First Monday

Teacher's Palette by Diana Helton Rennels and Jill Fairhurst Taylor

"The arts have been an inseparable part of the
human journey. They provide us with pleasure,
spark our creativity, and frame reality in fresh
perspectives. We value them for themselves, and
because we do, we believe knowing and practicing,
them is fundamental to the healthy development of
our children's minds and spirits."
- Madeleine Kunan

In 1998, the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) University Library received a grant from the Institute of Museums and Libraries (IMLS). Sub-grants were awarded to six educator teams in central Indiana during the summer of 1999. The purpose of this mini-grant was two-fold. Twelve teachers became part of a national pilot program to integrate art into a regular classroom using a digital database as one resource. The second goal of this grant was to develop lesson plans to integrate art into each school corporation's existing curriculum. What follows are just a few examples of units of study and lessons that were implemented in a third grade classroom at Brown Elementary School in Brownsburg, Indiana. The true success of this project lies in our collaboration, a library media specialist and third grade teacher working together to make sure we "leave no child behind."

Art is the great equalizer. There is no right or wrong answer; it speaks to a child's emotions, which have been described as the gateway to brain compatible learning, and it sparks the creative spirit in all curricular areas. The at-risk student label given many children can be discarded and replaced with an artist's palette, symbolizing a color wheel of possibilities. As the school year begins, each child's canvas is blank, the slate has been wiped clean, and the chance for new beginnings is just a brush stroke away. The classroom studio has specifically been created as a safe place where creative expression, tolerance, and the celebration of the individual spirit are recognized and encouraged.

To begin, we introduce the artists Rembrandt and Rockwell in the media center, focusing on their self-portraits. After watching "Rembrandt's Beret," the children are given their own purple felt berets, their "painters' crowns." The artistic transformation has begun. With berets tilted jauntily on their heads, the children draw their own self-portraits. Then we look inward and using excerpts from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" the children write poems celebrating their inner selves as shown in James's poem below.

"I celebrate myself.
People say I'm as slow
as turtle,
but I'm not.
I am as fast
as an alligator.
When people hurt my feelings,
I'm an orphan
and no one cares about me.
Then I feel like a very lonely lizard
in a boiling hot desert.
To me, every day used to be a rainy day -
water for tears.
Now I know that some people
feel the same way.
And, today ...
I celebrate myself.
I'm excellent at running
like the wind in a tornado.
I can tackle a bull
when it's trapped in a pen.
I kick like a radiant horse
when it is whipped.
I celebrate these things in me."

From this writing experience, we begin to know our students, and more significantly know our students' perceptions of themselves. The first stroke of color has been added to the canvas.

In Indiana, state achievement testing occurs in early September. As part of this third grade ISTEP test, the students are asked to write a story and given fifty-five minutes to do so. Often, a picture is used as a writing prompt. This testing experience is simulated using a Norman Rockwell print prior to testing as shown by Kristen's writing sample below.

Kristen's writing sample for ISTEP

Figure 1: Kristen's writing sample for ISTEP.

This writing sample is used as an assessment tool and is later compared to a writing sample completed at the end of the school year. This is a powerful means of demonstrating growth and speaks to the issue of teacher accountability.

Our next unit of study focuses on our community. Hoosier artists are featured; see our online lessons plans. In celebration of the bicentennial of the Library of Congress in May 2000, our class project, selected by Representative Edward Pease, became part of the Local Legacies national database as a permanent record in the Library of Congress. The legacy of farming was the focus of our project. A quilt was hand-stitched by our eight and nine year old students, including Indiana rural landscapes painted on their own quilt blocks. As we explored the legacies left by the farmers in Brownsburg, our "Unsung Heroes," we began to see that weaving the study of artists and their works into our curricular tapestry brought a richness and depth to the legacy we hope to leave with each of our students.

From the Emerald Isle to Little Ireland: The Legacy of Farming in Brownsburg, Indiana.

Figure 2: From the Emerald Isle to Little Ireland: The Legacy of Farming in Brownsburg, Indiana.

Throughout our Native American unit, we shared the artwork of many artists including Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and Georgia O'Keeffe. A field trip to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art was an integral part of our tribal research project and provided an opportunity to make real-world connections. Back in our school media center, the children worked in small groups to complete the research of various tribes throughout North America, research begun during our museum visit. Using a wide variety of resources including the Internet, CDs, books, videos, and video conferencing we were literally able to bring the world to rural Indiana.

With the wealth of research data on the brain and its implications for student learning we now have available, we know that integrating curriculum in meaningful ways positively impacts student achievement. After the Native American research was completed, the children applied that factual information in an illustrated math story problem of their own design. Jesse's story problem below was based on the Sioux ceremony, which Remington brought to life in his own painting entitled "The Sun Dance."

Jesse's Interpretation of Remington's The Sun Dance

Figure 3: Jesse's Interpretation of Remington's "The Sun Dance."

