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

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.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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January 2019
Perspective, informed by history, empathy, born out of cultural understanding, and innovation, fueled by creative technology, are the core of ArtEd21.

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 technologyto 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 preciseevidenceof 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 becreated 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 reestablishthe 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 oftraditional 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.

Implementation steps

Unlearn your beliefs about school-based art education.

What was your art education like?

It is only natural to have expectations about something based on your personal experiences. Parents, teachers, administrators, and policy-makers have all experienced art education as students. Through this, they have established norms and beliefs about the art curriculum and practice that they believe to be true. The art curriculum is put in a box built by past experiences. Before attempting reform, we must first acknowledge the effect of our experiences and expectations.

How are these traditions continued in your school?

When we evaluate what is currently taught, what projects are assigned, and what learning processes are featured, it is likely that we will recognize that they are inspired by the experiences of our past. Over time, these experiences become traditions. Traditions, repeated over time, restrict and guide our expectations. Is the current art curriculum eerily similar to what you experienced many years ago when you were a student? Identify what traditions have been passed on through time and persist as expectations in the eyes of the stakeholders in the community.

What is the goal of the art curriculum?

The reasons for art existing in the school curriculum have changed periodically over the years. Through trends born out of the industrial revolution, arts and crafts movement, or art for art's sake mentality, just to name a few examples, art has been given a place in the school curriculum which ties arts learning to a particular purpose. Why do you believe art exists in schools? Unfortunately, many people think that art class is only for the artistically gifted. However, if this is the case, why do we require all students to take arts classes all the way through the university level? Our beliefs about the purpose of art education will undeniably affect the way we craft the art experience for our students.

What do students gain from art education?

Just as we must asses the goals attributed to the art education curriculum, it is imperative that we evaluate what we want students to learn. This is slightly different from determining the broad goal of art education in schools. When we consider the personal, individual gains made by each and every student, we have to think on a smaller scale rather than a broad administrative perspective. Regardless of a student's skills, talents, or interests, creativity and expression found in art education are important for future success in any field of study. Therefore, it is crucial that we evaluate how we are supporting each and every student in their diversity.

Commit to Change and Encouraging Expressive Freedom

How do learning goals influence the art curriculum?

If the goal of the art curriculum is to develop talented artists, we will assign skill-building exercises and assignments designed to improve particular abilities. If our goal is to encourage art appreciation the curriculum will similarly follow a path that is determined by the desired end result. Consider the activities, assignments, and projects that currently constitute the art curriculum. Now, evaluate the reasoning behind each one. Sometimes, beliefs about the goal of the art curriculum are not fully understood until we analyze the types of activities taking place in art class.

What does success look like?

Experiences lead to expectations which are the basis for our beliefs that guide the goals of art education. The degree to which students achieve these goals must be assessed - we call these grades! How are students graded in their art projects? Since creativity is ultimately quite difficult to quantify, it is easy to fall into a system of assessment that judges student's ability to adhere to a model; a successful example. If this form of evaluation makes up a significant portion of a student's grade, are we truly encouraging creativity or inadvertently fostering conformity? Think about the way that your students are given grades, what qualities in their work are being assessed, and how this reflects or contradicts your learning goals, beliefs, and expectations.

Identify and Access Available Resources

Account for what already exists.

Before setting out to acquire additional resources, inventory what you already have. However, this goes beyond simple counting of supplies.

Analyze the space utilized for art education. Is the space maximized for student creativity, movement, collaboration, and instruction? Are the equipment and furniture conducive to creating a comfortable, productive environment? It often helps to mentally deconstruct the workspace and imagine what your ideal creative space would look like. You may already have many of the pieces to make this vision a reality if space is reimagined and resources are repurposed.

Assess the quantity, quality, and condition of existing supplies. What equipment and supplies are still viable in a rejuvenated art classroom? Is it possible to clean house by using up supplies? Is some equipment too outdated or run down for continued use? Space always comes at a premium and it is often necessary to remove older materials before replacing them with updated resources.

