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How is Art Taught at a Cyber Charter School?

By: Tori Garbutt on October 8th, 2021

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How is Art Taught at a Cyber Charter School?

About Cyber Education  |  Insider Perspectives

How do cyber charter school students participate in special subjects, such as art? In this blog, art teacher Tori addresses some of the highlights and important aspects of teaching art virtually, and how it supports students' creativity, provides interdisciplinary connections to other areas of study, and helps provide a well-rounded, cyber charter education. 

Prospective parents often have several questions when researching cyber education — including about the arts.

How does one teach painting, sketching, or even theater in a cyber learning setting? In what ways does art, in particular, help students be successful? Teaching art virtually is similar enough to what it would look like in a traditional brick and mortar setting. It continues to cultivate aesthetic appreciation among students, even with a different format. In this post, I am going to explain how art instruction is achieved in an online learning environment, and how I connect with students.


But First, Some Background

While attending university, I studied a variety of methods and media in fine arts and graphic design. I was able to practice not only drawing and painting, but also sculpture, printmaking, 3D design, graphic design, animation, and ceramics! During this time, I volunteered with a local middle school, and we completed an art collaboration where the middle schoolers created art that us college students put on display. Working together, we showed the impact of plastic on our local beaches and did our part to clean and spread the word! And it was all done on the computer!

I enjoyed this experience so much that I went on to receive my master’s degree in education. I have been an elementary art teacher for more than four years, with about two years of virtual teaching under my belt. Now, when I tell others about my career, I always receive the same question: How can you teach art virtually?


Importance of the Arts in Education

As an elementary art teacher who has taught in both traditional brick-and-mortar as well as cyber charter settings, I can say that teaching it online is the pathway to the future of art! Art is an important creative outlet for students. I always say it isn't about what it looks like; it's about the reason behind it, the way it makes you feel! Every piece of artwork is like a snowflake — unique and wonderful in its own way!

The arts can be used in many different ways to spread creativity, share messages, and express ourselves — be that in person or through virtual instruction. Artistic expression also benefits students’ learning in other disciplines as well. If you’ve ever heard of the term STEM, a major buzzword in education, then you’ll know that it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM fields are considered the future of careers, where we will see the greatest need and rapid growth. In recent years, we’ve recognized the important need for STEAM, which adds art to the mix — an acknowledgement that these sectors intersect.

But how does art, which has long been considered a member of the humanities field, complement STEM?

First, art enhances imagination and visualization within the STEM disciplines. Consider the scientific illustrations that document new discoveries, such as drawing a new sea creature, planet, or even galaxy from a telescope! Think about artist and scientist Leonardo DaVinci, who used forced perspective and angles to create amazing inventions and architecture. And any building that you see in your neighborhood or city? Yup, all created using art as well!

Art again makes an appearance in technology and engineering fields. Many engineering companies use animation, graphic design, and 3D modeling and printing to calculate if a building, a satellite, or other objects will actually work. Using art, engineers are able to design their ideas and then test them on the computer through a 3D model. This process saves them time and money, as there is less trial and error and wasting of materials. Technology is often driven by art; for example, Steve Jobs created some of the fonts we know and love today after taking a calligraphy class at college! The apps we all have on our phones and the websites we like to visit are all created with UX/UI design, which is a fancy way of saying digital artists who also draw on coding to create a user experience.

In mathematics, we find not only angles and geometric shapes, but also the Fibonacci Sequence. This concept also relates to the Golden Ratio, which was used by artists in the Renaissance period to achieve perfect proportions in their paintings and drawings. The Golden Ratio exists in architecture and nature as well, in buildings, hurricanes, flower petals, the human body, fingerprints, galaxies, and seashells. You’ll also find the Sequence and Golden Ratio used in photography in order to create stunning images!

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I love this quote from Edutopia, which was created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, as it eloquently summarizes the impact of the arts on students:

“Through the arts, students develop skills like resilience, grit, and a growth mindset to help them master their craft, do well academically, and succeed in life after high school. … By immersing students in arts education, you draw them into an incredibly complex and multifaceted endeavor that combines many subject matters (like mathematics, history, language, and science) while being uniquely tied to culture.”

The author goes on to highlight additional benefits, such as improved cognition, greater self-confidence, increased communication skills, the deepening of cultural and self-understanding, and, perhaps most important, the development of a growth mindset. These are all important characteristics that I see in PA Virtual students daily!

Art helps people process emotions, and it allows them to express them on the canvas or through a slab of clay. Not only that, it’s relaxing and helps the brain make creative decisions and connections to our everyday life. It activates the reward center in the brain, helping people feel less stressed and more focused on the artwork — and satisfied that they created something!


Teaching the Basics

So how does one teach art in a virtual setting? Here at PA Virtual, art instruction is asynchronous, or independently and not in a live class. This format provides students with the freedom to create at their own pace. We have an art teacher for each division of the school— Elementary (me!), Middle, and High — and we develop learning systems that provide detailed and relevant lessons, video demonstrations, and supplemental activities for students to explore.

