Sharon LaFrenaye, Exeter-West Greenwich Teacher of the Year
Rhode Island Elementary Art Educator of the Year
Elementary Art, Grades 3-6
Metcalf Elementary School
12 years' experience in education
“In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” - Steve Jobs
If we all stop for a moment and think back to a creative experience, whether it was concocting a great meal, playing an instrument, working on a home renovation, or successfully producing a big event, recalling these moments might just reignite that spark of creative excitement that lies within all of us. While this fire is innate, we have all had experiences along the way that may have diminished our confidence in this most basic human need: to create.
Children can remind us how creative impulses, while innate, are precious and need to be honed. Over the years, I’ve had a number of people come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re an art teacher! How cool. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.” What people seem to forget is that art, design, and creativity are skills that can and should be taught like any other subject: with concepts, vocabulary, scaffolding, and most importantly plenty of room for integration with other subjects.
I am extremely fortunate to have dedicated Integrated Arts blocks at Metcalf Elementary School where I teach students in grades three through six. Most recently, I partnered with sixth grade science teacher Terry Packer. Her students had been studying pollution and she wanted to empower students with a new visual way to share their findings. Students partnered up, brought their research to the art room and armed with Chromebooks we embarked on a new lesson incorporating science, writing, technology, design, and of course collaboration. Students learned how to create a Prezi (a free online presentation program), which is similar to Powerpoint, with many excellent, user friendly, visual features and templates. I reviewed key design concepts with students, such as theme, contrast, balance, and space. Mrs. Packer reviewed how to collect and organize works cited information, and we both stressed the importance of correct spelling and grammar. The art room crackled with enthusiasm as the students organized and designed their presentations.
When I hear about STEM (not STEAM) initiatives, I immediately cringe knowing the critical element of the arts is missing. If Steve Jobs had been solely focused on the technological side of Apple, it would be safe to say that this company would not be the economic and cultural force that it is today. It is important that we, as educators, collectively teach critical 21st century skills such as creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, which will set students up for success in any endeavors they will pursue in the future.
“With global competition rising, America is at a critical juncture in defining its economic future…. Art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century in the same way that science and technology did in the last century, and the STEAM movement is an opportunity for America to sustain its role as innovator of the world.”
- John Maeda, former professor of MIT Media Lab and RISD President, current Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and board member for Sonos and global advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy.
Wood Duck Drawing by Fifth Grade Metcalf Elementary Student Morgan,
Winning State Entry 2015
Integrated Arts Lesson Based on the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest focusing on
North American Duck Species and Environmental Conservation