REVIEW OF SEPTEMBER 29, 1998 EXCURSION OF
THE KAISER COMPLEX GT- VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM
(Honolulu, Hawaii public school system)
by Rodney Chang, MS.Ed, Ph.D
parent/volunteer for the inaugural trip
October 1, 1998
A wonderful time!
Identified art-gifted students of Koko Head and Kamiloiki elementary schools enjoyed a most stimulating excursion that offered them exposure to art and culture in the Honolulu area.
The yellow school bus took the children to three locations. The first stop was Harbor Graphics, then McCoy Pavillion of Ala Moana Park, and finally the new Hawaii Convention Center.
The students got their first acquaintance with the commercial setting for mass production printmaking. Here they were introduced to the traditional 4-color and customizing 6-color separation processes of offset lithography. They were intriqued to view the "hidden different color dots" by using a magnifier to see that which is invisible to the naked eye. They viewed the aggregate of color particles that produces a full color poster, art print, map or tourist brochure. The steps of production, from photographing the original art, creating color separations for proofs and plates, to the final printing with inks were explained and demonstrated. The students were most impressed by the noises, the smells and most of all by that awesome hydralic cutting machine that sliced 5 inch thick stacks of paper with awesome ease. Thank you Harbor Graphics!
At McCoy it was a wonderful sunny day to have lunch outdoors, smell the flowers and then sketch what interested the eye. Serene surroundings included lily pad ponds full with fish, crayfish and waterbugs, an enclosed garden with shade trees, decorative 50's architecture and a pavillion with Hawaiiana murals and floor tile art. The teacher and children discussed the public art and then sketched on location. Almost all choose the lily pads and flowers that grabbed their attention with their huge oval leaf shapes and bright flowery centerpieces.
Last, but not least, was the gigantic new Hawaii state convention center. I myself was totally overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the project. For me, as artist, it 'worked' - the successful integration of architectural monumental scale, contemporary construction materials (such as glass and steel), complementing large scale artwork and a sense of place enriched with indigenous culture (Hawaii).
A 200,000 sq. ft. exhibition hall, or more impressive to the children, "a room equal to 3 football fields", was the highlight for most of the budding Picasos. They were in awe, having never been in such a huge (and empty) room! From there the tour included riding Hawaii's longest escalator and moving about a construction project "equal to 30 floors". Among the actual three floors the students reviewed conference rooms, theaters, a ballroom, public artwork ($2.5 million), and hiked a roof transformed into a huge botanical garden - including its own lily pond! A major highlight was reviewing the current multi-school student art exhibit. I could see in some eyes the aspiration to someday have their own work displayed in this place of grandeur and distinction.
The students returned to school with the task of answering questions on a written form. Examples include describing feelings for art in public places, explaining about the printmaking process, selecting a favorite artwork and its artist from among those at the convention hall and, in general, articulate how this trip helps further their understanding of art.
My personal observation and recommendations for planners of the program
The group was too large to accomodate a more personal and enriching experience. Some children were at a loss in understanding/hearing what commentators were teaching. Stragglers and the shorter on the tours missed out on some presented information. There was a group size problem that necessitated strict control but which could have undermined young artistic discovery and expression. Smaller groupings or another additional teacher for this group size is recommended. Student leaders could be assigned to subgroups.
It was excellent to squeeze in hands on activity. However the sketch session could have included added structure to get more out of the exercise. Instead of permitting groups of friends to sketch while socializing, it may have been beneficial to have each child more fully concentrate by working by alone. Have the students pick different things to draw and later share the subject matter with the group. Maybe do a composite collage-mural with the drawings to reflect the group experience of the environment. Display it in the library. Disappointingly almost the total group drew lily pads when there was so much more for the eye to discover and study through directed introspection. For example I got "Cool!" when I invited passing students to look into my camera's viewfinder, focused on the forms and textures of a tree trunk. Surprisingly there was no follow up group "critique" or sharing of the rendered artwork.
The take home written questionaire seemed like just more "homework". I think some of the questions are a bit difficult for the younger children (third graders), requiring complex cognitive skills (more developed in the 5th and 6th graders) rather than creative and artistic responses in order to fulfill the task completion. Some may, without further first hand guidance, even be frustrated and unsuccessful in answering certain questions because of occasional inattentiveness during the trip (it was a long day) or inability to deduct learning principles sought as the trip's objectified lessons. There may be an unintentional sense of failure and anxiety that could spill over to the parents. If I had not personally been there, I would have found it impossible to assist my son to answer some of the questions that stumped him.
An alternative to such questions could be the choice to demonstrate what they have learned by drawing, painting or otherwise expressing their emotions and experience of this adventurous excursion. This option is especially appealing to the lower grade levels. At some later group session the students can orally present to the group how their art project encompases their learning experience. This fosters oral communication skills, self esteeem and assist the students to further investigate the meaning of their art, a direct reflection of the Self.
The parents were never given a due date for the test form and instruction as to who should it be returned to - the GT teacher or their classroom teacher. This should be printed on parent's informational handout.
Lastly, at this point none of the sketches has been reviewed or shared by the teachers and planners. It would be a reasonable conclusion to such an exercise to have the work collected and a few selected to be presented online at their GTarts Web site, pending of course, parental consent. In fact, all parents would be sent a written form to sign that seeks consent (or denial) to have their children's art presented online or in real space exhibitions. It should also request permission to use photographs including their child for online and other documentation of the excursion and overall progress of the experimental program. Of course parents should be assured that name and other identification of students will not be displayed on the Internet and that they are more than welcome to review all online content and comment on the material.
I realize there is apprehension of liability in using student photos and artwork online. This privacy and security issue needs to be clarified through improved parent communication. But to limit such a site to no pictures is counterproductive for the promotion of such enriching experience that could be a source of pride for school, parents and student artists alike. It would also be a loss of the opportunity to provide a new pilot model for experimental public school programming and evaluation for the gifted in the visual arts at the elementary school level. I would love for Hawaii's state school system to get recognition and credit for contributions to innovation in American public school art education.
In fact the Web site is partly established to provide the parents the latest information on the developing program. Its intent is also to provide a global platform to exhibit the talents of this select group. So much self-confidence and pride for the students can be fostered by utitilization of such a pioneering resource. It could also lead to networking which could foster interstate collaboration among different schools' GT-arts programs.
As webmaster of the program's Internet extension my hands are tied as to how I pursue further development of the online site until I receive further directions from authorities. We need to meet to chart a course. The alternative is always there - to limit the site to merely a parent's sentimental journal of his child's experience with the program.
As for the actual excursion, a qualified arts teacher would be a great resource to the children. Observation, in my opininion, WHILE art is in the process of being made, is important. The student needs an expert eye to judge, lead and suggest as the works are developed. Of course the goal is not just validating the value of their creative effort but personal attention to building self-esteem and identity through their special talent.
According to research the expert should not be part of the regular classroom environment but the drawback is this can be too costly for a GTart public school program. Disappointedly, my free expertise was never solicited and I functioned merely as a parental chaperone throughout the excursion.
But I remain dedicated to the success of the program and hope channels of communication between administrators, teachers, students, parents and arts experts can further secure available community resources. With more coordinated effort, an accelerated rate of success is attainable and an award winning Web site for and by the students can showcase such achievement.
This first excursion was an exciting and successful begining for this start up program that is accumulating experience as it ventures into uncharted art education territory.