Evaluate access to technology resources. What is the current accessibility to computers, iPads, and other technology? Frequently, the art curriculum is not fully considered when technology use and access is planned. It may require some conversation with school administrators to improve your ability to utilize these resources. In the 21st century, it is vital to have regular, reliable access to technology as much as possible.

Determine realistic goals.

Now is the chance to dream a little. If you were going to going to design and supply the most amazing art room in the world, what would it look like? Since one of the ideals of ArtEd21 is student-centered lessons, it may be particularly helpful to ask your students this question as well. Just be aware that they may only understand and promote ideas based on their experiences which have created particular expectations for art.

Consider what types of art projects you would like to see created and what materials and equipment are needed. Would you like to do ceramics, animation, video production, photography, digital art, or other non-traditional art forms? What supplies and physical space are needed to accomplish your vision?

Be aware that large changes and curricular shifts do not often happen overnight! Start with smaller, manageable goals and work your way up to the larger, more demanding changes. It is best to identify some adaptations that can be made on your own without additional financial support. Consider petitioning for access to existing resources within the district. Repurpose the space and furniture in your room. Ask your administration what changes you are allowed to make to the physical space.

Identify internal and external sources of resources and support.

Once you have done all that you can on your own, then begin to look beyond your classroom for additional support:

Reallocate resources from other areas of the building or district. When ArtEd21 first began at Jefferson Hills Intermediate, there was a lot of equipment purchased and placed in a STEAM lab. The problem with STEAM labs is that they often have no personal ownership. They are created for the entire school building with the concept of shared responsibility. Unfortunately, this does not typically play out as an effective format of management. Most administrators who have thrown in support for STEAM labs get frustrated when they see these resources not utilized to their fullest. Petition your administration to allow you to use this equipment more and, potentially, suggest that some of these resources be relocated to the art classroom with the idea that the art curriculum is best positioned to be the primary location for creative production.

Petition for parent support or run fundraisers through the PTA. One of the most important stakeholders and sources of support for innovations that improve the educational environment are the parents of your students. After all, if anyone should care about the type of education provided it should be the children's parents! Depending on your school demographics, there can be significant funds available through the PTA or PTO. Often, the parents in charge of these organizations are looking for the best ways to make a positive impact in the schools. Communicate your goals and see how the parents are able to support your efforts. If funding is scarce, consider organizing a fundraiser through the PTA. Usually, districts do not allow teachers to collect money directly, but the PTA is able to run a fundraiser that you help organize and subsequently donate the money to your classroom projects.

Apply for grant funding. Tens of thousands of dollars are available to schools every year! Once you have an idea, a specific goal or outcome, and identifiable resources needed to accomplish these plans, you are only one step away from accessing grant money from local and national organizations who wish to support education. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by submitting an application for funding. Keep in mind that grant organizations are more interested in the actions and gains and less inspired by unjustified requests for equipment. Focus on what will be accomplished, not on what you want to purchase.Equipment is always secondary to the learning objectives! Over the past 10 years, initiatives related to ArtEd21 have been awarded over $30,000! Funding is available, so search for it and go get it!

Reinvent the Curriculum

Let it go!

Seriously consider what you are teaching and evaluate if this is the most powerful, pertinent content and engaging activity to can provide for your students. You may need to let go of some longstanding traditions and projects. As artist-educators, we have our own perspective and creative tendencies. These can be great fuel for the art classroom because they are things that we are passionate about, but they can also limit our students to instruction that facilitates only one particular type or style of art.

This does not mean that we must turn our backs on all that is traditional! Recall that one of the core beliefs of ArtEd21 has to do with the value of history. It is important to honor the traditions of the past while also recognizing that creativity evolves over the years. Often times, we can facilitate modernized traditional art production. There is certainly a place for innovation, but we have to keep one foot rooted in history as well.

