#HollistonInnovates Teaches that “It Takes a Village…”

                If you’re ever walking the halls of Holliston High School, I encourage you to visit Studio370, a remarkable space tucked behind the cafeteria where student art work is always being displayed.  This year, the space has been devoted to the construction of the project “It Takes a Village”, an art community project where students from Placentino, Miller
, Adams and HHS are working together to create a city solely from cardboard.  Students work independently or in small groups to design and build a dwelling, office building, person, animal or object that they believe exists or should exist in a community.  Teachers and parents are also helping out by supplying recyclable cardboard that serves as the raw materials for this ambitious project.
                While many parents recognize the role that the fine arts can play in developing a student’s creativity, projects like this go further – encouraging students to collaborate in small and large groups to build a cohesive village and communicate with each other to discuss plans or specific building design.  In addition, working on this project builds students’ critical thinking skills as they must work together to solve the myriad of challenges that arise during the design or building phases of the project.

                As is the case with all art projects, this project is designed to develop The Artists’ Habits of Mind[1]:  persisting, experimenting, planning, processing, expressing, reflecting, crafting, observing and maintaining.  As #HollistonInnovates progresses and we shift from focusing on exclusively teaching content to finding a more reasonable balance between teaching content and developing students’ skills and “habits of mind,” these learning objectives reflected in the Artists’ Habits of Mind are clearly relevant to success in college and beyond, regardless of whether you’ll eventually become an artist, architect, computer programmer, physician, plumber or cab driver.

                Moreover, this project helps students consider essential questions that serve as an intellectual guide for the overarching learning we want to take place.  McTighe and Wiggins (2013) offers clear insight into the key elements of an essential question:
  • Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer;
    Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
    Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
    Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
    Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
    Requires support and justification, not just an answer.
    Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again[2]
                The Holliston teachers who developed this project identified three essential questions that are driving the learning:
·         What is a community?
·         What does a community look like?
·         How do we build a community?

                While on the surface these questions may seem innocu
ous, given the challenges our country is facing today, I believe tomorrow’s leaders will benefit from reflecting on these big-picture questions and our future society will benefit from having leaders who have a strong sense of community, recognize the importance of community and have a few good ideas on how to build stronger communities.   As tomorrow’s leaders, our students will probably one day remember the part they played in our “It Takes a Village” project and recognize the power that the collective, focused action had on the efforts to build our cardboard city. 

                And to think, all this started with one teacher staring at an empty box and wondering… 

[1]  Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veneema, S., Sheridan, K. & Perkins, D. (2007) Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education. New York: Teachers College Press.
[2] McTighe, J & Wiggins, G. (2013). Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).


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