Mattress Factory Afterschool: Techniques of Two Teaching Artists

Amanda working with students during Afterschool.


Mattress Factory Afterschool: Techniques of Two Teaching Artists

Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

In the Spring of 2018, I was a Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory in their Education Department. I helped with Afterschool, the museum’s art education program for third through fifth graders. During my internship, ten students were enrolled and many attended the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Among my various roles and responsibilities, I have observed two teaching artists and how they facilitate their curriculum. A local artist named Suzanne taught the first six-week session, and Jimmy, an Alaskan native, taught a twelve-week session. The respective learning themes for these sessions were nature/habitats, and memory. I have been able to watch students develop artistic and creative skills through the specific educational practices employed by the artists.

As a Psychology Major at Pitt, I enjoyed observing the ways in which these two artists ran their respective curriculums, given the many connections to the discipline of developmental psychology. From a psychological perspective I attempted to observe and analyze the ways that each teacher connected to the students, challenged them, included others, and the balance of roles in joint activities. One basis for this is the Simple Interactions tool a project in the department of Applied Developmental Psychology at Pitt, which I had experience with as a research assistant. For my purposes in the intern role, it served me as a foundation or heuristic, rather than an in-depth psychology study.

Turning to the artist teachers, Suzanne’s eclectic personality influenced her teaching style. Though sometimes the classroom seemed like disordered chaos, the projects made by students were fun and unique, dynamic and amalgamated. Suzanne asked them to make “cool trash”, for bird nests and different habitats. The class made trips to the National Aviary, and to various exhibits in the museum for project inspiration. Her practice was playful, and her spontaneity ensured that the students enjoyed what they were learning.

Jimmy’s methodologies could not have been any more different from Suzanne’s. He preferred structure, and made students relate activities to the overarching theme of the session – memory. At first he facilitated activities to gauge the students’ skills and to see what would need to be worked on early in the session. The projects built upon one another in very structured ways, and he was able to spark curiosity in the students. Overall, his approach to the program relied on planning and sequence, which was beneficial for the students’ development.

The diverse approaches that these two artists conducted their classrooms impacted the experiences of the students. A rational artist will connect differently to students than one who operates more spontaneously. But in both cases, their methodologies have had significant impacts on the development of students.

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