a woman uses a stylus and an art program on her computer


Arts can be used to train well-rounded and creative scientists, but many people are only peripherally aware of integrating arts and science through familiarity with the STEAM acronym, a modification of the STEM acronym to include the Arts (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). Arts should have the same equally important place in STEAM.

This summer, more than 60 Ohio art teachers went full steam ahead and participated in the Summer Symposium of the Ohio Art Education Association (OAEA) in the School of Art + Design at Ohio University, Athens. This year, the OAEA’s Summer Symposium became the first-ever hybrid event, with half of the participants attending onsite while the other half did so online. The pandemic not only changed how students learn but also has been transforming teachers’ professional development.

As a community of visual art educators, the OAEA promotes professional growth and leadership. The Summer Symposium has been held for five years as an opportunity for art teachers to create art and connect with other art teachers. As a hands-on conference traditionally held on college campuses around the state, the two-day symposium comprised a dozen workshops that covered both traditional and digital art media. These diverse workshops represent at least four trends in the professional development of K-12 art teachers.

Trend 1: Emphasize creativity

All presenters emphasized creativity in their workshops. During the Continuous Line Surrealism workshop, Suzanne Oldham, an artist teaching at Ohio’s Logan-Hocking School District, encouraged every attendee to first draw a continuous line, then use the line to doodle and create a painting with watercolor techniques. For years, Oldham has been inspiring her students to create, and her middle school students have designed impressive artworks exhibited at the Logan-Hocking School Board office and state-level art exhibits.

Researchers have called for school leaders and educators to reconsider the role of creativity in art education. According to researcher Enid Zimmerman, “Art teachers cannot anticipate exactly what will be the necessary content to be learned in the next decade, but they can teach students skills that will prepare them to find and solve problems.” Creativity is one of the skills that art teachers can help students to develop from kindergarten to high school.

Trend 2: Enhance digital art design

Respect traditional art media but be on the cutting edge. This was another significant goal for the Summer Symposium. Half of the hands-on workshops required participants to use digital tools to create artworks. Matt Young, the OAEA President and a high school art teacher at Ohio’s Pickerington Schools, offered a session titled Vector Portraits with Adobe Draw. Step by step, he demonstrated a project using iPad and Adobe software to create artistic portraits.

With increased access to digital tools and technology, teachers face challenges in expanding their curriculum. A 2016 Adobe study reported that students ages 11-17 and their teachers both felt that technology provides additional tools and outlets for creativity and having more opportunities to use digital tools for hands-on learning would better prepare students for the workforce. When the technology is already in place, the curriculum needs to catch up, and professional development becomes imperative.

Trend 3: Explore ecological issues

During the symposium, John Sabraw, a professor of art at Ohio University, introduced his journey as an artist who collaborates with scientists and environmentalists to find solutions to issues of sustainability. From pollution to paint, Sabraw works with a team of engineers and watershed experts to remediate streams polluted by acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines. In his presentation, he showed attendees how he created paint and paintings from iron oxide extracted from polluted creeks in Ohio.

Sabraw’s research in action provided art teachers with the experience to explore ecological issues and solutions. His workshop seems to answer the call of researchers Joy G. Bertling and Tara C. Moore. After surveying K-12 art educators in the U.S., they found that, in general, art teachers integrated environmental education with their pedagogies at a moderate level. They suggested that art educators may need additional resources and training to incorporate ecological awareness in teaching.

Trend 4: Engage in meditative art

It was almost dinner time when Pam Signorelli, a former president of Minnesota Art Educators and a certified Zentangle trainer, hosted her workshop online.

The workshop is an example of the “self-care” that OAEA has been providing its members throughout the pandemic. Training like the Zentangle workshop offers teachers a novel approach to meditation, which may also inspire arts-centered initiatives to improve school climate and culture.

Research suggests that arts education supports development in the engagement, attention, motivation, and persistence necessary for students to succeed in college and the workforce. However, the Nation’s Report Card shows that not every public school provides students with quality visual arts education. Policymakers, school board members, superintendents, statewide elected officials, and the U.S. secretary of education may need to revisit the ways that arts education can help students to develop deeper learning, creativity, and other skills urgently needed by and for the 21st century workforce.

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