Tag Archives: art

Revisiting the 2002 National Educator Workshop

In the Summer of 2002 I participated in The Lincoln Center institute for the arts National Educator Workshop: Introduction to Aesthetic Education. Several years later, in March 2008, I blogged twice about the workshop – Imagination: Maxine Greene and Lincoln Center institute for the arts in education.

Everything we have done in the past helps to craft who we are in the present. My yoga teacher Deb often reminds us that everything we have done in the past makes us who we are at this moment on the mat. With that in mind, this morning I reread my Response Essay to the workshop, written in July 2002.

What brought me to reread the essay was a desire to refunctionalize my myriad book shelves at 8:30 last night. For years I have kept my favorite fiction, poetry and reference books in the same room as my desk, on two shelves built into the wall. A portion of my desk was allocated to books about the brain. And my yoga books were relegated to a laundry bin stored under a bench in our bedroom.

My life is changing, by choice, and it is time to purge those books I no longer cherish, and bring my yoga books to the fore. And in the process of looking through folders I smiled to revisit this essay. Not wanting to lose portions of it, and not wanting to keep the papers, I am copying part of it here for my reference. For anyone who happens to read it, if you have comments, please feel free to post them. I’d be delighted to have a conversation.

Oh, and I still do not have room for all the books I’d like to have at my fingertips. Hmm…


Response Essay – National Educator Workshop – Summer Session 2002/July 8-12

An article in the October 3, 2001 Metro section of The New York Times piqued my interest in Maxine Greene. I had never heard of her beforehand yet the ideas she espoused about education gave direction to thoughts about which I had been ruminating. This prompted me to read her book Releasing the Imagination which in turn led me to John Dewey’s Experience & Education. And all of that pointed me to the National Educator Workshop. [Ed Note: part of the Lincoln Center institute] My expectation for the workshop was to give my imagination some much needed prodding and help me look at what I do through a different perspective. With that in mind, the most significant ideas embraced during the workshop include:

  • The aesthetic approach is one of self-discovery which can be guided through a series of carefully crafted questions and activities.
  • This self-discovery is a process, and that process should tap into what people can do and help them expand their thought repertoire.
  • Collaboration, questioning, and experiential learning (all part of the process) help to make learning intrinsic and give it meaning within the context of the student’s life.

To borrow from others (Maxine Greene and Apple Computer): With aesthetic education we are “releasing the imagination” and enhancing our perspective to “think different”. Imagination is an entry point into something that might otherwise be ordinary.

My perception of the work of art seen/heard twice changed substantially over the course of the workshop. In both cases, viewing and listening to the art without any prior knowledge of the artist or piece was very satisfying. This let me form my own response to the art, modified a little by the comments of my workshop mates. In the case of Poulenc’s music, I listened “hard” the first time as I concentrated on what was being played; this was not listening for pleasure! The Chuck Close portrait interested me for it size and colors. The subject of the portrait intrigued me and I wanted to know more about him.

The early hands-on activities were enjoyable to do but I did not yet make connections between those activities and how I felt about the art of Poulenc and Close. The collaborative brainstorming (of questions we would like to ask about the artists/works of art) was highly satisfying. Indeed, it almost did not matter to me if the questions were ever answered. The very act of collaborative discussion and questioning was exhilarating, cementing ideas and possibilities for me to ponder. It was the satisfaction of thinking and the interaction with others concerned with the same topic.

The research was icing on the cake.

[Ed Note: There is more about my research along with a response to a talk, but I am editing out much of it to keep this post from being even longer!]

Conversation with Catherine (colleague from my school who also participated in the workshop) after the first music workshop yielded these observations:

  • Everyone did something and was able to do something.
  • There was no “wrong” or “right” approach or answer.
  • Using our imagination it is possible to create something out of nothing, in this case just using our voices and bodies to make music.

Five days into the workshop I heard Tenesh [workshop co-leader] say that we are developing skills to focus, and that we try to go to the core of what the thing is all about. Being able to unleash our imaginations to focus in a multitude of ways and thereby get to the core of what we are learning…wow, very powerful ideas which this workshop modeled and helped me experience.

On the last day of the workshop I wrote these notes in my journal. I don’t recall whose words they were but they sum up my feelings about this workshop experience, and the goal I have for my students:

There is excitement in experiencing something intrinsically. This experience makes you the expert – it empowers you and draws out your imagination. The result is self-confidence and a depth of knowledge.

