Planting Seeds of Creativity at Network Charter School

By Mari Livie

With only 15 students in my music class (the average count for all Network Charter School classes) and a physical space that best accommodates a circle of chairs, I find that our comfortable class format is much like a round table discussion or a Socratic seminar. My role is to plant seeds for conversation and debate and then to participate and listen. Discussions invariably veer off topic. Sometimes I gently nudge things back in a direction and other times I follow the flow of conversation into the surprising places it can go. I try to make space for every voice in the classroom. I want each student to see themselves as someone with a valid opinion who has the tools to communicate their ideas effectively and concisely. I strive for a learning environment where students recognize their opinions and positions as fluid, flexible things. 

It is a human tendency — one that is being vividly illustrated in our current political climate — to hold our opinions so close that they grow entangled with our sense of self. In truth, opinions are all imperfect things. They are an ever-shifting mixture of personal history, social connections, incomplete facts, ego, empathy, and more.

If we can share our own opinions, genuinely listen to the opinions of others, and confidently shift our opinions when new facts come into play we are ready to be participating community members.  

Our nation’s democratic process is built on an expectation that its citizens are participating community members. Our courts, our elections, our Senate and House of Representatives are all built around this process of sharing opinions through open debate. As a society, we make progress when we can let go of fiercely held positions, and begin the process of listening and compromise that eventually leads to innovation. The process can be arduous, time consuming, and feel threatening to our sense of self.

As a teacher I used to emphasize developing skill sets as a path toward healthy sense of self.

I still make skill-building an aspect of our classroom paradigm — I want students to see themselves as competent singers or ukulele players — but through my ArtCore teaching experience, my classroom goals have shifted.

The process can be messy and unclear. I sit through discussions about whether Disneyland is creepy or incredible. I facilitate debates over our class “band name”. 

Things get heated and absurd, but the rich experience of participating in decision making as a community — the vulnerable but exciting potential of having your opinion prodded and shifted through open dialogue while your Self remains intact — that is the heart of our classroom culture. 

SHOMroom...that's right...SHOM practice in Homeroom

An ArtCore student's poem about their art world.

An ArtCore student's poem about their art world.

“How might refining your observation skills help you be a better artist? Writer? Scientist?”

“Was this more a pragmatic or creative solution?”

“What kinds of feedback help you engage and persist in your work?”

“What is the difference between prose and poetry?”

            These are questions ArtCore students have been grappling with in an effort to learn about the 8 Studio Habits of Mind (or SHOM, as we lovingly refer to them on a deep reverberating exhalation). Beginning in Fall as a collaboration between a middle school principal and an ArtCore weaver, one school decided to try introducing the SHOM to students through brief homeroom activities.

            Each Shomroom lesson focuses on one of the SHOM habits during a 20 minute period. The lessons generally begin with students generating a definition of the SHOM of the day, then transition to watching the related ArtCore artist profile video (or another video relevant to the curriculum). They conclude with a short hands-on exercise designed to open them to their learning. 

Here are some examples:

Azerbaijan's Heydar Aliiyev Centre by the late Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid (credit: Iwan Bann)

Azerbaijan's Heydar Aliiyev Centre by the late Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid (credit: Iwan Bann)

SHOMroom: Envision

Define “envision” as a class and then watch Kari Turner’s ArtCore video about her life as an architect. We discussed a few of the questions below after the video: 

  • Does architecture make people's lives better? How?
  • Did you know in kindergarten what you wanted to do? If yes, have your ideas changed? If no, do you have an idea now?
  • Is anyone interested in architecture? What do you think an architect does? Does an architect do anything besides design houses? What other problems might they need to solve?
  • Do you like helping people solve problems? What other careers might be good for you besides architecture? Is a creative problem solver different from a regular problem solver?
  • What is the difference between being creative and pragmatic? Which one are you?


  1. Design problem: Individually, draw a building that can house 500 people, 25 dogs, and 5 indoor pools. You have 10 minutes. Discuss your drawing with your table partner.
  2. Whose solutions are creative, pragmatic or both? How do you know?
  3. Did you draw what you first envisioned? What does envision mean to you after solving this problem?

Another example:

SHOMroom: Understand Our World

Define “understand art worlds” and “understand our world” before watching Alex Dang’s poetic ArtCore video. We discussed his technique for expressing himself through poetry and the art world of poetry.


