School Art Education in America
Two years ago, students from my middle school”s gifted program had the opportunity to visit Wexner Center for the Arts exhibition on contemporary architecture concentrating on human habitats.Students, after viewing the various exhibits and learning about the architects in docent-led discussions, participated in an activity in which they assumed roles as architects and general contractors in order to create their own habitats.Reluctant at first, they completed their tasks and then answered a list of questions prepared by museum personnel.
After reading through the student responses, I discovered that although the students had learned a little about architecture that day, they were deficient in their knowledge of architecture as being more than buildings we live in and use.
Students could name several classical architectural styles but were limited in their responses to other areas of the study. In his book Architecture is Elementary, Nathan B. Winters states “Years of research indicate that the lay public has not grown much beyond the fourth grade level in visual literacy,” (Winters, 1997).
It is my intent to search for the best instructional practices to teach architecture to middle school students using an action plan involving my middle school art students, the community of Plain City, selected professional architects, contractors and city planners in order to increase students” knowledge of architecture. I hope to expand student”s knowledge of architectural styles, help develop an appreciation for architecture, study problems of historic structure preservation, and planning. The booklet, Imagine!
Introducing Your Child to the Arts, provides parents with methods to introduce children to the arts while encouraging children to imagine. In chapter seven entitled “Architecture and Children”, it is stated “Architecture unites culture with perception and technology. ” The chapter defines the study of the “built environment” as architecture, landscape architecture, historic preservation and planning. Describing children as natural builders, the author implores parents to enjoy, admire, and enable children to build forts and other items of play (Donohue, 1997).
The booklet provides parents with ideas to use with children starting with their own home, such as, showing them how the plumbing and heating systems work. This booklet is geared for use by parents of children up to third grade. In a final statement the importance of teaching architecture is stressed. The author says “Many children, in fact, have strengths in the kind of visual, spatial and tactile thinking that are invoked in architectural design and analysis, that they may not be called upon to use in other school subjects.
Donohue stresses that being able to think three-dimensionally can be applied to other subjects and life experiences (Donohue, 1997). While this booklet did not specifically pertain to middle school aged students, it supports the need for education in the architectural field. The paper entitled “Bulgaria and Romania: Lessons” discusses ideas that are intended to increase the cultural awareness of middle school students concerning life in Bulgaria and Romania. Part eight of the paper is a lesson entitled “Comparison of Architecture.
The objective is to “Enable students to see that the people in Romania and Bulgaria live in a variety of different architectural styles of homes. ” (Binger, 1996) The author uses the inquiry method by having American students analyze photographs of homes and towns in Bulgaria and Romania and write a description of the life of a person living in one of the houses. The students were shown pictures of famous buildings in the area and had to be able to name and describe them. This paper includes architecture as one of the areas of study, and in my opinion, the method used was appropriate for middle school students.
Architectural Treasures, cover story for “Arts and Activities,” describes an art lesson for eighth grade students involving slides of famous buildings from the beginning of time to the present concentrating on four cities; Toronto, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and the author”s hometown, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. After viewing and discussing thirty thousand years of homes, the students created their own architectural structures from clay. Discipline-based instruction was used because the students were not regular art students. This lesson could be, in my opinion, used as part of an action-plan for middle school students.
In exploring action research methods, the article by Mary Hafeli describes lessons in which decisions made by the student and teacher involve power struggles and questioning of values by the teacher. Ms. Hafeli asked the question, “How are judgments about student artworks formed? ” (Hafeli, 2000, p 130). She divided her article into the following segments: research framework, setting and participants, and data collection and analysis. All of these areas were supported with relevant citings by well-known authors.
Michael Parsons” review of Ms. Hafeli”s article suggests that issues of power in the classroom make a “Desirable direction for research” (Parsons, 2000). The article discusses action research, which is an area I needed to explore while working on my topic. In her article, Design for Inquiry, Delacruz discusses the importance of students solving problems and states, “The best teaching methods and strategies are those contributing to a climate that fosters self-confidence and encourages self-inquiry and self-reliance. ”
She further states, “When students form their own questions and learn complex thinking processes, that instruction is inquiry-centered. She believes that the inquiry method should be useful for art educators at all levels particularly school-based art teachers. (Delacruz, 1999) A new model of critical inquiry is disclosed by George Geahigan. He states that inquiry means to “Investigate, to search for knowledge and information. Critical inquiry starts with a personal experience that students have with a work of art. It can be promoted by students exchanging opinions and observations about a work of art, by students comparing and contrasting works of art, and by confronting students with provocative and controversial works of art. (Geahigan, 1999)
This method could be applied very well to the teaching of architecture in an action plan using examples of architecture in the community. The authors of Architectural Images Through the Dual Lens of Picture Books and Creative Dramatics, state that, “The idea of architecture as a meaningful and vitally important part of the student environment was not present in art curricula prior to 1993 and that introducing architectural concepts to children is a relatively new area of the curriculum” (Cleaver, Scheurer, and Shorey, 1993).
The authors recognize the integration of architecture education through a comprehensive listing and review of books published about architecture for children. Ways to integrate the ideas were presented in many subject areas. They state that other countries are also interested in incorporating architecture into learning, citing the British project “Learning to See. ” The authors discuss a variety of books that introduce types of houses in various regions of the United States. A suggestion is made that this book could be used to produce a photographic record of children”s homes in their communities to make a classroom book.
As this was to be part of my action plan, I was interested to know that this idea had already been implemented. The authors support educating children about architecture stating “By being sensitized to style and form and function of structure, children may more easily see who we are as a culture as mirrored in our surroundings” (Cleaver, Scheurer, and Shorey, 1993). After the literature review it is my belief that it would be an opportune time to go ahead with my action plan for several reasons, the most important being the enhancement of art education of children in our school district.
Plain City is the fastest growing community in the area and is situated next to Dublin and Hilliard in Franklin County. The Big Darby watershed runs through the area and a state of the art suspension bridge is being built literally in my back yard. Housing developments are forming everyday and our students” parents are involved in making decisions about this growth. To teach middle school aged children to be aware of the value of architecture as functional, and hopefully beautiful, will involve a process that I hope to achieve in my action plan.
The ideas presented in my research can be incorporated, expanded upon, and evaluated in the proposed plan. It is submitted that the plan will require more definition, research, and fine-tuning in order to implement it. We are all watching a community growing from rural agricultural based, Amish influenced society to becoming participants in the building of a modern extended community. Economics plays a definite role here, but much can be done through art education of middle school students to achieve a social balance.