Embrace the Arts

This afternoon we had our IB Art Vernissage, one of my favorite IB traditions.  Initially it feels like something so different from what I do every day with the same students and possibly that’s why it appeals to me so.  It also takes place directly outside of my classroom in the student lounge and I enjoy the anticipation created by observing the students and our IB art teacher prepare for the event.

At our school the IB art program has a reputation of being difficult and being a potential source to bring down one’s GPA.  However, my daughter, along with several other students, decided to embark on the two-year journey of IB art as part of the diploma curriculum.  The students are expected to select a theme early on in their pilgrimage towards becoming artists.  Their artwork, then, over the two years is to relate to their theme. 

I look at the displayed work and I am impressed.  None of these IB art students plans a career in art and would have never experienced painting on a canvas, being inspired by multiple artists (and being able to discuss it), creating a clay sculpture, and working in a host of other mediums without this class.  All of them are articulate about how each piece of art relates to their chosen theme.  I am touched by how each student is clearly personally invested in his/her work.  It is enlightening to speak with the individuals and I so enjoy seeing them in the context of an art exhibition.  Of course, they are engaged in an entirely different way as compared to when they are explaining the role of the light dependent reactions in photosynthesis.  Their effort and hours of toiling away in the art room have paid off!  One teacher exclaims, “Now I know what they do tucked away in the art room!  I‘ve always wondered what goes on for hours and hours in there.”  Appropriate “oohs” and “aahs” and nods of approval exude from the group of spectators circulating through the show.  I sense pride and accomplishment from our students.

My daughter in front of some of her art.

There is plenty of literature to support the value of art in education.  An article I recently read refers to skills attained from participating in the arts.  These skills include the following (1):

  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Problem Solving
  • Perseverance
  • Focus
  • Non-Verbal Communication
  • Ability to receive constructive feedback
  • Collaboration
  • Dedication
  • Accountability

Through taking this IB course, our students have gained an actual skill set that will be valuable to them throughout all aspects of life.  While the students presented, it was clear that these skills have, indeed, been transmitted to the students through their artistic odyssey.

If you know someone deliberating on whether to take an art, music, dance or drama class, encourage them to do so!  Future IB students don’t steer away from the Group VI (The Arts) subjects!

In my own life, balance and those very skills listed above became part of who I am through my participation in the orchestra program in my high school and later by playing with a symphony while in college and graduate school.  Additionally, my world was enlarged through the exposure to music, composers, and different artists.  The weekly rehearsals provided an appropriate diversion from my classes and research, allowing me to return fresh and prepared to progress even further having stepped away for a bit. Plus, it was just plain fun to be part of the creation of beautiful music!  How about you?  What are the benefits that you have experienced from participating in The Arts?  Share below!

Strauss, V. (2013, January 21). Top 10 skills children learn from the arts.Washington Post. Retrieved April 28, 2014, from

Balance as students, teachers, people

My 6th grade class is currently completing a unit within the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) titled “Balance”.  The big idea of the unit is  “Things are more stable when different elements are in the correct of best possible proportions” (1).

Coupled to our global-warming themed Science Fair, these students are investigating an animal that is threatened by global warming and analyzing the ramifications of the given animal disappearing from the food chain.  In preparation for this task, they viewed a short video (see below) on the impact of wolves in Yellow Stone National Park (2).

After watching the film I opened up a general discussion with “So what did you think?”  Immediately, a student responded with “It’s like the wolves provide balance to the entire ecosystem”.  As always, my 6th graders were duly impressed and expressed appropriate wonderment.  I love that about them.  In any case, it jump started them in their own research about their threatened species.

Furthermore, it gave them perspective on the exit point they are doing for the IMYC unit: Working individually, they are to create a “person web” (kind-of like a food web), with themselves at the center.  Branching out from themselves will be all of their classmates.  They are to identify a characteristic of each classmate that brings balance to their learning environment. It will be a surprise to the group when each presents.

This idea of balance is such an important concept.  We also teach it at the IB level claiming that IB learners are “Balanced” and that “we understand the importance of balancing different aspects of our lives – intellectual, physical, and emotional- to achieve well-being for ourselves and others.  We recognize our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live” (3).

I hope that we, as teachers and adults, also teach this principle of balance by our examples.  It is an area that I have personally struggled with but am improving in.  Here are ways I seek balance in my own life:

  1. I prioritize time with my family.  We eat together and we do things together. 1:1 time with each person in the family involves date-nights with my husband, roller-blading with my 12-year old, dog walks and market visits with my daughter, and watching the “Walking Dead” series with my teenage son. 
  2. I exercise.  I run, especially when school isn’t in session.  Biking to and from work is my main mode of commuting.
  3. I write!  A few times a year I attend the Amsterdam Writer's Workshop (4) and I've committed myself to writing everyday.  I’ve started this blog.
  4. I read.  I find time to read novels and literature pertaining to education.

If I don’t do these things, I spend all my time on lesson planning, grading, and trying to make things better for the next time.  Since every lesson can always be better in some way, this could become a completely obsessive habit.  There have been times when I have worked from 19:00 – 24:00 every night.  And that is not balanced.  

My 2014 resolution was to break that habit and I have! 

How do you keep balance in your life?  Add your comments below.








Achieving Balance

Lesson Planning.  Unit Planning.  Curriculum Review.  Going Green Initiative.  Differentiation for HS, SL, and HL students in my IB Biology class, Internal Assessments, Staff Meetings, Science Dept. Meetings, Managing the research expedition to South Africa, Juggling parent emails, helping students with missing work, Lab Planning, Lab Preparing, Lab cleanup, developing IMYC curriculum with rubrics and assessment, Standards based Grading focus group --- oh, and grading.  Actually, this isn’t even a comprehensive list.

Last semester I found myself powering up my computer right after dinner and working through the evening and night until at least midnight.  Then I was at the school at 7 a.m. the next day.  My job had officially consumed me.  I had given up my life.  As a teacher, that is the easiest thing to let happen, as the demands are endless.  Of course, this is probably true of any job.

Well, I decided this was no longer in the best interest of my family, my students, or me.  I mean, who wants a tired, burned out wife, mother or teacher?  And I was headed down that path.  So, this January I turned over a new leaf.  I have committed myself to my life.  How have I kept this resolution?  Well, I started this blog for one and am committed to writing each night.  I do not work at home until I have had dinner with my family and played a game with my youngest son.  I make sure to have a one on one discussion with both of my teenagers each day.  I started Dutch lessons again on Tuesday afternoons after school.  This Friday begins a regular after school practice session with our staff choir which I have decided to join.  I am so much happier.  I love my life again.  And, I am STILL getting all those things done in the first paragraph.  I was just reviewing my schedule for this week and realized I signed up to make Chinese dumplings in celebration of he Chinese New Year last week.  I am really looking forward to that!  I am so glad I have little perks in life to keep my work as a teacher balanced.