Restructure the Curriculum

Every teacher has a secret passion in their educational responsibilities... curriculum writing! In reality, this is quite far from the truth! However, the curriculum can provide a guide to what you are doing and why. It may not be necessary to write everything out in tremendous detail at the beginning, but begin with a basic framework and go from there.

How did ArtEd21 restructure the curriculum at Jefferson Hills Intermediate School?

Our school consists of the third, fourth, and fifth-grade students for the entire district with about 250 students per grade level. The art curriculum was restructured so that each grade has a specific focus that guides learning:

Grade 3: Art Through Time. The third-grade students take a chronologicaljourney through the history of artistic production. They begin with prehistoric cave art and typically conclude with the Renaissance or Baroque time periods. During this study, they not only learn about the ways that people expressed creativity, but also how this was connected to worldevents, culture, and tradition.

Grade 4: Art Around the World. Students in fourth grade focus on art from many different cultures and places around the world. This study of multicultural creativity features traditional art forms with each continentrepresenting a separate unit of study. We highlight similarities between cultures and attempt to gain some understanding of the differences we may perceive. Projects includeAfrican tribal masks, mandalas, totem poles, Chinese brush painting, Panamanian molas, and more!

Grade 5: Art in the 21st Century. Use of technology is scattered throughout the previous two years, but, in fifth grade, digital production takes center stage. Students are presented with the reality that technology has radically changed the way that we creatively express ourselves through art. They complete assignments utilizing 3D printing, video production, stop-motion animation, lego building, photography, lightboards, and digital drawing tablets.

Interdisciplinary Connections. Amidst the curricular themes that focus on history(perspective), culture (empathy), and technology (innovation), the art curriculum includes connections to science, reading, writing, and mathematics. While these do not represent major features in the curriculum, they are important aspects of the program as a whole. The art classroom at Jefferson Hills Intermediate School has a bearded dragon tank and poison dart frogs that connect to the science curriculum. Students frequently learn math concepts in their artistic designs and have an art room library available for free time reading if they finish projects early.

Share Your Progress!

Many beliefs about creativity and school-based art education are detrimental to the future of creative art production. Consider these statements:

Art is for the artistically gifted.

Art is just a great outlet for kids who don't excel elsewhere.

There is no money or future in art as a profession.

I'm not a creative type of person.

These ideas are pervasive in the field of art education, but they sorely misrepresent the reality of artistic creativity! Art is not just for children or people who are considered gifted in art. Everyone can learn to achieve success in art. Similarly, everyone can learn to be more creative. Studies have shown that creativity is actually a learnable skill. Yes, being a fine art painter would be a hard path to plow if your goal is making a reliable income. However, this does not mean that there are not a plethora of well-paying jobs in the arts. Moreover, creativity is one of the most valuable job skills being searched for by potential employers in any field of work. Art can certainly be an outlet for emotions, thoughts, and feelings, but it is so much more. Limiting art to therapeutic release is a shortsighted view and misses the value that creativity provides to our society at large.

In order for these misconceptions to be corrected, it is critical to share the contradictory evidence that proves otherwise. Here are some recommended venues for sharing about your classroom:


This is a powerful tool for sharing your work and connecting with others. It is easy to set up, simple to share, and naturally limits your newsfeed to only include professional content if you limit yourself to following professional people. Please connect with me via Twitter here: @AdamGebhardt


Set up a simple website or blog to share your progress and student work. My favorite tool for simple web design is Weebly. It is free for teachers, simple to use, and quite capable of doing all you need to do for the purpose of sharing your classroom activities. Visit my classroom site here:


Perhaps the most valuable gain from attending professional conferences is the opportunity to network with other teachers and innovators. Attending sessions that inform your teaching, inspire change, and edify your professional development is great, but relationships are even more powerful than information. Meet as many people as possible, make connections, and collaborate. If you are confident in your progress, think about sharing as a presenter. This is a terrific way to communicate your ideas and spread the concepts promoted in the ArtEd21 renaissance.

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