
I think one of the major problems with education today is that we do not trust students to learn. We then feel the need to control, force, and coerce them to “learn” what who knows who from who knows where decided are the “standards” for grade X.

6 thoughts on “Art Prize

  1. Theresa

    Well done. Great way to use art to focus on what’s good about learning and provide direction for how we should focus on improving learning.

  2. Sue VanHattum

    Hi Michael, My mom and dad were telling me about this, and I thought they were saying Art Pride. It sounds like a lot of fun.

    I like knowing there’s someone with such a sensible (to me) perspective at Valleywood.

  3. Darlene Staimpel

    Hi Michael,I’m in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama and I have been assigned to your blog. I completely agree with letting children experience learning in their own way and not being forced to learn. I have learned that children can amaze you with their knowledge if you give them a chance. My 5 year old amazes me everyday.

  4. Brooke Broadus

    Hi Michael, I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 Class at the University of South Alabama, and this will be my second post to your blog. Fill free to read my post on my blog about the post I have commented on.

    I really enjoyed reading about the Art Prize you and your family went to. The picture your shown are awesome! At the end of your post you talked about not forcing students to learn, and I completely agree with this. I have learned in this class that not every student learns the same as other students. I loved when you said “we don’t need to teach students to be creative artists. We need to get out of the way and let them be artists!” This is exactly right. Children can teach us! They can show us the ways they like to learn. Every student is different, and has his or her own learning pace. Great post!

  5. Crystal Raper

    I think that using art is a great form of learning for children of all ages. I still very much enjoy art and all the different things you can learn from it. And bringing art into the classroom can be very useful for broadening a child’s mind and work ethic in school.

  6. Amelia Platt's

    Hi, Michael
    I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class and I will be summarizing my post on my blog I so agree with the fact we should let kids use their creativity. So many dreams die because as teachers we are told to let those talents die and just teach what we are told. I know Im am one of those students who could have done so much more if I were given that chance to be creative. I know that is why I have liked some of the assignments Dr. Strange has given us because it has given me that chance to express my creativity and how I feel. I feel if we did this more we would see more students excel with their education.

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