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A renaissance of school-based elementary art education infused with 21st century technology, student-centered creativity, and innovation.


location_on Jefferson Hills, United States
Art education, the original makerspace, is reborn in the 21st century as the all-inclusive, cross-curricular, creative amalgam that it once was in the Renaissance. Using 3D printers, Lego blocks, video cameras, iPads, and digital drawing boards, we focus on concepts of perspective, empathy, and innovation which are guided by history, culture, and technology.
Perspective, informed by history, empathy, born out of cultural understanding, and innovation, fueled by creative technology, are the core of ArtEd21.

Adam Gebhardt, Teacher


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Innovation Overview

7 - 11
Age Group
Updated on September 17th, 2021
about the innovation

The original makerspace!

For educational systems to remain relevant, they have to adapt along with society and culture.  School-based art education is not exempt from this rule, yet the curricula and learning objectives typically show little change through the years.  Today, in a global movement, educators are reimagining what schools should look like, how we should teach, and what is truly important for our students to learn.  Meanwhile, with a renewed emphasis on creativity and innovative technology, schools have established STEAM labs and "makerspaces" in an attempt to revitalize the school curriculum with a focus on creativity and ingenuity rather than testing metrics and standardization.  

The ArtED21 program is a response to these trends in contemporary education policy and practice.  Established in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ArtEd21 seeks to rethink art education through a curriculum built on perspective, empathy, and innovation.  Student-centered creativity binds all of these together as learners are given the freedom of choice while being released from the constraints of time.

Historical perspective allows us to place ourselves on the timeline of human history and development.  By studying the past, we gain insight on the progress that we have made, the struggles we have endured, the successes we celebrate, and the promise of our continuing future.  

Despite the ability of modern technology to connect people across the world, it is not uncommon for us to become ethnocentric and closed off to the reality that our world is made up of many different peoples who have their own perspectives, traditions, cultures, and ways of life.  In order for students to have empathy for others, they must first understand these differences and begin to appreciate and value the diversity of mankind.

Drawing, painting, and sculpture are a few of the traditional art forms that make up the majority of school art education, but these same art forms represent only a minute fraction of the market for creative, artistic enterprise.  Technology has changed the way we exercise our creativity and has also reorganized the demand for artistic, creative production.  By teaching students to use technology creatively from a young age, we foster skills that are relevant to modern society and critical to them becoming innovators of the future.

Perspective, informed by history, empathy, born out of cultural understanding, and innovation, fueled by creative technology, are the core of ArtEd21.  However, without being student-centered, these concepts fail to reach their full potential.  Creativity is inherently difficult to quantify and therefore quite challenging to evaluate in grades.  Taking inspiration from other core curricula, art classes have marginalized creativity by requiring students to meet certain, teacher-defined, standards of success or display precise evidence of prescribed learning goals.  Loosening the definition of success allows learners to achieve their own objectives and more fully display their unique and individual creativity.

Rather than establishing a new curriculum with the development of STEAM labs and makerspaces, we must instead rethink the existing curricula so that they embody the beliefs and ideals of the maker movement.  Art class was always supposed to be about creativity, but, in the school environment, the curriculum lost its way and failed to adapt with modern innovation and technology.  If the art curriculum, which already has the ability to connect across educational disciplines, had always been more ready to adopt new forms of creative expression, would makerspaces ever be created in the first place?  

Over the course of a decade and with the support provided through grants from organizations such as Remake Learning, Voya, Sprout Fund, and the Consortium for Public Education, the ArtEd21 concept has developed and been put into practice.  Third-grade students now gain perspective through a yearlong study of the history of art, human experience, and global development.  In fourth grade, empathy is the goal as students learn about multicultural art and their diverse forms of artistic expression which is inspired by their lifestyle, culture, and beliefs.  And fifth-grade students focus on innovation through creative projects utilizing 21st-century technology such as 3D printers, computers, iPads, and video cameras.  The art room itself is completely redesigned to allow for a diversity of choices and space for creative activity.

ArtEd21 is a program that seeks to reestablish the art classroom as the creative epicenter of the educational experience.  Rooted in perspective, empathy, and innovation while grounded in student-led creativity, ArtEd21 is a renaissance of traditional art education.  It is hoped that these changes will not only inspire and equip creative, motivated, empowered students, but serve as a prototype for the possibilities now available through art education in the 21st century.


See this innovation in action

The art room welcomed two new animals today! The phyllobates terribilis poison dart frog duo is enjoying exploring the new vivarium this morning. This is one example of how ArtEd21 promotes STEAM with connections between art and science.  Learning does not happen in silos but crosses curricular boundaries!
The art room welcomed two new animals today! The phyllobates terribilis poison dart frog duo is enjoying exploring the new vivarium this morning. This is one example of how ArtEd21 promotes STEAM with connections between art and science.  Learning does not happen in silos but crosses curricular boundaries!
Students used Tinkercad to design and print architectural design buildings.  We are printing them all in white with gray roads in between.  Stay connected to see the whole city when it is finished being printed...there are around 250 buildings!
As a part of the 3D printing element of the curriculum, we participated in a large-scale, multi-school, construction project to build a life-sized 3D printed formula one car!  This is the largest 3D printed object to come off of our printers yet!
The redesigned art room at Jefferson Hills Intermediate has been given a fresh coat of paint including this bright mural above the cabinets.  Not only are these colors fun, they match our favorite colors of plastic used in the 3D printers.
Adam Gebhardt on Twitter
This is an awesome time-lapse video showing one of our 3D printers creating nine student's architectural buildings!
Adam Gebhardt on Twitter
Check out this video of our three 3D printers working to fabricate student work and tools for creative production.
Adam Gebhardt on Twitter
Pixilation videos in progress at JHIS!
Adam Gebhardt on Twitter
Students in 5th Grade working on stop-motion pixilation videos that illustrate how to behave on the playground.


Achievements & Awards

May 2019
January 2019
Innovation page created on

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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Unlearn your beliefs about school-based art education.
Many of the traditions of art education are actually counterproductive to student-centered creativity. A real assessment of the current curriculum, learning outcomes, and influences in teaching must occur before innovation is free to develop.
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Commit to Change and Encouraging Expressive Freedom
Allowing student-centered creativity means you have to let go of some control - and that can be a little scary. Change does not happen overnight, but commit to making progress toward rejuvenating art education gradually.
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Identify and Access Available Resources
Innovation and change, especially when technology is involved, require some degree of resource or funding. Support can come from a variety of sources. No matter what the starting point or desired result, evaluate potential sources of support and tenaciously pursue the needed resources
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Reinvent the Curriculum
If innovation in art education is to be effective, it is vital for the curriculum to reflect the changes being made in the classroom. This not only helps to guide instruction but also serves to justify and document progress.
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Share Your Progress!
Changing your classroom or school is an innovation, but when change catches on and spreads, it can become a revolution! Share your progress, collaborate with others, and communicate your vision.
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