As schools become more driven by high-stakes testing, opportunities for students to learn through creative experimentation begin to disappear to make room for more skills drilling and test preparation. Related arts class time is slashed or programs are sacrificed, completely; scheduling time for electives gets bumped to make room for study skills classes and remedial programs to help students with lower test scores, and funding for fine arts programs get cut in favor of programs designed to raise test scores. And yet, research shows consistently that students who have access to robust creative learning opportunities, like fine arts programs, arts inclusion, and project-based learning typically score better on standardized testing, and develop skills that make them better prepared for college and the workplace, as well.
The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of an art makerspace on the core subject learning of students in a high school setting. The specific question is how will my students use an art makerspace to synthesize and communicate their understanding of core subject concepts, and will this process affect their success as learners in those core subjects? How can creative learning in art solidify understanding in other subjects? And how can this data be used to promote more robust arts programs in other schools?
Importance of the Study
As an art teacher, I see the benefit of arts programs every day. I see students applying complex mathematical, scientific, engineering, and linguistic concepts to create art. I know my students benefit from the applied nature of creating meaningful works of art, but at the same time, I also see student access to arts programs getting cut everywhere in favor of more testing. I would like to prove that promoting creative learning opportunities through art programs benefits the whole school by giving students an opportunity to apply what they learn in a tangible way that they can use to communicate understanding. I chose an art makerspace as a setting because makerspaces are becoming more popular as schools try to put creative learning back into their curricula. Makerspaces are not often found in art classrooms, and are often associated primarily with STEM learning, only, which I find counterintuitive because what is an art classroom but a kind of makerspace? Arts programs often do not receive funding for the technology associated with makerspaces, which again I find frustrating because artists have historically been found creating on the cutting edge of technology. Leonardo daVinci is known for creating sketches so technologically advanced for the late 1400s/ early 1500s that they could not be fully understood at the time, and are impressive even today. Joseph Marie Jacquard created a loom in the early 1800s to blend colored threads together to make complex color patterns in tapestries using only a few colors of thread in a way that eventually led to the modern computer pixel. Edward Muybridge developed moving pictures in the early 20th century by finding a way to view a sequence of still pictures in succession, very quickly. Artist Leo Villarreal is currently using both LED lights and projected images to create art installations that surround the viewer with surreal experiences that border on virtual reality. Because artists are innovative and experimental by nature, they are constantly pushing the envelope in the realm of technology, so why is it that art programs are often the last places to find technology in a school? I would like for this study to shine a light on the necessity of art programs that are robust in funding, time, and access to technology so students can create in ways that will prepare them for the creative world they will be living in.
Definition of terms
A makerspace is a shared creative space in which participants learn through collaborative making. Though makerspaces are really nothing new, they have gained popularity in schools, universities, libraries, and even prison education centers as places for students to learn in a hands-on manner that mimics the workplace. In my study, the makerspace will be a mashup between the popular STEM-heavy makerspace and an artist’s studio.
Review of Literature
Makerspaces Promote Authentic, Interdisciplinary Learning
Makerspaces are interdisciplinary. Just as workers combine disciplines to do their work, students in a makerspace combine knowledge from many disciplines to work on a project. Martinez and Stager (2013) argue that the artificial compartmentalizing of subject disciplines work against students by forcing them to learn subjects in a vacuum, when in reality, in the real world, a problem would likely involve multiple disciplines. Peppler and Bender (2013) also discuss how the cross-curricular learning found in makerspaces contrast with traditional learning settings in which core classroom material is isolated by subject. Currently, makerspaces are working well in schools because they do provide innumerable academic benefits, and allow for a space to be set up for students to use as class schedules allow (Lou, 2016.) Makerspaces also provide students a way to cover academic skills and subject content in a way that is learner-centered and personalized (Martin, 2015). By combining subject matter into interdisciplinary, authentic learning experiences, students must understand the material on a deeper level and see its relationship to other subjects in a real-world scenario, making learning more relevant to the students.
Makerspaces Offer Skills for the Future Workplace
Makerspaces also offer a learning environment that mimics the workplace. Students must understand concepts on a deeper level because they are synthesizing what they are learning and applying it to a task. This method of learning mimics the way adults learn on the job in the workplace, so the skills learned in the makerspace will ready students for college and work. While some claim that they are just an educational fad, research points to more substantial benefits. Education researcher Mark Fraudenfelder found that students who learn in a hands-on, experiential way do as well or better than students who learn in more traditional classrooms (Fraudenfelder, 2010). The use of design thinking, service learning, and 21st century skills are core attributes of makerspace learning. Design thinking is a problem-solving framework in which students must research a problem, empathize with those affected by the problem, create prototypes of solutions to these problems, and then perfect the solutions through trial and error until they reach the solution that works best. Schools that have implemented design thinking are seeing that the process, structure, growth mindset, and practice of reflection of design thinking affects students’ attitudes toward learning in other areas. In fact, many of the skills students gain from makerspaces, such as cognitive flexibility, decision-making, and complex problem solving skills are skills that are listed in the Future Jobs Report Top 10 (Busch, 2017). Makerspaces also promote creativity, which is a workplace quality that is highly sought after, but is becoming troublingly less common in our students (Gray, 2012).
