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A Community of Experimenters

The museum’s Teaching Innovation Fellows develop new art-based experiences for students
December 26, 2017

Hajnal Eppley Department Director, Gallery Teaching and Teen Programs

For more than three decades, the Connie Towson Ford Teacher Resource Center (TRC) has supported local educators, providing access to professional development workshops, lesson plans and curriculum, and teaching materials incorporating CMA artworks. As the museum staff consider how to partner with students and educators throughout the next 100 years, we acknowledge the shift in the needs of our educator community and how the museum serves as a resource. Rather than focusing exclusively on museum-created lesson plans and printed materials, we are reexamining how we use what truly sets us apart—the permanent collection—to teach, learn, and engage in active and relevant ways. To reflect this shift, the TRC has been renamed the Connie Towson Ford Teaching Innovation Lab (TIL). Our goal is to activate the galleries and to create innovative, object-based experiences with artworks from the collection.

As we build an iterative framework for the TIL, the museum has enlisted the help of ten Teaching Innovation Fellows—educators representing a variety of disciplines, grade levels, and schools across northeast Ohio—to work with CMA educators and staff. Together, this museum-based professional learning community has embarked on a year of experimentation and exploration of questions: What does it mean to bring an artwork to life? What does an innovative gallery experience look like? How can these experiences ignite classroom learning? How can art serve as a learning tool across grade levels and disciplines? While teachers explore an action-based research question of their own creation, museum educators gain insight into the current needs of students and educators. This process of experimentation also brings the opportunity to co-create new kinds of gallery resources and experiences.


The fellows began their collaborative work during a Summer Teacher Institute last July. In this summer session we explored a variety of object-based learning methodologies and the museum’s collection. They were also introduced to the CMA’s gallery teaching methodology, which includes an equal emphasis on child development, knowledge of the collection, and teaching strategies. Following this orientation, each member of the team used the process of design thinking (www.ideou.com/pages/design-thinking) to home
in on a research question that affects their own teaching. This problem-solving process allowed for reflection and peer feedback as teachers interviewed each other and workshopped their ideas.


While this process was rewarding, the fellows acknowledged that experimentation and reflection constitute hard work. To ponder experiences and process our thinking throughout our time together, the group has used the questioning framework “I see, I think, I wonder.” Early group reflections included phrases like: “I see value/danger in making assumptions.” “I think I’m inspired/paralyzed.” “I wonder how I’m going to use all of this.” Later reflections expose the complexity of thought related to deepened knowledge of object-based experiences: “I see that this type of student interaction and learning is aligned with human development.” “Finding an inquiry path is both exciting and exhausting!”

By the end of the Summer Teacher Institute, each fellow was engaged in creating a gallery-based experience, to be completed before the end of this school year. For some, the experience focuses on their own students, while for others, it relates to their peers. Elizabeth Coerdt, a fourth-grade teacher at Village Preparatory, Woodland Hills, considered how she could incorporate object-based learning into her school’s preset curriculum. Through a process of experimentation, she determined she could deepen engagement with an English–Language Arts writing unit on story telling by asking her students to compose letters from the point of view of someone (or something) in a painting. She plans to test this unit with her students after a visit to the museum. Adrian Eisenhower, a visual arts teacher at the Cleveland School of the Arts, was interested in providing regular interaction with artworks to inspire his students in their drawing and painting class. Since his school is within walking distance of the museum, Eisenhower now brings his class here as part of their regular classroom experience. He is currently evaluating what happens when students create art after visiting the museum several times a week.

During the school year, the fellows will continue meeting to prototype ideas with one another, provide feedback, and report on the progress of their action-based research. We value their contributions to the development of the Teaching Innovation Lab. Together, we’re working to further activate the collection and support innovation as the CMA’s programs, resources, and gallery strategies evolve. 


Cleveland Art, January/February 2018