Art is Elemental

In addition to rewriting the high school curriculum, I’m also writing the Middle School Art curriculum…I’m calling it, “Art is Elemental”. I meet my middle school students for a maximum of 22 class periods per year on a rotational cycle – on days 1 & 2 or days 3 & 4. It adds up to be about 15 hours total per year…wow, right? It’s such a short amount of time at such an important age, that I wanted our time together to mean something more than just “creative fun”, but of course, I also wanted it to BE creative and fun! I came up with the Art is Elemental theme, so that I could teach “big ideas” in a short period of time without my exploratory cycle class being a total drag. The learning experiences are structured so that my students gain knowledge about important environmental issues and then get to synthesize their understanding by making art. It’s a perfect combination that I’ve really enjoyed so far!

Over the course of three years, we will focus on earth, water and then fire/air, and address issues like conservation, pollution, waste & wastefulness, recycling & upcycling and sustainability. Once the rotation is complete, I’ll start the cycle all over again. Grades 6, 7 & 8 will learn about all of the elements and the environmental concerns associated with them, just in varying orders. In 2010, all of our activities were centered on the Earth. In 2011, our school-wide unit was Water and in 2012, our theme is Fire/Air.

The essential questions that drive my planning and curriculum writing are:
Does art make you think about yourself and society in new ways?
How do artists use their creative skills, talents and ideas to influence how we view the world and our surroundings?
Does an individual have the power to make a lasting difference?
In what ways is our society more advanced than those of the past?
In what ways might we be moving backwards?
What can you do that will positively impact the environment?
How are things, events or people connected to each other?
If we don’t change, what will?

To get you inspired to think about incorporating environmental themes into your own lessons, here are some terrific resources I find useful:
http://www.thinkgreen.com/second-life (short video I show my kids)
http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/howstuffworks-recycling-aluminum.html (short video I show my kids)
http://www.terracycle.net
http://zerowastehome.blogspot.com

About Karen

Karen Kiick began her teaching career in 1990 in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Since 1996, she has taught at Haddon Township High School in Westmont, New Jersey. She is her District's K-12 Visual and Performing Arts Facilitator and currently teaches 9th through 12th grades. Karen is a five-time recipient (2005, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2017) of the New Jersey Governor’s Award for Excellence in Art Education. She is also the 2017 National Secondary Art Teacher of the Year and the 2015 NJ Art Educator of the Year.
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