Head of School Blog

Hats that Teach

Jill Singleton
Elliot Eisner, art educator and emeritus professor of Art and Education at the Stanford University School of Education, said that “If apple is the language of the future, then art must be the core.” With so many schools cutting arts programming as a result of budget shortfalls, one can’t help but wonder about the myriad ways in which true education and the depth of human understanding will be negatively impacted as a result for years to come.

At All Saints, the arts are used to enhance learning in all subject areas and challenge students to think creatively in order to solve problems. The Third Annual Endangered Species Tea Party and Hat Show, scheduled to take place tomorrow, Wednesday, February 15, in the church at 6:30 pm, is a perfect example of how the arts can teach students a whole host of skills that will improve learning and performance in all areas. Although students across all grade levels (K-8) are engaged in the event in a variety of ways, students in Grades 5 and 6 create hats based on an endangered species of their choice that they will model in a fashion show – hence the name of the event. After conducting research to learn about the animal’s physical characteristics, needs, and natural habitat, students are challenged to create a hat to represent the animal as a way to raise awareness about its endangered status.

Students learned a lot about the animals they studied. Before doing the project, Fifth Grade student Emma Singleton said she didn’t know that “bats have very long tongues to drink from flowers,” or that “they live in all continents except for Australia.” Emma’s classmate, Christian Conte said he never knew “what makes penguins endangered,” but explained that “oil from boats takes off a coat of their feathers and they freeze to death.”
But students learned a lot more about endangered species than just why they are threatened with extinction. Faced with what Art Teacher Rachel Therres and those in the field call an “elegant problem,” students were challenged to think in new ways. “An elegant problem is fluid and flexible,” Ms Therres explained, “and is open to interpretation.” After Ms. Therres showed students the basics about creating the armature for their hat, she did everything she can to let them experiment, fail, and try again. Through this process, they developed perseverance and resilience. Fifth Grader Caroline Rosa said “It was very hard to think of a way to make the hat about the animal but to make sure there was still a sense of mystery so that people would need to think, ‘Now what animal could that be?’” Her classmate, Andrew Aarts, persevered through a mechanical problem. “My mountain gorilla’s arm kept falling down,” he said. “I had to find a way to make sure that the arm would stay in place.” Sixth Grader Lulu Obaditch commented that she had an easier time this year, as it is her second time making a hat. “The armature was easier for me this year because I remembered a lot about how to bend and cut the wire, and how to make sure the fabric was wrapped around it so it wouldn’t show.”

“One thing that is really special about an open-ended project like this,” Ms. Therres explained, “is that any age level can respond to it and make it personal using their artistic expertise.” Perhaps this is exactly what Eisner is getting at with his idea about arts being at the core of the future. “The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer,” Eisner posits. Surely our future depends on the next generation’s ability to see solutions we have yet to even imagine.

Click here to read 10 lessons the arts teach by Elliot Eisner: https://naea.digication.com/daniseegan/Ten_Lessons_the_Arts_Teach_by_Elliot_Eisner

Questions, comments, thoughts? I’d love to hear them! Email me jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com