HARRISBURG (May 12) – State Senator Andy Dinniman recognized art students and teachers at the Downingtown Area School District’s Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center for completing an innovative project that was recently displayed in the Main Rotunda of the Pennsylvania Capitol.

Pictured (from left to right) Senator Dinniman, Michelle Marsden, Marsh Creek art teacher, and Ken Witmer, Dean of the West Chester University Department of Education.

The artwork was created as part of a special, school-wide Project Based Learning unit called “Art & Identity,” an interdisciplinary approach to teaching that allowed students to answer the driving question: “How can I use art to define who I am as an individual, part of a community and as an agent of change?”

“I want to recognize students and teachers from the Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center on conceptualizing and completing these unique and creative projects – projects that combine aspects of social studies, visual art, language arts, and technology education,” Dinniman said. “The most amazing thing about these illustrations is you can use a Smartphone or electronic device to actually hear the student artist describe their work in their own words and voice.”

One of the works displayed in the Capitol by Marsh Creek student Alyssa Stauffer.

One of the works displayed in the Capitol by Marsh Creek student Alyssa Stauffer.

Dinniman, who holds a doctorate in education and serves as Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the unit can serve as a prime example of the way interdisciplinary projects can be used to assess students’ skills.

To demonstrate how each child would like to make a positive change in the world around them each student selected a non-profit organization that they had a personal connection to and drew illustrations of ways they would like to take action. Students also wrote essays explaining their work, which they read aloud and recorded electronically. These recordings are available to viewers via Smartphone-scannable QR codes displayed next to each student’s name on the frame of the artwork.

In addition to the large drawing in the background, students also drew shapes of objects that symbolized their hobbies and interests as individuals. To show a group of people or a community that is important to them, the students used their iPads to take photographs and enhance the photos with a variety of apps.

Scan this QR code to hear Alyssa Stauffer discuss her work (pictured above).

Scan this QR code to hear Alyssa Stauffer discuss her work (pictured above).

“This is precisely why teaching is so much more important than testing,” Dinniman said. “These projects gave students the opportunity to flex their creative, higher-thinking and real-world problem-solving skills across a range of subjects. The end result is a work of art that depicts both who they are and what they hope to accomplish.”

The unit was created by Marsh Creek art teachers Michelle Marsden, Laura Roth, and Jordan Robinson, in collaboration with students. It also involved the Social Studies, Language Arts, and the Integrated Digital Informational Technology departments, as follows:

  • Students learned how to define community and culture in their Social Studies classes.
  • Students chose their messages and created their multimedia projects in their Visual Arts classes.
  • Students wrote essays that explained all three components of their projects in their Language Arts classes.
  • Technology instructors taught students how to record their voices reading their essays onto the QR codes.

Marsden said that the culminating goal of the project was to get as many of these student masterpieces on display in as many public places as possible. This year they are reaching this goal by exhibiting over five hundred student projects in public spaces throughout Downingtown and Philadelphia from May 16 – May 31.  This has been made possible through partnerships created with over thirty local restaurants, stores, offices, schools and parents.

“We believe that giving each child an opportunity to make a visual and audible statement about who they are and how they would like to change the world are powerful tools in the development of their education and their character,” she said.

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