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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Night at the Museum: My experience using Visual Thinking Strategies (vtshome.org) in an educator class at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

Check out this website, which was the basis for my educator art class story below.




And the story begins.....



So there I was signed up to take ------->
...at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Date: October 17, 2013. Time: 6:30-8:00pm. Wasn't sure what to expect. I was excited about it, though. A nice byproduct of having #edcampKC at the Nelson is that I've needed to explore it so I'm familiar and can set up experiences educators can learn and grow from on Nov 9th and beyond. I belong to the museum now and am spending more and more time there by choice and desire.






The clipboards!




At 6:30 pm, the Nelson-Atkins instructors welcomed us talked to the 25 educators in attendance about VTS strategies as a way to get kids immersed in art and developing their inquiry and verbal skills. 



Adrienne then took us, along with our darling cardboard clipboards, to a gallery room to EXPERIENCE VTS! ----->




Here we go from our classroom in the Ford Learning Center (right in the middle of where we'll be for #edcampKC) down the hall and up the stairs to the heart of the art!















We arrive in the room with our focus piece of art, a piece by Max Breckmann called "Baccarat." It's to the left of the center of this picture.













We all assemble around the artwork and our wonderful VTS leader, Adrienne.
(Adrienne, by the way, has been instrumental in making #edcampKC a reality at the Nelson. She is truly an art educator extraordinaire and I am happy to be working with and learning from her.)

This is what Adrienne and the Nelson-Atkins instructors let us experience. Adrienne led us through this masterfully and then asked us for our feedback; about how the process felt to us.










Off topic but artsy: I used Flickr's Splash editor to pop the art out of the black and white version.

This is Adrienne in action--a quiet VTS kind of action. :)

Art: "Baccarat" by Max Breckmann


  • "What do you think is going on in this picture? What do you notice?"
  • "What do you see that makes you say that?"
  • "What MORE can you find?" (Instead of, "What else can you find?")


Adrienne validated our responses and clarified using art terms what we saw. She did not say, "Good job" or "That's right." She honored this open-ended inquiry process, this jumping-into-a-picture activity. She let us interact with it---TOGETHER.

My thoughts during the process

When I originally looked at the piece of art I found myself doubting. Inner dialogue went something like this....."I don't know art terms. I'm not an artist." (Got a B- on a self-portrait I did in 3rd grade. I was really proud of that thing. I still remember that feeling. It hurt.) Anyway, I also found myself thinking for a moment, "What is she looking for in this question?" No, no, no. That's what school is too often about and we get used to it; living apart from our own thinking. Learning becomes about what OTHERS want us to think, find, learn.

So the first hand goes up in our VTS exercise around "Baccarat." This person says something I hadn't thought of, and once she said it my brain had something to feed off of. The next person went and that person's comment fed off the first comment. The world was expanding for all of us, with each shared view. It went on and on. I'd say about 8 people added to our collaborative view of this artwork. I am much richer for interacting with that piece of art--IN A GROUP of curious learners. Now, every time I go to the Nelson and go in that room, I will have a great memory AND I feel like I have a sort of kinship with that piece of art. VERY STRANGE and COOL at the same time. Powerful.

When Adrienne asked us to share our reactions to VTS... 

  • We felt safe in responding and sharing our observations, thoughts. 
  • It wasn't about who could get the 'right' answer or who had it 'wrong.' 
  • We learned from each other's comments and it made us 'see' things we wouldn't have otherwise seen
  • It felt positive and non-judgmental
  • It opened us up to looking at art (an other things) in a new way. We also heard new words, terms, and were curious about Baccarat and what the picture really WAS about. All with a few quiet minutes of observation and group inquiry/sharing.


Okay, so onto the SCIENCE and ART idea I heard Adrienne talking about.

Adrienne said a Science educator she knows uses Pieces of ART and then pictures to kick off her units. They spend time using VTS methods for open inquiry with the art and pictures to create common building blocks in the kids' minds that all future learning in the unit (and beyond) will stack upon.

Mind blown. Of course. I've never used famous art as a kickoff for any unit. I've never used art systemically at all. I know far too little about art and well, I can't wait to change this reality for myself.  I have this new world to pursue and explore; one that I think is EXCELLENT for kids and for all learning communities. :)

My next Nelson-Atkins educator class is in November, the week after #edcampKC. The classes beginning in January merge STEM with Art...for STEAM. Educators, sign up here.


One view in the Nelson-Atkins. Halls of wonder.


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