December 8, 2011

Dear Texas Cultural Trust,

Thank you for your work on behalf of the arts and education in the state of Texas! The opportunity to serve as a pilot teacher for Art and Media Communications I changed my classroom teaching and my personal life. The experience shifted my perspective on media in the classroom and fostered a greater understanding of our youth and their culture.

I am fascinated by the phenomenon some are calling the “2nd Gutenberg Shift.” We are teaching a generation of digital natives. This innovative course is designed to capture that audience, using new media such as blogs, websites, and video stories while providing a strong foundation in the elements and principles of art. The curriculum content is current and relevant. Students explore identity, collaboration, and social responsibility through technology and traditional arts, using media as a new language for their personal expression.

I am so excited to see education in art moving in this direction! Bravo.


Bobbi Graves
Eastside Memorial High School
Austin ISD

As I wrote the curriculum for Art and Media Communications I, I at first felt overwhelmed and a bit lost. Then I went to the play Wonderland and the theme of "Your name is not who you are" gave me a starting point from which to begin to explore identity. So, I went back to my 7th and 8th graders and gave them this theme for their homework. Prior to this, I had mainly been giving very standard drawing assignments, but now, the idea of creating open-ended assignments seemed a much better way to get my students to use their higher level thinking skills. When they handed in the assignment, I was overwhelmed by what my students had created to show me who they were. They used websites I had never seen to create posters and works of art using their photographs. They wrote stories; they drew cartoons; they did word doodles. I was so inspired by what this direction in my planning had done for my kids−90 percent of them had completed the assignment, and they were pleased with what they had done, eagerly sharing with their fellow students.

So, I thought, why not use a cell phone? Why not go shopping with a cell phone or a sketch pad? Now my kids thought I was the coolest teacher around−allowing a cell phone for homework was a blast for them. Fortunately, 98 percent of my kids had phones with cameras, and those who did not either borrowed a classmate’s cell phone or sketched. Suddenly, my kids started working together with ease and sharing with others. For the rest of the year, my assignments and homework became open ended: Here is the goal. What is the best way you can think of to reach it?

I brought contemporary artists into my classroom via Art 21, and the kids really responded to people currently producing art (rather than artists that have passed on). They started looking for art and artists on their own and brought me websites and taught me how to use free photography sites that they had already mastered. It was like I was their student, and they loved being able to share their knowledge. I even had my 8th graders coming into my 6th grade classes to work with them on how to use Picnik (still their favorite photo editing site).

This year, the phones are in my classes every day. My students e-mail their parents what they did in class today, and they use their phones for ideas in their projects. For example, I was teaching them how to draw a face so I had then measure where everything on their partner’s face was and write down the measurements. They then took a head shot of that person on their phone and drew them using the phone image to enlarge the eyes and nose to better see the shapes. Once again the students with phones shared with the ones that didn’t have them, and I didn't even have to ask. This is the first time that all of my kids got the features of a face in the correct place! And they looked like the person they took a picture of. So, they used an image and direct observation to create this work of art.

In a few weeks, I am getting five iPad 2s as part of a grant. I can't wait to see where this takes them. I used to be a teacher that sort of used technology, but after writing and piloting this course, I use it every day, and my kids are stronger artists as a result. My 7th and 8th graders even keep e-portfolios on our school server so that the parents, principals, counselor, and high school art teachers can track their progress.

I am so grateful to have been involved in this project. My life and my students’ lives are so much richer now.

—Suzanne Greene