Since December, nationally exhibited professional artist Ben Pranger has been engaged with students at the Montclair Cooperative School in a unique cross-disciplinary arts project funded by an award from the NJ State Council. The project is part of the Arts Council’s Artists in Education Program and will immerse Montclair Cooperative School students in learning about art and science and creating their own wind-powered kinetic sculptures that they will exhibit during a “Wind Day” festival this Spring.
The Montclair Cooperative School was one of twelve schools in New Jersey to win this prestigious Artists in Education Grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The award creates a residency for Mr. Pranger to work on-site each week for a 20-week period, which began on December 2, 2014 and concludes on April 28, 2015. In addition to his duties as artist-in-residence, Pranger is also serving as a professional resource for the school’s math, science, art, and technology faculty.
“I’m excited to be working with such a creative bunch of kids,” said Mr. Pranger. “My teaching approach is collaborative to allow the students to choose the direction, materials and purpose of the models they develop. By embedding the program within other school subjects, such as science, students get the maximum benefit from this grant award.”
The project kicked off last November with a trip to Hudson River Park for a public art exhibit featuring the work of American artist George Sherwood. Students observed his large-scale sculptures built with hundreds of stainless steel surfaces on various rotation points, continually shifting shape depending on the direction of the wind and reflection of sunlight. When the students returned to class, they began sketching their own ideas, and exploring concepts of aesthetics, space, time, and motion.
On a recent visit to the school, Danielle Bursk, the Arts Council’s Artists in Education Administrator, was impressed with the Montclair Cooperative School’s implementation of the program.
“AIE is the cornerstone of the overall Arts Council Arts Education Program. We are pleased to see the Montclair Cooperative School using this program to implement an extraordinary artist residency with applications across a range of school subjects,” said Ms. Bursk. “We are excited about the unique ways the Montclair Cooperative School is incorporating science, technology, engineering and math with art. It’s extraordinary to see how the entire team at the Montclair Cooperative School is involved in making the Artist in Residency Program a success.”
During his residency, Mr. Pranger is guiding students in grades 5 through 8 in creating sculptures that move based on principles of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). As part of the project, students will learn how to design using a 3D computer-modeling program and the school’s new 3D printer, which was donated by one of the school’s families as part of the school’s required contribution to receive the Arts Council grant.
“Integrated hands-on learning is central to the teaching philosophy of the Montclair Cooperative School,” said Interim Head of School Angela DeGraff. “STEAM is at the cutting edge of education, and we are delighted to give our students this opportunity. Interdisciplinary projects create more complex and relevant learning opportunities than when each subject is taught in isolation. In real life, we use many kinds of skills simultaneously to creatively solve problems.”
The Montclair Cooperative School intends to create a multiyear project, extending STEAM to its entire student body of 170 students ranging from early childhood through eighth grade.