  • Write 3-line poem about your “art world”. This is open-ended.
  • Volunteers share with class

Extension opportunity: (as adapted from

Watch the Birds in Snow video 

SHOMroom: Observe

Define “observe” and watch Mark Clarke’s video on painting. In the video, the late painter, Mark Clarke, explains the beauty of embracing the surprise in art and the wonder it brings to take time and stop observe the world around you.


  • Show slideshow of cropped pictures from a “road trip” (see our own example here. We encourage you to make your own to share with your students)
  • Flip through images every few seconds, and ask students to keep their thoughts to themselves until the second or third flip through. At that point, allow one student to share one guess for each image.
  • On the third or fourth time through, ask one student to make a guess about where the road tripper began and where they ended, citing evidence gathered through observation skills.
  • Finally, discuss how else we use our observation skills in class and outside of school- vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

            The best part about a SHOMroom is that it can easily be adapted to your class’ needs. Perhaps tests are coming up and you want to take extra time talking about “engage and persist” or you want to begin a Friday “reflection” time to end the week thoughtfully. SHOMrooms don’t have to be held during the first part of the day, either. They can replace or add to your warm up, fit in after lunch to help students refocus or even round out the day. Maybe you implement SHOMroom Fridays — it’s your choice. Like other thinking strategies and habits, the SHOM take practice. Recent research shows that some mindfulness skills, especially good observation, may lead to future creative performance. The SHOM can fit in during everyday learning and brief bursts of SHOM can help you and your team utilize a common language that helps motivate students to be critical and original thinkers. Now its your turn...what would your ideal SHOMroom lesson be?  

Check out our supporting teacher's guide here for the three listed above and look for new SHOMroom activities as we add them to our resource page.  

Why We Remember: The Arts' Support for Retention and Retrieval

You know that the arts are enjoyable, motivating and freeing for students, but did you know that it’s actually helping them remember information more effectively?

In their paper, “Why Arts Integration Improves Long-Term Retention of Content”, researchers Rinne, Gregory, Yarmolinskyaya and Hardiman (2011) assert that arts integration strategies can help aid the retention of information, taking advantage of the effects of long term memory by commiting information to memory in a lasting way. The authors present the results they found in their recent study that showed students who participated in the arts integrated science lessons “outperformed their peers on standard measures of academic achievement." Hardiman and colleagues found that arts integration “benefits [student] general cognition through improvement of executive attention” (p. 89). Though not conclusive the authors suggest that students gain skills that transfer beyond the arts to other academic domains.

These long term effects on retention result from several well-studied qualities intrinsic to learning through the arts, including: (a) rehearsal, (b) elaboration, (c) generation, (d) enactment, (e) oral production, (f) effort after meaning, (g) emotional arousal, and (h) pictorial representation. Even if you don’t generally call the school spelling bee ‘oral production’ or discussing a photo in the textbook ‘pictorial representation’, it is likely that your students engage in many of these effects in some manner throughout the school year. The question is – are students engaging with these effects in a manner most conducive to them committing information to memory? 

Let’s take a minute to review these eight qualities of arts integration learning and see how they might be transformed into classroom strategies.

What students once crammed into their short term memory for a test can become a part of who they are as learners and the toolbox of information they can draw from as they meet future challenges. A winning combination of arts integration and engaging instructional design strategies can provide our students a way to relate what they are learning to their own life experiences for a more lasting imprint. 

Studio Habits of Mind

“Education is in a new moment of both opportunity and urgency...” Embedded within nation-wide changes to standards, assessments and evaluations is an education community that “seeks to recreate professional practice, reimagine issues of learning and teaching and hold itself to new standards of shared accountability”  

(Hetland Winner, Veenema, and Sheridan, 2013, p. vi).


The Alameda County Office of Education developed a partnership in 2003 between the J. Paul Getty Trust, researchers from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, teachers and administrators in public schools in Oakland, Berkeley, and Emery school districts (among others) to pilot the Studio Thinking Framework (Hetland et. al, 2013, p. v).

The Studio Thinking Framework includes the Studio Structures—how teachers plan and carry out instruction—and the Studio Habits of Mind (SHOM)—what is taught in class. This framework has been building, transforming and refining in recent years, especially in response to the movement towards Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment.

CCSS and SMARTER Balanced Assessment asks teachers to consider new ways to prepare students for life beyond school. CCSS asks students to “apply what they are learning in more authentic contexts” and “use what they know to achieve something important” (Hetland et al., p. v). The Studio Habits of Mind asks students to bring “artful thought and attitudes to bear on real world problems and projects, both in the arts classrooms and across the curriculum” (Hetland et al., p. v). In this way, the SHOM is designed to support the actions and attitudes expected of students experiencing CCSS.

