Wellin Teaches at Harts Hill Elementary
Photo Credit

Janelle Rodriguez

Marvin the Beetle and the excitement surrounding his story could be seen and felt in the classroom, in the hallways and even on the lunch menu.

For the month of March, Elise Broach’s book Masterpiece and its main character Marvin took Hart’s Hill Elementary School by storm. The entire school, including faculty and staff, anxiously read the 288-page book at the same time. The reading challenge, called One Book, One School, was designed to spark more interest and interaction among students and their families during PARP (Parents As Reading Partners). The challenge proved to be a huge success: for four weeks, every classroom was buzzing about Masterpiece.

However, One Book, One School did more than just encourage reading together. Masterpiece and its main ideas were incorporated into every classroom and every subject area throughout the month of March — including art.

On March 25, Megan Austin, Manager of Educational Programming and Outreach at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, along with student members of her staff visited all of Mrs. Papandrea’s art classes at Hart’s Hill. Since the museum opened in fall 2012, Austin and School and Family Educator Amber Spadea have been busy developing educational programming for grades K-12.

During their visit, Austin and Hamilton students taught a lesson on Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. The pen and ink techniques of this 14th and 15th century artist can be seen in illustrations throughout Masterpiece.

“All of the students are learning to look closely at Dürer’s artwork and create something of their own with such fine detail,” said Austin. “They are relating it to Marvin, a character in the book, while learning about history and art.”

Austin had the students draw a beetle, their very own Marvin, using Dürer’s pen and ink technique. With pen in hand, and guided by Hamilton students, each Hart’s Hill student drew a beetle line by line, while using various principles they are currently learning in Mrs. Papandrea’s art class.

The lesson is based on VTS, or Visual Thinking Strategies, a method initiated by teacher-facilitated discussions of art, which can be applied to every classroom and subject area, not just art. VTS pushes students to think about all subjects — English, Social Studies, Math and Science — and helps them develop visual literacy through object-based learning.

“VTS encourages students to speak up and gives everyone an opportunity to engage with one another,” said Austin. “There is not a right or wrong answer. When they speak about something, not only are they utilizing knowledge from other classes, but they are working on their oral communication skills and finding evidence within the artwork to support their ideas and opinions. It helps build confidence.”

The Wellin Museum of Art designs lessons alongside area educators’ curricula to support what is being taught in the classroom. Teachers only need to explain where they are in their syllabus or what module they are on and a custom-designed lesson will be created through artwork.

“What we do is more than just hand out a sheet of paper or another assignment,” said Austin. “We craft a lesson that satisfies Common Core and proves that every subject comes together in one space.”

“A lot of teachers are initially skeptical about the Wellin Museum of Art because it’s an art museum. But, behind our collections and exhibitions are objects that connect history, science, math and more. No matter the class, we can construct a lesson to complement and add to what students are learning.”

The Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College and members of its staff engage with around 20 local schools districts throughout Oneida and Herkimer counties. Last year, the museum had more than 13,000 visitors, 1,500 of whom were students.

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