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Classroom Teachers | module 3

Get Arts Powered with Classroom TeachersPS 144 6th grade teacher Lori Diamond with students

In Arts Powered Schools, classroom teachers create Arts Powered Learning using the following four strategies:


PLUS, Tips for Arts Powered Teaching

strategy 1 l Classroom Teachers Act As Critical Thinkers

PS 144: Col. Jeromus Remsen in Forest Hills and the Queens Museum

Arts Powered ParQueens Museum of Art at Flushing Meadows Corona Parktnerships demand a lot of classroom teachers—planning meetings, training sessions, schedule adjustments, and rethinking the curriculum. They also require that teachers be critical thinkers. An excellent example is the long-running partnership PS 144 has with the Queens Museum, which celebrates the culture of this New York City borough. The museum’s building was created for the 1939 World’s Fair, a centerpiece of urban planner Robert Moses’s master design for New York City. Moses was a brilliant and extremely controversial figure: He created an unprecedented amount of parkland, for instance, but he also bulldozed neighborhoods, leaving urban blight in their wake.

When the museum’s curators started planning an exhibit honoring Moses’s legacy, its staff approached PS 144 about creating a Moses-inspired Arts Powered Unit. But many of the school’s teachers were unhappy about the prospect, as they had strong personal memories of how Moses’s grand plans overrode the will of their communities.   


PS 144 4th Grade Teacher Elizabeth Spears: Robert Moses in front of the Unisphere outside the Queens Museum

“We lived through Moses’s disruptions. We saw highways bisect neighborhoods. We saw how low bridges were put in to keep out the trucks that local businesses needed for deliveries and shipping. At first we were dead set against glorifying the man, plain and simple.”

Nevertheless, the teachers sat down with museum educators to grapple with possibilities. When the back-and-forth ended, they had developed a unit for fourth graders about the pros and cons of urban redevelopment focusing on Moses and New York City. At its core, the unit was about critical thinking, and the planners realized that the preliminary discussions had enhanced the curriculum and made it more complex. 

Image of Queens Museum and Unisphere from "Google Earth"

They decided that the key idea should be urbanization—how a city grows and develops—and that this would be an important opportunity for the students to work with ideas and think about values. They also saw it as a chance to break out of a textbook approach to social studies by using sources like maps, Google Earth images, and historic photographs.

The unit combined a study of Moses’s projects with discussions about the future of the school’s neighborhood. The students and teachers wrestled with one of the ferocious debates of the last century: whether to save old, crowded, quirky neighborhoods or replace them with modern, efficient high-rises, roadways, and bridges. Along the way, they realized that core of the debate wasn’t as much about heroes and villains as it was about human decisions and how they unfold. “[It was] about choices that get made and how communities have to live with them ever after,” PS 144 Arts Coordinator Lois Olshan observed.

Queens Museum's 10,000-square-foot city panorama

Part of the students’ work was to create three-dimensional aerial representations of various Moses sites and exhibit them for other students, teachers, families, and the museum staff. They also visited the museum and its fabulous 10,000-square-foot city panorama. The overall experience was Arts Powered Learning—and its impact is likely to last in countless ways. 



PS 144 4th Grade Teacher Elizabeth Spears:

“Each child took one of the public works projects that Moses was behind, usually one that the child was familiar with. They researched it very thoroughly. They read about its history, what is was before and after Moses, They learned to navigate using Google Earth, so they could get to know every nook and cranny. They also worked with teaching artist Aimee Mower to make a 3-D representation of that particular site. I have to say it was intense. When we asked them at the end of the year about their memories, this was at the top of their lists.”

PS 144 3-D representation of the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Bridge (formerly Triboro)            PS 144 3-D representation of the Major Deegan Expressway            PS 144 3-D representation of Shea Stadium (until recently, home of the New York Mets)
              RFK Jr. Bridge (formerly Triboro)                  Major Deegan  Expressway                                 Shea Stadium                                                                                
   Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Bridge          Major Deegan Expressway         Shea Studium, (until recently, home of the New York Mets)

You can read more about Robert Moses and his controversial master design for New York City. Also be sure to check out City Lore, an organization that gives students a deeper knowledge of the history and evolution of their neighborhoods.