Kickstarter helps Brooklyn elementary school students raise funds for a documentary


Parents of burgeoning thespians and playwrights take note of: Mc.B—a short documentary about Shakespeare and children.

Kickstarter, the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world, is trying to help a group Brooklyn public school students (and their drama teacher) raise the funds necessary to complete the final edits of their documentary and enter it into various film festivals.

Kickstarter’s description of the project follows:

So many people are visual learners that connect all subjects through artistry. As communities continue to have financial cutbacks, the arts are often the first thing to be removed from today’s educational environment. This documentary is intended to be a refreshing reminder of the critical role art in education has in developing positive youth initiatives.

Mc.B is a short documentary that highlights the positive effect arts education has on children. Watch these third and fourth grade children, from a public school in Brooklyn, tackle the challenge of performing Shakespeare’s play MACBETH.

The students explore primal emotions of greed, envy, and how their decisions affect themselves and others around them. Observe as the students slowly become more and more engaged with what they are performing on stage, until at the end, almost every student is riveted to hear more. The back-and-forth between the adults and students seemed to be as an unfinished novel to them, as if they had read the first half of the book in their own families, and now were obsessed with seeing how the book might end.

The “chapters” are endless: When are kids old enough to make independent decisions? What if a kid is involved in drugs or violence—when should an adult step in? What if you don’t? Might they die? What builds and destroys respect? What is conflict resolution? As the documentary captures the real life experiences, it also provides an active school–family relationship that is foundational for a solid educational atmosphere.

Putting Learning into the Right Context for Children

How do you make learning about art, different cultures and even math relevant and engaging for kids?

Recently, one of my readers left a comment about a visit with her stepdaughter to the Rubin Museum of Art, which is dedicated to art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions.  It turned out to be a great experience for them both, because her stepdaughter had recently studied India in school and took pride in sharing what she had learned with her parents during the museum visit.

Another parent and photographer Darryl Nitke recently told me that he considers himself very educated, especially in the realm of art.  He said, however, that the one place where his middle and high school education had fallen short was teaching art, literature, science, music and philosophy independently and not putting context between them.  He does things differently with his son, who has been accompanying him to museums and galleries since he could walk.  He always tries to tie in visits with his child’s interests, current school topics or by putting the art they view into a historical context.  For example, due to the current tragedy in Japan, he is taking his son to the Met to see The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

Darryl explained how this process of exploring art with his son came together during their trip to Rome last summer: “We took a bunch of photos at the major sites and of specific works in the museums. When my son started fifth grade this year, his history book had at least 10 photos of the same sites and museum pieces that we had seen—taken from exactly the same place! That really thrilled my son!”

I also recently met parent and sculptor Skye Ferrante while waiting in line with our kids for the MoMA’s Material Lab.  We struck up a conversation about why we teach our kids about art.  He subscribes to Ray Bradbury’s philosophy that “life is a search of metaphors for life” and believes art is a great metaphor for teaching his daughter about the world.

“I learned more about French History from Victor Hugo than I did from a text book,” he said.  “But I’m biased: I’m an artist.”

Nonetheless, I’m seeing the idea of “context” being carried over into subjects other than social studies and art.  My first-grader recently proclaimed that she “hates” math but couldn’t really explain why.  Hoping to glean some insight, my husband and I both attended “Math Day” at her school.  We learned that the school’s math program is based on a problem-solving approach rooted in everyday situations.  “By making connections between their own knowledge and experiences, children learn basic skills in meaningful contexts, so that mathematics becomes ‘real,’” said the principal.  Again, it’s all about the context.

After being stumped by a fourth-grade math problem, we wondered how long we could continue helping her with her homework, let alone encourage her to like math.  We learned math in more of a rote fashion.  And, I’ll be honest, I never liked math either.

A visit to her classroom was more promising.  We saw the concepts that the principal spoke about in action.  The children were writing numbers, reading word problems, building towers with blocks that represented different numbers and calculating the tall totals, solving math puzzles on the class Smart Board and using a giant number line that stretched half of the room, while collaborating with each other through addition and subtraction to reveal a mystery number.  And my daughter seemed very into it.  Was she just having a bad day when she made that proclamation?

I’ve since tried to casually incorporate more math into everyday activities, such as cooking, playing games like Mancala and Monopoly or figuring out the 25 percent savings off a doll that she wanted.  The head of the school’s Computer Lab suggests students can stay on top of their math skills during spring and summer breaks by playing games on age-appropriate educational websites.  He recommends:;;


I also read good reviews of the following iPad/iTouch apps and will be giving them a try with my daughter: Math BingoMath Board and Tic Tac Math.

Does teaching children about art help them become better students overall?

CultureChild: Learning Through Art


A study by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum says it does.

Still curious about this connection from my conversation with Megan Lucas, I dug up an article that ran in The New York Times  following the release of the 2006 Solomon R. Guggenheim Learning Through Art study.  According to the article, the study found that students who participated in the Learning Through Art program performed better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking skills—including thorough description, hypothesizing and reasoning—than students who were not in the program.

Without wishing to oversimplify the issue, I can share from my own experience how one child I know increased his aptitude for learning through the use of art.  As a Learning Leaders volunteer, I tutor kids in reading at an under served public school.  Last year, through a trial-and-error process, I discovered a link between drawing and reading with this particular first-grade student.

It was clear that he had attention issues, but I was never briefed on his background.  He had difficulty sitting still for more than five minutes, and often walked out of our sessions. I knew that he loved to draw, and in an effort to keep him from abruptly ending our 40-minute sessions, I equipped him with a drawing pad and an array of newly sharpened colored pencils each week.  I quickly figured out that if I let him draw the characters and themes in a story that I read to him or let him draw pictures of some of the words that he read on flashcards, he stayed engaged for the 40 minutes.  He also took pride in talking about his pictures and using them to illustrate the stories that we read together and to create his own stories.  Through this exchange, we gradually spent more time reading and writing than drawing.

I’m taking a break from tutoring this semester; however, I plan to return to it in the fall, armed with some new ideas in my toolkit that I’m gleaning from this blog.  Art supplies will be essential in that toolkit.

Google Art Project: Touring the Tate between Science and Recess


Thanks to Google’s new website, Google Art Project, students (and anyone with Internet access) can visit some of the world’s greatest art museums without leaving the classroom—a brilliant example of using technology to connect and engage millions with art. The site uses Google Street View to offer virtual tours of 17 museums, including the Tate Britain in London, Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York and Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Visitors can view 360-degree images of the galleries, zoom into a painting using high-resolution technology to see the minutest of details, click on an icon to learn more about the artist, find more works by that artist and watch related YouTube videos.

A “Create an Artwork Collection” feature allows guests to save specific views of any of the artworks, build their own personalized collections, add comments and share their collections with friends on the web.