[Ed Note: The works of art were Chuck Close‘s portrait of Lucas, and a musical piece by Poulenc, title of which I did not note. I chose to research Close, which included: Chuck Close, Up Close by Greenberg and Jordan (Dorling Kindersley, 1998) and the May 13, 2002 Fortune article Overcoming Dyslexia.]

Maker Faire 2012 or how I spent Saturday

Saturday my husband and I tooled over to Queens, near CitiField, and spent the day walking around Maker Faire 2012. We’ve known about Maker Faires, but this was our first time seeing one up close, and we had a blast! There were all sorts of home made inventions and contraptions, and almost everywhere you looked there were 3D printers or objects that had been made via a 3D printer. The Faire was family friendly, indeed it was designed to inspire kids to create.

We also attended two talks, one by Seth Godin and the other a conversation with Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, and Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot.

Seth Godin lives in Westchester, a New Yorker born and bred (so I’ve been told). He’s a marketer and author, a summarizer and explainer of and guide to new media and trends, and a highly entertaining and spot-on speaker who does not mince his words. 

Chris Anderson is an author, and editor of Wired Magazine and you can read his article about how The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World. And Bre Pettis is the face behind the MakerBot company. Here he is introducing the Replicator 2

The themes of their talks were similar and made an impression on me, especially in my new role as LS STEAM Integrator.

Godin talked about how kids doing science labs in school are not really doing science. Rather, they are kids following instructions that someone else crafted years ago. To truly be a lab, students should be making and innovating. Bre Pettis said that the “criteria for a good project” is “you don’t know what’s going to happen in the end but you try anyway.”

As Godin said: IF it might not work, THEN you are doing something important BECAUSE it is risky and someone can say you are wrong or they don’t like it. From there, you iterate, you try again, you take another risk, you start a conversation.

Of course, this all got me thinking about my Environmental Ed classes, which begin tomorrow. I don’t separate out Environmental Ed from STEAM, but my job is described with these two specific responsibilities. In any case, my take home from Seth, Chris and Bre is a reminder that rather than hand my 3rd graders step-by-step directions, my job is to provide a place for them to explore, experiment, ask questions and figure things out by doing, talking, thinking, sharing, crafting…

For instance, I could tell the kids how water winds up in our homes, I could show them pictures, or I could ask them to ask their parents. But how much better if I provide each class with some crafts items and a large reservoir of water, and ask them to figure out how to get the water from the reservoir to the buildings.

If anyone has thoughts about Seth’s, Chris’s and Bre’s comments or my take-away, please feel free to leave a comment below!

The Nickelodeon…Music, Music, Music!

Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon
All I want is having you
And music, music, music

It’s those last three words that tickle my fancy: music, music, music!

Posts about music have appeared on this blog seven times, usually relating to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia. The most recent post, from last October, included a quote by Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist who is also a musician, and it is Levitin who led me – via Twitter – to a post by Diana Hereld about Autism, Gabrielle Giffords and the Neuroscience Behind “The Singing Therapy”. Hereld shares about her insights from the Second World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology and mentions a specific type of music therapy, Melodic Intonation Therapy. As Hereld writes:

What this means for the whole of this ‘Singing Therapy’ is that by being able to work with brain regions such as Broca’s area which may facilitate the mapping of sound to action, all kinds of different strides may be made linguistically in patients with left-hemisphere brain damage. People who suffer from neurological impairments or disorders that would otherwise be completely unable to communicate verbally may now have that chance.


I have been volunteering at The Pavilion at The Osborne on Sunday mornings, facilitating movement to music. This began as a yoga session, but it is more a seated Sunday songfest of movement to music. Everyone has some mobility issue and everyone fits somewhere on the dementia –> Alzheimer’s spectrum. (You can read more about these sessions here.)

What I do know, from these sessions and from caring for my Dad, who coexisted with Alzheimer’s and who loved music, singing and dancing, is that music stays with people long after their ability for coherent conversation has taken leave. The music is the blessing.

“I Remember Better When I Paint”

The creative arts bypass the limitations and they simply go to the strengths. People still have imaginations intact all the way to the very end of their progressive disease.

