Reflections on the Summer Educator Institute

20150616_112420 Last month, just on the heels of completing the school year, a group of 22 educators from 17 North Carolina counties came together to participate in the first Big Picture Summer Educator Institute at the North Carolina Museum of Art, called Art and Environment: Investigating Place. Over the course of three days (June 16–18, 2015), this group of teachers, representing a variety of subject areas spanning K–12, shared ideas, made new connections, worked collaboratively and creatively through a variety of activities, all guided by their investigation of the concepts of Place and Environment.

Why concepts? Well, in the Big Picture Educator Enrichment program, we use art and concepts in our professional development programs to help teachers make connections—to big ideas, to works of art, to other subject areas—as a way to encourage arts integration and collaboration. For the summer institute, we focused on the concepts of Place and Environment.

In various iterations, in the galleries and in the heat of the Museum Park, we kept asking:

How do you define Place and Environment? What do these concepts mean to you? To your students? What do they look like in your classroom? How can they help you connect with a colleague’s curriculum?

The three days were filled with activities that pushed the teachers to deepen their thinking and inquiry into these big ideas. Here are some highlights:

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Day One: We made maps of our journeys to the summer institute and used our bodies to map out places that have meaning to us. We investigated the Museum Park through silent walking, observing in the Cloud Chamber [], writing, and inquiry activities at the Pond. We experienced a multi-draft process when looking in the galleries with the help of Todd Finley, professor of English education at East Carolina University [].

Day Two: We made marks. We “disturbed” nature, we questioned the ordering and naming in nature, and we painted—all guided by our guest artist James Prosek []. Prosek shared his work with us and inspired everyone to make their own mark.

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Day Three: This day was all about hands-on inquiry. We explored clay, paper, and writing instruments (markers, pens, and pencils) to find out their possibilities and limits and to gain confidence with materials. We discussed People on Fire [] and Berkeley No. 8 [] in the galleries. And we made maps of our experience, reflecting on the activities of the three days.

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Here’s what a few of the participants had to say:

“I feel inspired to broaden the types of experiences I provide for my students and to share what I have learned with the teachers at my school. The other attendees enhanced the three days we spent together. I enjoyed the sharing and collaboration that took place with other teachers throughout our state.”—art teacher, Buncombe County

“The summer institute was exactly what I needed to finish off a long school year. I really found the content, skills, and the people I met to be not only intriguing but also engaging. At first I was wary of the fact that I was the only history teacher there, but it was great to learn and interact with teachers and counselors who did teach or use my content every day.” —world history teacher, Johnston County

“I appreciated exploring the Museum collections in person, online, and on paper and discussing with other educators where we could use these pieces in our planning of lessons. I feel like I have a whole new pool of primary resources in my pocket. I look forward to being able to share this valuable resource with the teachers at my school! I appreciated making connections outside of my own subject area and learning how we can collaborate to deepen student learning.” —art teacher, Union County

“This institute challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and to try something completely different from what I was used to doing.” —guidance counselor, Greene County

Here’s to a relaxing, rejuvenating rest of the summer to all teachers and to another engaging year of Big Picture professional development in the year to come. We hope to see you at the NCMA or come to you in 2015–16!

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