The Studio Thinking Framework outlines four Studio Structures, including “lecture”, “students at work”, “critique” and “exhibition” (Hetland et al., p 5). The structures of “critique” and “exhibition” may be new to some classrooms, especially those of non-arts subject areas.  What “students at work” looks like and how it is assessed may be new to others. Classrooms adopting the Studio Thinking Framework certainly do not need to be artist studios, but they must be willing to prioritize studio-like learning that is project-based or problem-based in an immersive environment (Hetland et. al, p. viii).

A unique framework all it’s own, the eight Studio Habits of Mind are not restricted in use to a particular grade level, experience level, subject area or teaching methodology. They are adaptable, transferrable, and non-hierarchical. Though their definitions may transform as they are integrated into a classroom community, the eight remain the same.

  • Develop Craft: learning to use and care for tools, materials, and media
  • Engage & Persist: learning to embrace problems of relevance and struggle through challenge
  • Envision: learning to form ideas, picture mentally what cannot be directly observed, and evaluate ideas to move them forward
  • Express: learning to create works that convey an idea, feeling, or personal meaning
  • Observe: learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary looking requires, to have a critical eye, and to see things that otherwise might not be seen
  • Reflect: learning to think and talk with others about the learning process, compelling or challenging aspects of work, and unique interpretations
  • Stretch & Explore: learning to take creative risks, reach beyond one’s own capacities and prior experience and knowledge, and explore playfully without a preconceived plan
  • Understand [Our] Art Worlds: learning about culture and history, current practices and innovation, and interacting with others through art forms

Above all, Hetland and colleagues assert that arts learning is not separate from other learning. Their work suggests that when the arts become embedded in different types of learning and disciplines, the arts can enhance the lasting impact for the learner. Practitioners and scholars alike widely agree that even small doses of participation in the arts can positively affect the academic and social successes of students (Hetland, 2013, p 9). Of these effects, some of the most notable are teamwork, responsible risk taking, regular self reflection, diminished biases, deepened cooperation, and expanded perception of abilities (Conte, Brunson & Masar, 2002; Costello, 1995). 

The ArtCore project has adopted the SHOM as an anchor for learning in and through the arts across subject areas and disciplines. We believe that the SHoM renew a shared accountability for teaching and learning by bridging the diverse experiences of teachers and students, authentically, in the classroom.

Contributed by Michele Sinclair


Conte, Z., Brunson, R., & Masar, S. (2002). The art in peacemaking a guide to integrating conflict resolution education into youth arts programs. DIANE Publishing.

Costello, L. (Ed.). (1995). Part of the solution: Creative alternatives for youth. Washington, DC: National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. (2013). Studio Thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education.  Second Edition. Teachers College Press.



ArtCore Ideas from 2015

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The ArtCore project enters 2016 with some promising innovations underway across the five schools that make up our immediate community of practice. Intentionally, ArtCore is working with each school individually to integrate the tenants of the model into the school's vision and ongoing work. This flexibility and customization requires more process and design time but generates lots of ideas and possibilities as well. The more we share these ideas the better chance we have of catalyzing new creative solutions and building our collective capacity. While some are still in the incubation stage, others have been tested and documented.

By no means exhaustive, here is a list of ideas that have begun to emerge, take shape, and be tested in ArtCore schools and classrooms.

  • After school arts workshops for teachers to discover new media and materials @ Kelly
  • Studio Habits of Mind practice through morning homeroom activities @ Cascade
  • Building sustainability for ArtCore by defining a common target for the portrait of a successful learner @ Oaklea
  • Unpacking what deep, integrated teaching and learning looks like in a 'STEAM' school housed in a brand new, state-of-the art building @ Hamlin
  • A student-designed music recording studio @ Network Charter
  • Math and visual arts integrated learning module focused on understanding and harnessing math anxiety @ Hamlin
  • Building on a Studio Habit of Mind (SHoM) per week during an 8-week learning module - a SHoM primer @ Oaklea
  • ArtCore-supported website revamp @ Network Charter
  • An outdoor collaborative art installation using fabrics woven into a chain-link fence @ Kelly
  • Accordion journals of learning used for Student-led Conferences @ Kelly
  • A learning module building ancient civilizations using only recycled materials @ Cascade
  • Developing a student self-assessment of SHoM practices @ Kelly
  • Student-crafted videos sharing math tips for incoming 6th graders @ Hamlin
  • Math and sewing module integrating geometric patterns and technical sewing skills @ Network Charter
  • Use of "curriculum diary" software to map curricular content across disciplines and grade levels to find the best opportunities for arts integration @ Oaklea
  • Bridging algebraic thinking and theater to make mathematic variables come to life @ Hamlin
  • Creative engagement in teaching and learning as the common and comprehensive framework for the ArtCore model, research, and evaluation
  • Common themes from interviews about the importance of choice and relevance to get all students engaged in learning
  • Hands-on, arts integrated Professional Development to develop teacher creativity and inquiry
  • Public display of student learning, exhibiting both the creative process and product
  • A promotional mash-up video of ArtCore teaching and learning from 2015
  • More time for collaborating, for thinking, and for innovating