Thanks to Julia, who left a comment on my previous post, I found out about the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint. (The quote above comes from the trailer.) Rather than translate to my words, here is the description of the film from the About section of the film’s site:

“I Remember Better When I Paint”, narrated by Olivia de Havilland, is the first international documentary about the positive impact of art and other creative therapies on people with Alzheimer’s and how these approaches can change the way we look at the disease. A film by Eric Ellena and Berna Huebner, presented by French Connection Films and the Hilgos Foundation. Among those who are featured are noted doctors and Yasmin Aga Khan, president of ALzheimer’s Disease International and daughter of Rita Hayworth, who had Alzheimer’s.

I am eager to see this film, and suspect it will add to the eye- and mind-opening ideas that I’ve been exposed to in the past few years regarding care of those with Alzheimer’s. Indeed, if you live in the New York metropolitan area, there is a screening of the film planned for March 10, 2011, on Melville, Long Island. You can read more about the film, and see a trailer at the film’s site, which is a wordpress blog (just like Neurons Firing 🙂

If any of you knows anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia who is participating in an arts program, and if you feel comfortable sharing the experiences, I would greatly appreciate your adding a comment to this post. Thanks!

Summer Houses

I know this house inside and out, almost as surely as if I’ve lived in it. Yet it does not exist. Well, that’s not entirely accurate.

The house exists, but only in the digital world. This house is one of a collection of fantasy buildings designed and crafted by my husband using SketchUp. I’ve been thinking about this house, and others he has created, as we spend portions of our summer vacation renting other people’s summer homes.

We tend to wind up in cozy homes within walking distance of the ocean. Last summer we stayed in an old windmill on a cliff (see pic below) in Orleans, overlooking Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod. Last week we stayed in this cottage (see pic at right) in the woods of Gay Head, on Martha’s Vineyard, where the sound of the waves from Philbin Beach lullabyed us to sleep each evening. (Though we didn’t need much of a lullabye, having used all our energy body surfing, swimming and kayaking, when we weren’t watching the FIFA World Cup games!)

A favorite of mine is this acorn house, one of Fred’s early designs inspired by the plethora of acorns in our neighborhood. I had serious fun imagining us playing tag inside and poking our heads out the different windows, yelling “Yoo hoo, I’m over here!”

And on a languid summer’s day, in need of a bit of cool,
With Seussian playmates, we plunk into a pool.

Imagination. 🙂

Sessions #5 – shades of a shadow

This was a study in values, ranging across six different shades of light and dark:

  • highlight – the brightest part of the drawing
  • midtones – the range of tones still in the light area but darker than the highlight
  • shadow edge – separates the portion that is directly in light (the highlight and midtones) from the portion that is cast in shadow; it is almost like a dividing line
  • cast shadow – the shape of the area defined by the object’s shadow; darkest portion is immediately next to the object that is casting the shadow
  • core shadow – where the cast shadow and midtones meet and touch; it is the darkest part of a shadow on an object but it is never completely black
  • reflected light – darker than the midtones while being the lightest areas of the cast shadow

I’ve done this exercise before with styrofoam balls, but this was my first time using an egg. There was something intriguing about using the egg – it had beads of perspiration on its shell by the time I finished the drawings, and it had a tendency to roll towards me, as my desk is in room with an ever-so-slightly slanted floor.

In all the drawings I did as part of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, there was always a ground placed on the page prior to drawing. This made it much easier for me to create a range of shades. However, the purpose of this exercise was to build up the value and the form using hatching and cross-hatching as well as planning around the highlights.”

actual egg 1

drawn egg 1

actual egg 2

drawn egg 2

Shapes & Sizes of Creativity

It’s summer time, a favoured time of those of us in education because we generally have time to pursue whatever is on our minds. My husband has many interests, among them SketchUp, architecture, and sustainability, specifically, green architecture. Over the years he has used the first of these to create the second of these in digital format; then he’s used tools such as pipe cleaners, straws, wood, paper and poster board to craft tangible versions. Now he has gone a step further and created a prototype of an idea that he’s been mulling over for awhile.

I’ve been working on a prototype curved space frame using 1x6s, 2″ PVC pipe, and dry wall screws. The prototype frame is finished and came out quite well given all the things I had to figure out while constructing it.




Start with a couple of summer days, enough time to tinker, an idea that’s been percolating, and tools for the task. Mix them together, and the result is creativity come to life. 🙂 Being able to exercise one’s creativity is crucial to cognitive well being. And using one’s hands to create, playing in the proverbial “mud”, is a wonderful way to involve multiple senses. Indeed, in early September our two sons (age 18 and 25) are going to play in the mud at this Cob Cottage Workshop.

