The Right Brain Initiative


Students Can’t Stop Imagining by Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf

April 20th, 2012 by Right Brain Team

Kindergartners at Spring Mountain Elementary in Happy Valley create paper cutouts during a residency with Right Brain artist Addie Boswell. Keep reading to see how the exploration from this multi-part project spilled over to other areas of the classroom. (Photo by Ashley Klump.)

What is like a seed?

A spark?
A fuse?
A jumping off point?
A jolt?

A full-on Right Brain residency, of course.

So, picture this: Visual artist Addie Boswell, in partnership with Right Brain, spent five sessions in Sue Turner’s kindergarten class at Spring Mountain Elementary School in Happy Valley. She taught 5 year-olds the art of collage so intently that there was no stopping them—even once Addie was packing up her brushes and glue on the final day.

The story begins with a fabulous storehouse of paper that the whole school previously created with artist Annie Painter in a “Paint Factory” residency. Speckles, stripes, and striations. In the colors of leaves, chocolate, feathers, and flowers. Imagine Ms. Turner lining an entire side of the classroom with stacks of such paper, some of it dark as night, some bright as morning.

Now with Addie, children cut and paste, making a collage world of cubes and strips of this paper. Addie challenges them by cutting and trimming the silhouette of a house, complete with porch, shrubs, and a window with a curled-up cat. Scissors fly, paste goes down, the layers build up until each one has a brilliant portrait of their home. All the while, there is a buzz of language exploration: “green, green, green,” “dark brown like my dog,” “my house so blue it floats into the sky.” Addie roots for children to close their eyes to remember details and shapes. Once the collages are on display—there is a panorama of brilliant choices.

Students made these collages with Right Brain artist Addie Boswell.

Almost time for the bell.

A squad of 5’s scours the room to pick up scraps, some in charge of red and orange, some tracking down all the blues, and others going for the greens.

As children finish, they leave the “studio” room and settle into free choice math time. And that is the greatest surprise of all: the shapes keep on coming.

In one corner, two boys pour over a cookie tray filled with bright rubber tiles. They are placing the shapes end to end and side to side in puzzle-like fashion.” “A diamond door for a diamond-shaped person!” calls one of the boys as he stands blue diamond tiles up around the edges.

Across the way, a knot of four children works with geo-boards and rubber bands. “Look, we made a house,” (rubber bands for a square surmounted by a triangle roof). “Now look they have neighbors,” (more and differently shaped houses) on a whole row of geo-boards). “Hey look, we made a whole city!” (a grid of rows and columns of geo-boards held together with rubber bands spanning from one to the next.)

See how students transferred some of the same concepts they explored in collage-making to their math time—all on their own volition. These are 6-inch plexiglass squares with a 1 x 1 grid of pegs. Using colored rubber bands, children can stretch the rubber bands to create different shapes that can be used for teaching basic geometry and concepts such as multiplication, perimeter, and area.

This is what you might call “spill-over.” It is what happens because an artist lays the groundwork, students can’t stop imagining, and classroom teachers create environments that foster the spread of inventive thinking. In the wider world of academic learning, educators recognize this as “transfer”—the ability to take a skill or an insight into problem solving in a new setting. But whatever you call it, teachers and artists in The Right Brain Initiative are increasingly looking at this kind of “you can’t stop it from happening” behavior as the hallmark of a successful residency.

**TALK TO US! Right Brain partner educators—what other evidence of spill-over have you seen in your classroom after a Right Brain experience? What sorts of legacies have been laid, that persisted after the artist has left the building? Drop a note in the comments section to let us know.


Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf is the Evaluation Partner for The Right Brain Initiative, and a principal researcher at WolfBrown, an international consulting firm specializing in arts, culture and innovative planning for communities. She also trained as a researcher at Harvard Project Zero, where she led studies on the early development of artistic and symbolic capacities.


Right Brain Team