gabe real mattise.png Skills to Live By: Observation and Inspiration

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Anyone involved in education feels another transition coming. Over a decade into the 21st century we are finally moving away from the restrictions of No Child Left Behind and towards the Common Core. The jury is out on whether this next transition in education will be any better than the hundreds that have come before it. The one thing that is for certain is that the world our children are growing up in is different. The global, digital, and connected world demands a greater and greater variety of skills. Some of these skills include, but are not limited to: collaboration, self-control, independence, questioning, digital productivity, meta-cognition, creativity, inspiration, and observation. Chief among them are the skills of observation and inspiration.



Observation is the skill of being aware of what is around us. It is the paying attention to detail and asking why. Coupled with meta-cognition, the awareness of our own thinking and learning, observation is the first step in creation. To understand this further let us look at an example of how observation, meta-cognition, inspiration, collaboration, and creativity all lead to digital productivity and learning.


One of our fifth grade careers is artist. As a class we use a technique called visual thinking strategies to observe great artist's paintings. During our six week unit we observed Jackson Pollock, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Mattise, and Pablo Picasso. We observed a seminal piece of art from each. We studied their techniques and asked questions like: What do you see? What makes you say that? What is going on in the picture? How do you think the artist did that? Following an in depth discussion students are asked to use the techniques of the artist to make a digital creation of their own based on the piece we observed. This may seem like a simple task, but it is not.

In the creation of their own digital art each student is faced with the challenge of synthesizing what they know about the artist with their own idea of what they want to create. All while selecting and manipulating a digital tool to do so. In the process of staring at a blank canvas, screen, they are forced to use other pieces of work and each other as inspiration for their final product. Not only are students highly motivated. They are also deeply engaged in the process of failure and success as each stroke works its way on to the page. The result? A product they have worked hard to create. A product they can be proud of. A product that has tapped into their "21st century skills". A product that is often, amazing.

Links to: Our digital art gallery, the iAM project, The Answer is Not C, Cultivating the Teachable Moment.