Studio to School

Journal Reflection 1 (Fall 2014)

What are we doing in the smallest of nutshells:

The Portland Children’s Museum is home to a Portland Public Charter School called Opal. Opal is a school inspired by teachings from the schools of Reggio Emilia Italy. Reggio Emilia, and in turn, Opal, subscribe to a social constructivist teaching philosophy. One of the central practices of this school is the idea that studio materials can act as languages for learning. Thinkers, especially children, work in many different languages (not just writing, not just numbers etc.) If we can provide children with materials in the process of working through a question, the materials themselves can be generative and add to the child’s critical thinking.

This is a big idea and opens many doors for deeper thinking and for truly honoring the ideas of students.

The poem “No way. The Hundred is there” Poetry by Loris Malaguzzi is often used to explore this idea.

The big picture of this project is that we are trying to make it comfortable to use the arts as languages of learning in Woodlawn school. We are trying to create a culture where art materials are not only used in the art room but are also used within the classrooms as well and are integrated into the thinking that is already happening in the classroom.

We have a cohort of 8 teachers (including Woodlawn’s Art Specialist) who will take part in a series of professional development workshops at the Children’s Museum. At the same time, a teacher artist from the Museum will be visiting Woodlawn for classroom sessions and meetings with the teachers.

Through conversations with teachers, we have also established the need to have a system that makes materials more physically accessible. In addition to the classroom visits and PD workshops, we will also be providing each participating teacher with class materials and setting up a system for larger material checkout.

Our Challenges:

Communication between two organizations is very difficult. Schools and Museums have very different cultures, they have different schedules, and at times, speak different languages. Both organizations have very different needs and very different resources.

Balancing these needs and resources is extremely important, but is a challenge. For example, at the Museum, 80% of my external communication happens over email and is fairly quick. For the teachers, this is unrealistic. It was so helpful to have the PD workshop where all the players were in the same room and on the same page. In the future I want to note that in particular. We are now setting up weekly meetings with the teachers to help inform the material time instead of relying on email.

Balancing  schedules can be very difficult. Teachers are so busy and stretched with behavior plans, evaluations, trainings, meetings, and (of course) teaching. Finding time to meet is tough. Finding a schedule where we can be in the classrooms was also a big puzzle. In years to come, I believe this will be done prior to the school year starting.

Managing varied and sometimes incongruent expectations is also a big challenge. There a lot of parties involved. All of these parties have ideas about what should be happening based on their backgrounds and their particular needs. All of these ideas are well intentioned but do not always work well together.

The final challenge I will outline is simply the fact that the students are really difficult. There are a lot of behaviors that make working with materials a major challenge. Some students have violent outbursts and some students have little to no impulse control. Some classes have high populations of children experiencing disabilities or of english language learners. It is the toughest school I have encountered thus far.

Our Successes:

Communication is difficult, but it has started. And that, in its own, is a success.

We hosted our first full day professional development workshop at the Museum. All 8 teachers were in attendance. These teachers got to spend time observing in the Opal classrooms and reflecting with guidance from Matt Karlsen (Museum Center for Learning Administrator). We had time to play with materials ourselves and time to debrief and brainstorm around the same table. This is huge! I would say that it is our largest success thus far. Recognizing this, I want to make sure that each of the PD workshops have some time that the Woodlawn teachers can debrief together (continued workshops will include other district educators as well). The teachers left inspired and hopefully have a better understanding of what is possible with materials. We have established a schedule that allows for the teacher artist (me) to be in each of the classrooms for a “material session” and also for a meeting time with the teachers.

teachers clay

Teachers explore the provocation “How can these materials capture your hopes and dreams for your classroom community?” using clay, loose parts, and drawing.

loose parts

We have started bringing materials into classes. This last week, I started by bringing clay into 3 different classrooms for an open ended exploration. Next week I will be continuing with clay in some rooms and introducing paint into another. Once the students are more comfortable with materials we will use them to jump in to bigger questions and document them with words and photos.


1st grader Andres explores how to make letter shapes using clay snakes


3rd grader Antwon explores how to make his clay into a flat shape using just his hands as tools

Who is involved:

Kristi Riedel (author of post), teacher artist for Portland Children’s Museum I will be the one onsite at the school two days a week and working with each of the 7 classroom teachers at Woodlawn. I will also act as a liaison between the Museum’s Center for Learning and this project.

Matt Karlsen, teacher researcher/administrator of Center for Learning at the Portland Children’s Museum Matt is overseeing the professional development workshops and conversations. He will be a resource to teachers through email and will act as a mentor to the teacher artist through the process.

Rui Neves, Assistant Principal at Woodlawn School Rui is the administrative representative on behalf of Woodlawn School. He, Kristi, Crystal and Matt will meet periodically to check in on progress.

Crystal Simpson, Art Teacher at Woodlawn School Crystal is the liaison and main organizer on behalf of Woodlawn school. She will be attending professional development workshops and working on “materials as languages for learning” initiatives in her classroom as well.

Cohort One Classroom Teachers at Woodlawn There are seven classroom teachers ranging in grade from kindy to 6th grade. Each teacher will be attending workshops and will have a teaching artist in their classroom for a section of the year.


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