Education Through Art
Pam Stephens, an associate professor of art education at
Northern Arizona University, is passionate about training art teachers how to
do two things well:
- teach any subject through visual arts, and
- teach art so that everyone can enjoy it
As an author, Stephens employs a similar approach. She
has produced ten books and videos in the widely-praised Dropping In On series, which
provides relevant art education materials for elementary school classrooms. After
nearly two decades of teaching art education, Stephens has developed and expanded
a network of professional art educators who rely on her as a mentor. Stephens
says her real work begins in her role as a mentor.
"I learn all of their names," Stephens says of
her Northern Arizona University students. "And we stick together long
after they are out in the field because I care about each one of them. We talk,
we meet, and we travel to conferences. We work out problems together. When
students witness an instructor searching for answers right along with them,
their own learning processes are validated."
Beyond her role as a mentor for her university students,
Stephens has also developed a critically- acclaimed video and book series that
offers teachers and parents an innovative approach to educating young people
about artistic masters and their work. The Dropping In On
series provides lesson plans and guides, and brings to life famous artists, from
Raphael to Warhol, through animated interviews and storytelling. Stephens
conducts workshops across the nation on how to use her books and videos in the
classroom, and is a regular speaker at professional conferences.
Stephens developed the series in collaboration with
friend and artist Jim McNeill shortly before relocating from Texas to head up Northern
Arizona University’s art education program. As she prepared to make the move,
Stephens sized up the scope of art education materials available. She discovered
that teaching materials, especially for K-3 teachers, were sorely lacking.
"What I found was very outdated," says Stephens. "I also saw a
need and value of teaching other disciplines, like science or math, through art
instruction. So I developed materials that incorporated these ideas."
Through her series children learn to interpret and find
personal meaning in works of art. "It's like playing detective, and they
love it. A learning situation is created that empowers them in their own
cognitive development. They'll 'get it' for the rest of their lives," she
In addition to the Dropping In On
series, Stephens has written a book that links art and math entitled Tessellations: The History and Making of
Symmetrical Designs, as well as a teacher text that is now in its
second edition, called Bridging the Curriculum
through Art. She also writes a regular column for the national
online publication, Art Teacher Round Table.
Advocating for the
Stephens is confident that her integrative approach to
teaching art is what sets Northern Arizona University students apart. In
fact, Stephens notes that Northern Arizona University art education graduates
are in high demand throughout the state and around the world, teaching locally,
in other states, and in countries such as China, India, and Great Britain. Stephens
believes her students' success comes partly from mentoring, but also from her
insistence that students be advocates for the arts.
"It underscores my whole program—if you're not going
to be an advocate, if you don't have that energy, then you're in the wrong
place," says Stephens. "The visual arts are a hub for all learning.
If we can put art at the core, everything can stem off of it. I can literally
teach anything through the arts."
Stephens also regularly heads out into community schools
to see the latest methods, resources, and technologies being used. According to
Stephens, she returns with ideas for her classroom, and for Dropping In On. The goal, she says,
is to stay current so she can better serve students.
“Technology is central to today’s art classroom,” she says.
“Art education students learn to use electronic equipment, such as document
cameras and interactive digital whiteboards, to better engage their future K-12
students with art.”
Going forward, Stephens says she will remain committed to
education through art and helping others to learn. "Even after I leave the
field, I see myself as always being a mentor," says Stephens. "I will
always be there for my students."