Teachers don’t often go to conferences where they can attend a “math class” and create obtuse and acute angles with masking tape, but arts conferences can be different. Every year, the Arts Express Summer Conference uses interactive activities to give teachers ideas for integrating arts into their classroom curricula as they explore the importance of doing so. “The arts give students opportunities to explore material in new ways,” said Cally Flox, Arts Director for the BYU Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling. Experiences with the arts provide a number of ways that children can approach learning experiences: e.g., drawing ideas and impressions, singing or playing simple instruments to represent places and cultures, acting out stories or events. “Such a variety of approaches keeps kids interested, allowing them to think more deeply and creatively about the material,” Flox added.
The 5th Annual Arts Express Summer Conference for Elementary Educators, titled “The Reflecting Pool: Assessment in the Arts,” held in June, attracted teachers from across the state of Utah in addition to those within the BYU-Public School Partnership (BYU-PSP). “Many teachers have been coming for several years,” Flox said. “Arts Express reminds them who they are and why they are teaching. They leave with a variety of engaging teaching techniques that they can use in their classrooms.
Keynote speaker Deb Brzoska, a Teaching Artist at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, emphasized how assessment can help students by informing them about the quality of their own work. Assessment strategies were developed throughout the conference. “Assessment is imperative in education,” said Flox. “Teachers should continually assess themselves and their students so they can continually improve the quality of their work.”
At the two-day conference, participants attended classes including both lecture and participation as they engaged in different art forms to experience a variety of curricula; dance, theater, music, math, language arts, literacy, painting, social science, and ecology were all involved. “These teachers were able to experience how arts integration can significantly contribute to the improvement of the daily lives of elementary school students,” Flox said.
In a closing celebration, groups of participants demonstrated what they learned at the conference through performances using creative techniques such as dance, music, or theater. These performances helped educators understand how students in classes of all disciplines can do the same. “It's important for students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways, not just in written tests, so they can internalize the information and show the personal meaning of what they learned,” Flox explained.
The conference also welcomed professional visual and musical artists, including popular pianist Jon Schmidt. By examining these artists’ work, participants were able to better understand the benefits of personally interacting with and experiencing the arts. “The arts can be just as engaging when integrated into children’s learning,” Flox said.
This year’s Arts Express Summer Conference presented a tribute to Beverly Sorenson, whose financial gifts enabled the establishment of the BYU A.R.T.S. Partnership, a collaborative effort of the McKay School of Education, the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications, and the BYU-PSP to increase the quality and quantity of elementary arts education. Sorenson was honored for her commitment and generosity.
In addition to Arts Express, the A.R.T.S. Partnership includes ARTS Academy, a series of workshops for public school teachers, and ARTSBridge, a program providing BYU students with opportunities to work with and learn from teachers in the BYU-PSP to develop engaging instruction for children. These programs are innovative opportunities for BYU to effectively serve the community. “With the fine arts, we want to elevate thought and increase sensitivity,” said Flox. “And as a school of education, we want to offer the finest instructional techniques available to engage children in meaningful activities and learning.”
22 August 2011