Top teacher serves as a muse for students

Art takes many forms. Students in Tricia Fuglestad’s art class at Dryden Elementary School in Arlington Heights learn more than drawing and painting. The 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade that Fuglestad sees each week learn history, videomaking, screenwriting, tweeting, blogging, uploading, singing, acting, graphic design, animation and more, but all of it is art.

Technology and interactivity are major component’s of Fuglestad’s teaching method, which has won her national recognition and acclaim over the past few years.

“We are definitely a hands-on art program,” said Fuglestad, now in her 21st year of teaching, all in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25. “I want to have the kids engaged in whatever they do.”

And they are. From the moment students walk into Fuglestad’s colorful classroom, decorated both with their own artwork and certificates and articles marking their success, they are interacting, often times with an audience outside those four classroom walls.

Class starts with a video of what happened the last time they met, instead of a verbal review. Students intently watch themselves on the big screen.

And on this day, the class is preparing for the annual fourth-grade trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. In the next video, Fuglestad explains today’s activities and how they will relate to the field trip.

Her students play a game, matching artists’ names or descriptions to pictures of paintings. Fuglestad is right in the middle, playing the game along with her students.

Before the game is over, the group will have recorded audio about what they learned and tweeted it to Fuglestad’s more than 2,000 online followers.

What looks like a simple matching game is much more than that, Fuglestad said.

The students worked on their drama skills, made connections, collaborated with one another and had to speak up to find the right match, all skills she said will serve them beyond their elementary art education.

Much of art is about being creative and taking risks, Fuglestad said, both things she was afraid to do as a child.

Fuglestad originally became an art teacher because she was creative and loved art, but didn’t want to do all of the self promotion that comes with being an artist because of her own, crippling shyness.

But she soon learned that teachers, especially art teachers, can’t be shy about promoting their own program and trying to get as much funding as possible when districts are looking at cuts. And being in front of hundreds of students every day is not for the shy either.

“Art is about creating and confidence and taking risks,” she said. “I’m trying to encourage them to take risks and see that there is so much more to art than what they think.”

“She loves art for art’s sake,” said Dryden Principal Akemi Sessler. “She is extremely passionate about her work. Every child comes out of her classroom feeling they are skilled in creating art and having an appreciation for the different ways to be creative.”

To Fuglestad, art is also about having an audience, and with technology she can give her students an audience outside of their school.

After reminding the kids not to touch the paintings at the museum, she tells them to ask their chaperones to download the Art Institute app on their cellphones and explains that they will be live tweeting the whole trip.

Fuglestad constantly blogs, tweets, posts videos online, enters contests and shares her students’ work through online galleries. But technology is how they produce art, as well.

“Our learning experience is richer because of the technology we use,” she said. That technology includes videos, graphic design, writing original skits and working on iPads.

An animation project done in Fuglestad’s fifth-grade class won $5,000 in a national McGraw-Hill contest last year. The money will buy more iPads for Dryden School.

“I’m so excited about all these apps because there is always something new,” she said.

Fuglestad is also teaching other teachers. From iPad workshops around the district to art and technology conventions around the country, Fuglestad has become a national name in professional education development.

“Professional development is that ripple effect. If I can train other teachers and they are training more students, then so many more people will benefit,” she said.

Fuglestad is also part of an online movement to get art into the conversation about STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and changing the acronym to STEAM.

“We are just saying that STEM (alone) isn’t going to produce the 21st century learners we need.” she said. “If we don’t have the arts then we are missing a piece. We’re teaching them problem solving, collaboration, communication ... more than just filling in the right answers on bubble sheets.

Fuglestad was named the PBS Teachers Innovation Award winner in 2010, Illinois Art Educator of the Year in 2011, a Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction in 2012 and the Western Region Elementary Art Teacher of the Year in 2013.

It’s a big change from her first year in District 25, when as a new teacher she was traveling between two schools without her own classroom, struggling to talk in front of students and control her classroom.

“I was just drowning,” she said. “I fell on my face a lot that first year, but luckily I got a second chance.”

Fuglestad credits District 25 for letting her grow into the teacher she is now. With teaching, planning, blogging, training other educators and staying on top of the latest art and technology trends, Fuglestad said her work is pretty much 24/7, but she won’t have it any other way.

Even at home with her husband, a science teacher at Buffalo Grove High School, much of the talk is about education.

She is excited about her next project, involving thousands of Legos bought through a grant. She’s envisioning a massive art project with her students, but isn’t quite sure how what form it will take, yet.

That’s part of the fun.

“I’m doing things that I never had the courage to do as a kid,” she said. “As I teach them, I’m getting the childhood I always wanted.”

  Tricia Fuglestad talks about the upcoming field trip to The Art Institute of Chicago. George LeClaire/
  Tricia Fuglestad uses the smartphone app Audioboo to post a photograph and audio of fourth-grader Grace Terry speaking about famous painters on Twitter. George LeClaire/
  Fourth-grader Kris Bohnen is trying to match his artist with the corresponding artwork. George LeClaire/
  Student Grace Terry talks about famous paintings they will see at the Art Institute, which Fuglestad will post to social media. George LeClaire/
  Tricia Fuglestad explains how the learning cards are to be matched up to the paintings. George LeClaire/
  Tricia Fuglestad demonstrates how she used the Audioboo app to post the photo and audio of Grace Terry. George LeClaire/
  Dryden art teacher Tricia Fuglestad checks in first-graders Dylan Burnett, left, and Kaya Deleon before teaching her first class of the day. George LeClaire/

Talking about ... Tricia Fuglestad

“She loves art for art’s sake. “She is extremely passionate about her work. Every child comes out of her classroom feeling they are skilled in creating art and having an appreciation for the different ways to be creative.

-- Dryden Principal Akemi Sessler.

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