Please feel free to add to this list in the comment section to keep sharing ideas and cultivating new possibilities. 

Who is an ArtCore Weaver?

Kelly Middle School student, ArtCore weaver Jessica Land, and teacher Barb Whitlock discuss the mosaic design project inspired by a social studies unit on ancient civilizations. 

Kelly Middle School student, ArtCore weaver Jessica Land, and teacher Barb Whitlock discuss the mosaic design project inspired by a social studies unit on ancient civilizations. 

Veteran school change agent and lead trainer for our team of weavers, Michelle Swanson, recently shared this sentiment: "What’s at the heart of our work? We grow young humans. We make big connections."

A weaver is a teacher, a dot connector, an idea builder, and a creative thought partner tinkering with new ways to teach and learn. A Weaver is an imagination catalyst. They’re prepared and flexible, connecting disciplines and art forms. Weavers reveal how the driving purpose is not really about the art. Its about the thinking, the curiosity, and the release that becomes the art. They problem solve with transparency and thrive on improvisation. Weavers challenge their colleagues and students to explore their inherent creativity. They know that everyone has the ability to create their own way in the world—even if that way is simply to remain curious and thrilled to pursue that curiosity whenever possible.

Weavers are avid learners. They learn to evolve ideas; they learn to express them. Weavers inspire learners of all ages to see mistakes as the beating heart of the learning process—as gratifying as an A on a difficult test.

By offering their unique artistic skills to a team of educators, ArtCore weavers thread studio habits of mind throughout teaching and learning in classrooms. They weave acting, painting, designing, and ukulele jams into the school day. Weavers spin art forms throughout core subject areas to ignite the fire of creative engagement in middle school students. Weavers co-create experiences that enable students to take the lead on their learning. They model, challenge, and wait to see what emerges.

As a school year begins at each ArtCore middle school site, weavers busily establish their studio spaces or think of new ways to use the classroom to inspire innovation. They know they will be asking a great deal of students’ and educators’ imagination and persistence and need to cultivate a conducive space. Weavers create a sense of belonging but won’t hesitate to challenge our thinking. They question in order to uncover the source of resistance inhibiting our creative solutions. Students know to expect a new experience, one that challenges them to tap into their talents and become resilient in their pursuit of learning. Above all, weavers provide encouragement and support as each member of this learning community embarks on their unique journey. 

Over the school year weavers will collaborate and facilitate student growth in all kinds of deeply relevant skills. Students will learn how to develop craft, engage their imagination and focus and persist through challenges. They will envision ideas and express them thoughtfully. They will learn to observe the subtlety of the world, reflect and think about their vantage point, and stretch and explore to understand the world around them. They will learn about the transformative role that art has played in the evolution of our civilization and that of many others.

As author Elizabeth Gilbert noted recently, there has to be a reason why humans were making art thousands of years before they began to cultivate their own food. In the end, sustaining our creative spirit and freedom has been more important than sustaining our bodies. Weavers remind us of this insight—what really drives us all to learn.

What do you think, are you a Weaver?

Learn more about our unique team of ArtCore weavers here

Glimpse from the Summer Institute

We are at the inaugural year of the Summer Institute.  Twenty-six teachers enter the institute with varying degrees of artistic experience and confidence. Some teachers couldn’t wait for the institute, while others were wondering if this professional development would really make an impact in their teaching.

The theme of the institute is deeper learning through creative experience. We are discovering the importance of metacognition and holding a growth mindset to support the same in our young learners. We are learning what deeper learning feels like for our own professional development and how it can provide students with skills and confidence they can transfer and extend throughout their lives.

