Studio A

What happens when you add  a variety of artists to Project-based Learning with a Design Thinking approach? The result it Studio A. That’s what the Avonworth School District has created for the past two years as part of a summer workshop for educators sponsored by the Grable Foundation. Educators from the Pittsburgh area (and beyond) gather together with Avonworth teachers and students to engage in a series of activities led by experts in Human Centered Design from the LUMA Institute and artists that are part of the Artist Residency program at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

I’ve been fortunate to have joined the activities for both this year and last year. There are few summer programs that not only stimulate educators to rethink how they work with learners, but also provide fun and engaging activities. As adults we forget how important it is to “play.” You need to use your body as well as your mind to express ideas. The Avonworth workshops used the theme of “Civic Engagement” this year. Each artist and LUMA expert developed a lesson around the Civic Engagement theme. Alison Zapata, a visual artist, provided a hands-on session where we learned how to use basic elements of art to create a design for a poster that communicated a civic message. In my case it was about how trees reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Other artists tackled the Civic Engagement theme by using dramatic ensembles to build communities that understand acceptance and kindness or by writing poetry through the lens of another “persona.” In every arts situation we were learning how to work with other people and to look at how our group ideas could solve a common problem.

The LUMA team walked us through a series of scenarios that used the LUMA strategies against the backdrop of Project-based Learning. For instance: how do you get input from students around a Driving Question? As a group we examined a “Concept Poster” that represented student responses to a Driving Question. Our challenge was to give well-rounded feedback using a strategy named “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” In this strategy, each person writes positive comments on pink Post-it notes (Roses), problematic issues on blue Post-it notes (Thorns), and potential improvements on green Post-it notes (Buds).

For two days we worked with the LUMA team and the artists. Then on the final morning we were able to work on our own problems. Artists and LUMA experts were available for private conversations. People with similar interests, elementary teachers, for example, met with elementary students to understand how the process works (or doesn’t work) from their perspective. Teams from schools that wanted to develop their own approach had the opportunity to have their own gathering.

What will I take from the Studio A experience? I’ll continue to refine the Design Challenges that I coordinate for the Energy Innovation Center for Parkway Consortium schools. I’ve already created a new schematic that will add one or two new LUMA strategies that I’ve found on the new LUMA Workplace website. I also plan to incorporate a warmup activity adapted from one of the improvisational art sessions. For the evaluation of the Design Challenges I’ll add a LUMA activity based on “Statement Starters” to gather data about the experience.

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