Achieving this more adaptable and flexible approach requires some advance planning. Students receive most of their materials from the school directly, and I send instructions that guide them through the assignments. In order to further spur their creativity, I provide an alternative to the task at hand. For example, if a lesson asks for a watercolor painting, I give a demonstration on how to use the watercolor paint AND how to use washable markers as a watercolor alternative. By doing this, I’m encouraging students to think about artistic expression in a new light, and discover opportunities in the world and materials around them.

Our art course content is rooted in an interdisciplinary approach, in that we investigate why an artwork was created and its significance (often drawing on history), art techniques and styles, and STEM. I also try to connect art projects to what students are learning or have learned in other classes, which adds another level of depth to their overall learning. Most importantly, our lessons are fun, interesting, and encourage students to think outside the box and convey their own unique style through their artwork.

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As a teacher, I’m also constantly revising my plans, accounting for new research and trends in art, and making my lessons increasingly applicable to students and their skills. As the elementary art teacher, I tailor to the learning needs (and attention spans!) of our younger learners. Because I’m accounting for each student’s individual environment, I keep my lessons adaptable, and work with students and their Learning Coaches (who help oversee the asynch lessons) to ensure academic success.

When approaching traditional art, I show students how to use the art supplies, but make them aware that they may use alternative materials. While PA Virtual provides the majority of necessary art supplies, students sometimes find that they want to enhance their art set with other materials. For example, if we create a house out of clay, but a student does not have the necessary materials they want to use, they may draw, paint, or build their house out of found objects instead. As we continue through this year, I dive more into relevant ways for students to practice career-based digital arts, such as graphic design, animation, and 3D design. We create our art traditionally, and then make it digital!


What About Out-of-Classroom Experiences?

Blog_ArtTaughtCyberCharterSchool_supplementalWhile our students receive plenty of artistic training in the virtual setting, they don’t stop their creative journey when they sign off for the day. PA Virtual offers additional art opportunities with several clubs, including the Art, Craft, and Photography Clubs, as well as a weekly art enrichment program.

We also develop inspiring virtual field trips for students, taking them to famous art museums across the globe, from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to the famous Louvre in Paris, France! And, of course, we encourage students to explore the world around them and discover the inherent beauty of a forest, the bus stop, and even some of the items they find at the grocery store!


Benefits of Learning Art Virtually

Learning art virtually has a plethora of benefits, and helps students to cultivate independent artistic expression. All lessons are recorded, so students can rewatch as needed and complete projects at their own pace. This is particularly beneficial for those who need just a bit longer when their creative juices are stalled. In fact, elementary art in particular is all about self-paced learning!

Virtual learning as a whole provides accessibility, an inclusive environment, and combines some structure with ample freedom. Students at PA Virtual complete lessons on their schedule, have access to both school-provided and home-based resources, and do not have to worry that their classmates might comment on how their sketched bird looks, or whether or not their family portrait is recognizable.

Our virtual students develop technological skills early on, which will serve them well as the future of work becomes increasingly technology- and remote-based. Virtual learning is the key to success in the creative field, and in many other career fields in general. I'm continually amazed at how quickly younger students pick up on new applications and tech — even more quickly than I do!

The face of art continues to change as we move through the 21st century. Traditional and physical arts — watercolors, oil paintings, sketching, pottery, and more — still play a valuable role in our world, but many of the highly sought artistic fields are now digital. Web, graphic, 3D, and app designers are in high demand — and the list goes on!


How to Cultivate Art Appreciation in Your Child

Now, let’s talk about providing opportunities for art appreciation. Earlier I mentioned that art is found in the world around us, but if nature isn’t your thing, you can find fun art tutorials on YouTube. Purchasing a “how to draw” can go a long way for your child’s development, as can providing them with a sketchbook and allowing their imagination to run wild!

If you’re also looking for a field trip opportunity, I highly recommend the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, or the Allentown Art Museum. Here are some great places in Pennsylvania to visit as well:

  • The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia
  • The Frazetta Art Museum
  • Thomas T. Taber Museum
  • Nakashima Woodworkers
  • Carnegie Museum of Art
  • Brandywine River Museum of Art
  • Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery
  • Michener Art Museum
  • The Maridon Museum
  • The Rodin Museum
  • The Philadelphia Magic Gardens
  • Palmer Museum of Art
  • Grounds for Sculpture (in New Jersey, 30 minutes from Philadelphia)

The fine arts have a distinct place in a well-rounded curriculum, be it in a brick-and-mortar classroom or in a cyber charter setting. As educators, our focus is always on teaching students artistic methods, expression, and history, while still connecting in fun, interactive ways. For those of us who instruct virtually, we have the additional challenge of achieving those points from behind the computer screen. It’s up to us to “practice what we preach” and draw on our own creative thinking to share the benefits of art education with our students.

But let me tell you — it’s a worthwhile pursuit.


Garbutt, VictoriaAbout the Author: Tori Garbutt is Elementary Art Teacher at PA Virtual. 




Curious about how we approach music at PA Virtual? Check out our insider's perspective on teaching music virtually!

Photo credits to Callum Hill  and Emmanuel Maceda on Unsplash, Google Images, and Tori Garbutt.