ArtCore is the opportunity for students to go deep into what drives their interest, what makes them unique, and what brings meaning to their learning.  In the words of a student who experienced ArtCore in the spring of 2015, “I get to be myself…it’s a huge privilege to me to be able to choose to be myself.”

On day 2 of the institute, one teacher comments, “I studied metacognition when I was a new teacher. Now twenty years later, I am wondering why I haven’t used this approach in more of my teaching!”

It was sometime on day two when the room shifted. The room is buzzing. Teachers are creating art. They are reflecting on their own craft. They are connecting with each other and imagining new possibilities. They are developing customized lessons that integrate the arts across content areas and the Studio Habits of Mind. They finally have time to collaborate, think, and intentionally develop multidisciplinary units and assessment.

Whether classroom teacher, weaver, or facilitator, each of us left the institute more empowered, excited and equipped to dive into ArtCore this upcoming school year. We think we accomplished for teacher participants what one 6th grade student suggested as a slogan for the project: “It feels like you’re not in school (or professional development), but you really are.”

ArtCore: Finding Our Way

In the inaugural post for the ArtCore blog, I want to take a moment to reflect on the first year of work and accomplishments, the many creative contributions from all of our schools and partners, and anticipation for what is to come. The Oregon Community Foundation notified us in June 2014 that the ArtCore Studio-to-Schools grant with Oaklea Middle School in Junction City would be fully funded over the following five years. Then, at the end of September, lightening struck twice, and the U.S. Department of Education notified us that the ArtCore 4-year Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant had been fully funded. This large grant allowed us to ramp up development of the model and include an additional four schools in the process: Hamlin Middle in Springfield, Kelly Middle in Eugene/4J, Cascade Middle in Bethel School District, and Network Charter School in Eugene. Since then, we have all been very busy, learning from a wide range of challenges and successes. Some highlights include:

  • We assembled a strong team of five teaching artists, aka ArtCore Weavers, and fine-tuned roles and responsibilities of the management team.
  • The Institution Review Board approved our mixed methods longitudinal research design.
  • Over five hundred sixth grade students across five schools experienced at least 7 weeks of ArtCore arts integration in 2015.
  •  ArtCore Weavers immersed themselves in their schools collaborating with a total of 15 teachers in Social Studies, Mathematics, Language Arts, and a Leadership course.
  • ArtCore Weavers developed a total of ten different teaching and learning modules.
  • Media Arts Institute documented the first modules in action and produced five videos to introduce the school communities to ArtCore and anchor the Studio Habits of Mind*.
  • We assembled a strong research team to conduct over 80 hours of observations, interviews, focus groups, and extensive survey data in order to glean insights for next year and establish a baseline.
  • We planned a 3-day Summer Institute for classroom Teachers and Weavers and created a 1-day summer design charette to imagine new ways for ArtCore to go schoolwide.
  • Every participating student completed a personally meaningful, creative work and learned new skills.

Each ArtCore school embraced the project in their own way, starting down a unique path for this project. The framework driving this model includes the value and belief that, to be sustainable, each school will need to interpret the parameters to best fit their unique culture and ongoing work. It has been exciting to observe this in action—teachers seizing the creative opportunity to collaborate and imagine new, rigorous, and personalized learning endeavors alongside a committed, creative thought partner.

We established the Studio Habits of Mind as the foundation for each learning module, the common classroom vernacular for creative engagement and feedback, and the driving purpose behind the video production. By asserting these metacognitive strategies into the creative practice of each ArtCore learning experience, ArtCore reinforces the thinking skills and habits that research tells us can affect student achievement across all content areas. As a team we will continue to develop new ways to scaffold and reinforce this visible thinking into ArtCore learning at every stage of the process.

As to be expected, we have met numerous challenges over the past nine months that required ingenuity, teamwork, and persistence to overcome. New challenges will continue to present themselves demanding the same level of care and persistence. The ArtCore team appreciates all of the patience, dedication, innovation, and enthusiasm that our schools, teachers, artists, partners, and behind-the-scenes magicians continue to bring to this important work. Our students are excited to grow their creative skills and depend on us all to grow our own.

Contributed by Ross Anderson

*ArtCore has adapted the Studio Habits of Mind, developed by Hetland et al. (2013) to support standards-based arts integration and strong reflective practices in the classroom. These habits include: Envision, Observe, Engage & Persist, Express, Develop Craft, Question and Explain, Stretch and Explore, and Understand Art Worlds.
Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. (2013). Studio thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.