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From the Creator of Choose Art

I hope you are enjoying the lessons presented on our Choose Art CDs. We are so happy to hear from educators both locally and around the world who are using our materials to bring art education to the children in their areas. All of our programs, from first to fifth grade, contain detailed instructions for the teacher as well as student pages, and they include art history, aesthetics, art production and art criticism. All lessons are written from a Biblical worldview.

The article on brain-based art education presented in this newsletter mentions several of the lessons that are included on the CDs. For example, the student simulation of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as the project that involves the children in a re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci's, The Last Supper, are both taken from the fifth grade program, Where Eagles Soar. The parade of box sculptures takes place after a series of lessons in the fourth grade program, Butterfly Wings.

All such lessons are highly compatible with the most effective methods of teaching children, as described by Eric Jensen in his book called Brain-Based Learning, which is referenced in the article. The methods reflect the latest research on understanding how the brain processes new information.

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Brain-Based Art Education

"My son will never forget Michelangelo!"

Such a comment is typical of students' experience in a fifth grade art class involving a simulation of painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Overturned tables in the art room represent the ceiling as the children lie on the floor and work on drawings taped to the undersides of the tables. Imagining themselves to be the great artist lying on the scaffolding in the vast chapel, they quickly experience the awkwardness of their position and the pain of extending an arm above their head for even a very short period of time.

Simulations like this one are seen in "brain-compatible" classrooms where activity-base learning is commonplace. But what is it about the hands-on approach that captures it in the memory? Current findings in brain research provide enlightenment for teachers by confirming what the best in the profession have known all along. For learning to be effective, it must be meaningful to the students. Although our delivery may be polished and our knowledge base extensive, our effectiveness as teachers will be shallow if we fail to connect with the children.

According to brain researcher, Eric Jensen (2000), attaching new information to an existing knowledge base, stimulating the senses, and engaging the emotions all contribute to making an experience meaningful. When learning is meaningful, then existing neurons in the brain make connections with other neurons; if no meaning is found, then no connections are made, and the information is discarded.

Content alone does little to stimulate either the senses or the emotions, and being less meaningful, it is much more easily forgotten. Real life experiences, role-playing, hands-on activities and information that responds to curiosity produce the greatest learning and the longest retention. Indeed, the proverbial teachable moment, which represents a window of aroused emotion, is well known to educators and parents. Being poised to respond to such a moment while embedding information in context is well-known in Scripture: "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deuteronomy 6:7)

When art students reproduce a living version of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper," they become immersed in the total experience. Dressing in character and posing as Jesus and His disciples in front of their own creation of the painting's background, they invest themselves emotionally in a way that embeds the activating into their memories. How much more relevant is such a context than the presentation of a worksheet or the delivery of a lecture?

Emotions evoked by a public parade of box sculpture creations, memories revisited by smelling scented objects, views expressed in picture-making - all these are meaningful activities that challenge the brain both to grow and to remember. Creating a novel student desk design or drawing plans for a tree house require an emotional investment and provide a workout for the brain similar to an aerobic workout for the body. According to Jensen (2000) such activities are especially useful because they are "challenging, novel, and complex tasks that require intensive thinking and multi-tasking" (p. 191).

While, as Christians, we are expected to "study to shew thyself approved..." (2 Timothy 2:15) it is helpful to know how the best learning can be accomplished. Predictably, it is the Bible's approach to learning, that of embedding knowledge within context, that is proving itself the most beneficial. As Eric Jensen (2000) says, "Sorting, analyzing, and drawing conclusions in the context of one's own life is the only learning that sticks" (p. 279).

References from Jensen, E. (2000). Brain-Based Learning (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: The Brain Store Publishing.

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