Using Russell's painting, "The Wolfer's Camp," as a springboard for discussion, we introduced the concept of barter and trade, two components of our economics curriculum. This led to the children's interest in establishing a trading post (with a little guidance from us) in our elementary school. The children decided to produce Native American beaded jewelry, dream catcher kits, and popcorn after learning that maize was an important crop in many native cultures. These items would then be made available to all the students at Brown Elementary School.

To purchase the resources necessary to make our wares, we asked a local bank to loan us $40. Jay Puckett, loan officer for the State Bank of Lizton, came to our classroom and explained the loan process, including the reason we had to pay $.43 interest and why the contents of the children's desks and cubby holes needed to be held as collateral. It was a sobering moment for our students when they internalized the concept that if we did not pay back our loan, their art supplies and "smelly" markers could be confiscated. With great ceremony the children voluntarily signed the loan agreement in cursive to make our loan legally binding.

Throughout the next couple of weeks the children went into full production, learning first-hand core economic principles. The help of parents was essential in bringing this project to fruition. We are pleased to announce that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. The trading post was a huge success! Our record of sales was reproduced in the media center using Microsoft Excel, and we were thrilled to learn that our profits exceeded $500! Mr. Puckett returned to our classroom and the children proudly handed him the $40.43 necessary to satisfy our loan agreement and shared with him the genuine sense of achievement they felt in this business venture. The profits of our trading post went toward purchasing a wood burning stove and Christmas food basket for a Navajo family living on a reservation in New Mexico, and we also were able to sponsor and purchase Christmas gifts for a single parent family in our own community.

You see, this project encompassed so much more than just the integration of art and technology into our third grade curriculum. It added a color and texture to the children's canvases and allowed the innate goodness in all children, irrespective of academic levels or backgrounds, to shine forth. The sense of fulfillment and joy in our students' faces shone brightly, a beacon in the fog of negativity regarding education in this country. Through this article and our presentation at the Web-Wise conference in February, we hope our voices and the voices of our students will be heard, for they are voices of hope and great promise.

One final unit we'd like to share involves the study of Leonardo da Vinci whose scientific genius related to our science unit on simple machines. The Wyeths (N.C., Andrew, and Jamie) illustrated the strong bonds of family that was evident in our study of the Wright brothers. Picasso's work tied seamlessly into our math curriculum as the children made kites like Orville and Wilbur Wright using geometric principles.

To introduce simple machines we journeyed to the Indianapolis Children's Museum. There the children had hands-on experiences using simple machines in the Science Works area of the museum. Upon our return to the classroom, the children were able to literally experience all the simple machines on the seven-foot wooden simple machine model in our classroom. This connected beautifully with our study of the Wright brothers' odyssey to produce a flying machine. What a surprise it was for the students to discover, utilizing a CD in the media center, that Leonardo da Vinci had made drawings of what today would be a helicopter! The media center was also the site for a Science Court experiment with simple machines.

The real world applications of our study of simple machines, geometry, and the invincible spirit of the Wright brothers were culminated in an Invention Convention. Prior to this, the children received patents for their own inventions, which had to include at least two simple machines. Often with the help of family members the children then constructed models of their inventions and showcased them in a Microsoft Power Point presentation produced in the media center's production room and in our school computer lab. These presentations were shown before our students demonstrated their models at our annual Invention Convention. Parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends were amazed at the innovative inventions created by our third graders.

Below is Nowell's technical drawing, the first slide in his Microsoft Power Point presentation, illustrating his invention entitled the "Litter Sifter." His invention included all the simple machines we studied and allowed him to empty his cat's litter box in a very creative way!

Nowell's technical drawing of his invention, the Litter Sifter

Figure 4: Nowell's technical drawing of his invention, the "Litter Sifter."

Every child had his/her own moment in the spotlight during this unit. This experience allowed those kinesthetic learners who are often tethered by traditional paper and pencil tasks to soar unencumbered in their flights to reach new heights of achievement and recognition.

Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Perhaps a visit to the Indianapolis Museum of Art by our third grade students to see an original Picasso painting will be the impetus for a lifetime love of art. Thanks to our grant from IMLS, we believe that the potential for all of our students to remain artists throughout their lifetimes is possible. Our students' canvases are works in progress, and with the many hues of color available through technology; their palettes are ever changing and growing in complexity. Our children are our country's masterpieces and our most precious national treasures. And with the collaboration between the "old masters" in our schools, museums, and libraries, we can indeed ensure that "no child is left behind." End of article


About the Authors

Diana Helton Rennels, BS, MLS, is Library Media Specialist at the Brown Elementary School in Brownsburg, Indiana.

Jill Fairhurst Taylor, BA, MA, is a Third Grade Teacher at the Brown Elementary School in Brownsburg, Indiana.

Editorial history

Paper received 5 March 2001; accepted 16 March 2001.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2001, First Monday

Teacher's Palette by Diana Helton Rennels and Jill Fairhurst Taylor
First Monday, volume 6, number 4 (April 2001),