Makerspaces Promote Collaboration and Ownership
Traditional, standardized instruction leaves many students feeling disenfranchised. Stephan Abram points out that dropout rates are often tied to literacy skills and loss of interest in schoolwork, and that boys make up a higher number of dropouts than girls. He also points out the disconnect between female students and involvement in STEM fields, as well as the lower interest of creative students in core academics (Abram, 2005). Makerspaces, on the other hand, provide rigorous learning experiences tailor made to each student’s interests. Children differentiate their own instruction through choices of learning topics, making materials, and their own creative choices as the final product is entirely up to each learner. Teachers provide options based on specific learning objectives or essential questions that need to be covered (Gerstein, 2016). This allows students to pursue things they’re most interested in while also covering skills and concepts required by the school. This works to boost student engagement because people enjoy following their passions. David Loertscher points to Google’s rule for its employees called the 80/20 rule. All employees are required to spend 80 percent of their work hours doing tasks that have been assigned, but they are also required to spend 20 percent of their work hours on “passion projects” — projects of the employee’s own choosing. The value of personal interest in work is not lost on Google, and should absolutely be harnessed in the name of creating a love of learning (Loertscher, et. al., 2014). Makerspace time can improve student engagement by tying academic skills to things students care about — games, robots, apps, art, fashion, and more. For example, a reluctant reader may not want to pick up a novel, but might sit down with books to learn coding in order to fly a drone, or to move a robot through a maze. However, Shirin Vossoughi, Paula K. Hooper, and Meg Escudé point out the lack of support for minority and special needs learners in the larger maker movement, which is unfortunate, given that the research on makerspaces overwhelmingly supports their many educational, social, and emotional benefits for all students (Vossoughi, et.al., 2016). It seems that more makerspaces in minority and low-income communities would improve academic achievement in the schools that need it the most.
The collaborative nature of the Makerspace also provides students with opportunities to learn valuable interpersonal skills that are necessary in the workforce. Because Makerspaces are shared spaces, collaboration is a must. Makerspaces also require students to move beyond their comfort zones, to try new things, to make mistakes, and to try again (Barniskis, 2014).
Makerspaces require students to develop a different mindset than that of the traditional classroom. This growth mindset promotes curiosity, open-mindedness, focus, innovation, creative problem-solving, reflection, and resilience (Claxton, 2007), (Kurti, et. al., 2014;). But operating a makerspace requires a change of mindset for teachers, as well. Our role as educators changes in the Makerspace from the dispenser of knowledge to a collaborator, or “lead learner” making discoveries (and quite often, mistakes) along with our students (Rufo, 2013). Quality professional development is necessary to support teachers, many of whom grew up and were trained in more traditional classroom settings, as they adjust to a more learner-directed teaching style (Gerstein, 2016).
Makerspaces Are Made For The Art Classroom
Art classrooms are known for being creative spaces, and are often filled with traditional art materials, such as paint, clay, and printmaking tools. They are not often known for adding technology to the mix, even though artists have often pushed the technology envelope in ways that others couldn’t. It would make sense to include creative technology in art classrooms. Cathy Hunt (2016) argues that access to technology as part of students’ “creative tool box” and a “flexible, experimental, and mixed-media approach” is vital to preparing students for the future. She also points out that technology offers a portable platform for ideation, reflection, documentation, and sharing of student work.
The art classroom employs many of the same sought-after skill sets as the makerspace: creative thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, cognitive flexibility, as well as design-thinking and growth mindset. A choice-based art program would especially draw out those skills in students, and as student-centered learning becomes more popular, art education models like TAB-Choice and Project-Based Learning are becoming more popular (Douglas, K. and Jacquith, D., 2009). As art classrooms employ these models, they become very much like low-tech makerspaces. The next logical step would be to add makerspace-style technology options to the mix, like Makey-Makeys, Sphero Bots, and Chibitronics, conductive paint, LED lights, and copper tape, and document student understanding before, during, and after a semester of working with an art makerspace.
Makerspaces, once thought of as a great way to implement STEM learning, are gaining in popularity because of their myriad educational benefits in other academic fields. Makerspaces promote inter-disciplinary, authentic learning, 21st Century workforce skills, as well as collaboration and ownership of students’ own work. Though makerspaces are not found in many art programs, it would seem to be a good fit, since art is all about making and working artists tend to innovate with technology, as well as traditional art media. I would like to create an art makerspace in my school as part of my innovation plan, and I hope to employ this research in my plan.
My study will observe three Art I classes with high-school level students in grades eight through eleven. Each class will contain around 30 students. Currently, I am unaware of my schedule for next year. My classes may contain mixed grade levels, or may be separated by grade level. These will all be first year art students for certain, with mixed socioeconomic status, in a public charter school. Some students will have IEPs and some are English learners. The school is located within a lower middle-class commmunity, with students coming from middle-, lower-middle class and poor families. Many of my students come from Hispanic- or Vietnamese-speaking households. The school is on a modified block schedule. There will be 40 minute classes on most days, with a 2 hour block on Wednesdays.
Materials Students will be working in a choice-based art classroom with stations set up with traditional art materials. They will have access to a sketching and drawing station, water media station, a painting area with acrylic paints and supplies, a printmaking area with various types of printmaking materials, and a technology space with tablets and creative technology items, such as LED lights, conductive paints and threads, small motors, and more. Students will document their work in a digital portfolio using the Bulb app. Students will have free choice of all art materials once each area has been made available after students watch a short demonstration of materials.
The study will be a 9-week study beginning the fall of 2017. The data collection will include both formative and summative assessments. Students of all grade levels in all five of my Art I classes will be given a 10-question pre-test on important concepts from their core subject areas. A comparable 10-question test will be given midway through and at the end of the course that will show progress in understanding of core subject concepts. Questions for this assessment will come from the California basic skills requirements for graduation. The secondary data set will come from a survey that includes anecdotal analysis of their projects. These assessments will be used to create a baseline data set for evaluating core subject matter understanding in my three classes who have access to the art makerspace as well as the 2 classes that do not.
The data collected in my study will be analyzed for evidence showing the rate of change in core subject matter understanding. It will also be compared to the survey data about the way that students interacted with core subject matter in their makerspace projects. I will be looking for what role core subjects played in artwork created in the art makerspace.
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