Sessions #4 – Shadows

I like the effect of including shadows in drawings. The contrast between light and dark areas provides a sense of depth and substance. Yes, I know, my perspective still needs work! And with the first drawing, I had difficulty seeing the difference between shadows and “less bright direct light”  and need to better observe the shape of the object’s shadow.

Shadow 1 original

Shadow 1 drawing

Shadow 2 original

Shadow 2 drawing

ARTZ, Authors and Alzheimer’s

This post owes its thanks to a conversation with Karen Kruger on Tuesday, at the first Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity conference. More on the conference in upcoming posts, but for now, it’s ARTZ and Authors, all related to Alzheimer’s.

Karen began by telling me about ARTZArtists for Alzheimer’s. Art as therapy has long been a useful tool for assisting people with myriad health issues, right up there in positive impact with music, dance and pet therapy. “The ARTZ Museum Partnership Program implements interactive, educational museum programs for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.” My Dad is unable to visit a museum, but perhaps I can bring “art” to him. I see him respond to my singing of songs and playing of his favorite oldies (Frank Sinatra always hits home); perhaps art – both viewing and creating (why not finger painting!) – will also tweak a memory or provoke a positive response.

Still Alice was written by neuroscientist Lisa Genova, whose grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Lisa had the benefit of being a scientist who could understand the mental deterioration that was taking place in her grandmother’s brain, but it left her wondering how a person with Alzheimer’s felt as their cognition slipped away. From this curiosity came Still Alice. Thanks to a book journal given me by my oldest son, I’ve been writing about the books I read, and here’s what I wrote about this book back in March.

Deb S. loaned me this book. written by a Harvard PhD in neuroscience and online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association, it is a fictionalized yet highly informed look at one woman’s descent into dementia after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. The woman, Alice, is a Harvard professor with three grown children and a husband, also a Harvard researcher. They have a summer home on the Cape, in Chatham. Yes, the ending is a tear jerker – Alice is alive but has lost so much of her capability to communicate. Lisa’s insights into Alice’s mindset seem spot on and I wish-I wish-I wish that I had read a book like this when Dad was in the early stages. Perhaps I could have been more helpful to him.

I did not read verbatim, and intentionally read quickly, because this topic and story – particularly this story – were too close to home. Fred and I teach at the same school. We’ve spent many glorious, soothing summers on the Cape. We have two incredible children. I cried for Alice but nestled deep down perhaps I cried for me. I could have the gene my Dad has, and that portends a future I don’t want to contemplate, certainly not until or unless it becomes apparent that I need to contemplate it.

And that is the most honest I’ve been about Alzheimer’s! This was a sad story but also somehow encouraging, because Alice had a voice. This is Alice’s story.

Karen also recommended another book, which I have ordered, I’m Still Here: A Breakthrough Approach to Understanding Someone Living with Alzheimer’s by John Zeisel. Am very much looking forward to reading it, and of course, will share my thoughts in a later post.

Paul Taylor on Dance

Last night I saw the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center. This was the final dance performance of my three-company subscription treat this year, the other two being Savion Glover and Pilobolus.

Not quite sure what to expect, the dances turned out to be a satisfying mixture of modern and classical ballet. I was struck by the fleet-footedness of the dancers, and the meshing of classic body moves with angular arm and head movements, though none of it ever abrupt; all of it a continuous, graceful flow.

Perhaps what struck me most, though, was watching the dances and listening to the music after having read the program notes. The biography of Paul Taylor included this line about the marriage of his choreography to his choice of music:

He has set movement to music so memorably that for legions it is impossible to hear certain orchestral works and popular songs and not think of his dances.

Excerpts from Franz Schubert’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 accompanied the first piece, Mercuric Tidings, and I can still vividly conjure the dancers, their costumes, and the sprightly music. Ah, the welcoming of spring! You can listen here to parts of Schubert’s symphonies.

This is a troupe I hope to revisit in order to see Funny Papers, the second dance that was replaced by a piece whose name I did not catch. Why Funny Papers – because it is “Dedicated to all those who, before reading front page news, turn to the funnies first.” As a kid, that’s how I read the paper. And with dances named Alley-Oop, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, I Like Bananas Because They Have no Bones, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight), these dance names remind me of the musical ground of my childhood!

Paul Taylor writes about why he creates dances, and I was captivated by the inner workings of his creative brain – the urges that propel him forward. He is a man who is in his element, as Ken Robinson would say.