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posted May 14, 2014, 1:00 PM by Karen Rarey   [ updated May 14, 2014, 1:06 PM ]

Instructor Stacey Churchill secures a graphite portrait to the wall by one of her beginning art students at Heritage High School in Brentwood, Calif. Folks viewing the art work can scan a QR code that's displayed in a corner of the portraits, which will take them to a website where students have uploaded images of other art projects they've done. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Instructor Stacey Churchill secures a graphite portrait to the wall by one of her beginning art students at Heritage High School in Brentwood, Calif. Folks viewing the art work can scan a QR code that's displayed in a corner of the portraits, which will take them to a website where students have uploaded images of other art projects they've done. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Art Display feature funded in full by LUHSD Educational Foundation

BRENTWOOD -- The worlds of art and technology are intersecting at Heritage High School, where students now need a smartphone to fully appreciate some of their classmates' creativity.

Heritage teacher Stacey Churchill decided to kick off the second semester of her introductory art class by infusing a drawing project with digital elements.

"(Art and technology) complement each other so well and students will be using technology in college and their careers, so to incorporate it into all their classes is important," she said.

The initial assignment was ordinary enough: Her 218 students were to do a pencil drawing based on a photo of a friend or family member.

A group of Churchill's fellow art instructors then chose 22 of those pictures, and last week she hung them in the hallway just outside her classroom, enlivening walls that had been devoid of students' handiwork until then.

But that was just the beginning.

Fresh off a conference where she had become acquainted with some iPad applications that can be used in the classroom, Churchill had the students whose work was being showcased shoot videos in which they identify the subject of their portrait, explain why they chose that person, and what aspect of the drawing they liked best.

Opening a free app called Aurasma that Churchill had downloaded onto her iPad, the teens then used the device to snap a photo of their artwork. The software links the photo and video, and enables smartphone users with the same application to see students' "hidden" video narrative when they train their phone on the art display's title card.

From there, Churchill introduced students to Quick Response codes, a type of bar code comprising a mosaic of black-and-white squares encoded with information about the item it's attached to.

Smartphone users can download an app that scans these QR codes, calling up store coupons, videos and information about a product, among other things.

Churchill's students hopped online to generate a QR code for each drawing by entering the address of a website where they had uploaded photos of other projects they've done.

They then printed out the QR code and affixed it to the corner of their drawing, which allows passers-by to see that additional body of work using their cell phones.

"They get to discover a new artist or see (the work of) friends who are in a different class," Churchill said.

Although 15-year-olds Emily Hoyte and Natalie Splaine don't envision having other opportunities to use QR codes and apps that create interactive content anytime soon -- Google and YouTube are what occupy most of Hoyte's attention -- the teens have a general idea of how digital media could prove useful when they're ready to enter the work force.

Art might be in the future for both: Hoyte wants to be a tattoo artist, and Splaine is toying with the idea of a career in filmmaking or photography, so knowing how to use Photoshop and create e-portfolios of their work could come in handy.

In the meantime, Churchill's classes are working on another project that also will involve embedding videos and accessing them via smart phones.

She's having students write stories based on a famous piece of art and then read the narratives aloud on video. Teens also will illustrate the tales, and once their pictures go on display, others can use the Aurasma app to watch and listen to the corresponding video.

Churchill also has ideas for ways to use QR codes beyond the classroom, starting with Heritage High School's annual open house in the fall.

Parents could scan one code to learn more about a class their child has signed up for, another to visit a teacher's website, and a third to check out the kind of assignments students receive, she said.

By holding their phone up to a code, they also could see a calendar of activities such as school performances and sports games.

Churchill doubts this quick way of obtaining information would befuddle the older generation.

"Parents do seem to be pretty tech savvy," she said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Reach her at


posted Jan 9, 2013, 10:25 AM by Karen Rarey   [ updated Apr 24, 2013, 12:00 PM by EducationWins Director ]


Freedom High School's art club members are painting murals representing countries where people speak the four languages taught on the campus. (Below) The students are working on the second of the two murals. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff)


"Freedom Mural" was funded in part by the LUHSD ED Foundation

Oakley - A small group of teens spread out along the length of a mural, some wearing more paint than others.

One girl was filling in the outline of a swan floating along a very blue Rhine River while other members of Freedom High School's art club daubed color elsewhere on the series of 8-by-40 plywood panels serving as their canvas.

"Just knowing that you've created something that's going to last for a long time -- kind of like leaving your mark," said 16-year-old Anna Muradyan of the satisfaction she's experiencing by participating in the after-school project.

When they're finished this spring, the panels will be mounted on the exterior wall of a portable classroom at the back of the Oakley campus, brightening up the expanse of blacktop that's flanked by nondescript buildings.

"We just think it's really bland out here," said Spanish teacher Gloria Payette.

Payette came up with the idea of creating wall paintings featuring icons of the countries where the languages that she and her colleagues teach -- French, Spanish, German and Mandarin Chinese -- are spoken.

Teaming up with art instructor and club adviser David Gautier, she initiated the undertaking last school year with the help of a grant to cover the cost of the house paint, wood and brushes.

Gautier and a couple of students in the art club thought up ways to depict the countries, which take viewers from the San Francisco Bay Area to Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay as well as France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and China.

The first half of the mural that's already on display outside the foreign language classrooms shows a dancing couple in traditional Mexican costumes, a silhouette of the Shanghai skyline lit up with fireworks and people holding aloft the likeness of a dragon in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

The Great Wall of China curls around a complex of religious buildings in Beijing known as the Temple of Heaven; adjoining the Far East in this not-to-scale panorama is the Iguazu Falls, a natural wonder along the border of Argentina and Brazil.

A couple of young soccer players and Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí's ornate Barcelona basilica are the symbols for Spain along with Don Quixote, the protagonist in writer Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel.

Birds accent the scenery throughout: A condor soars over the 15th-century Incan ruins of Peru's Machu Picchu, and Spain is linked to the dove that appears in some of painter Pablo Picasso's works.

In the space dedicated to France, a sparrow perches on the hand of singer Édith Piaf -- her last name is a slang term for the small bird -- who was once that country's most popular entertainer.

The inclusion of icons such as Piaf is an attempt to acquaint students with historical figures and places they're less familiar with, Payette said.

"We don't want Charles de Gaulle coming through the Arc de Triomphe -- it's been done and done," she said.

Indeed, Martha Magsombol, 17, hadn't heard of Piaf or Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle before she started working on the mural.

The project also has been an education for Muradyan.

"I never really knew the famous singers or how the (Berlin) skyline looks," she said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141

All content © 2012- Contra Costa Times


posted Oct 17, 2012, 3:46 PM by Karen Rarey   [ updated Apr 24, 2013, 11:59 AM by EducationWins Director ]

Rick Halberg, who teaches "Brain Harmony" at Freedom High School, works with students during a systems theory exercise in Oakley, Calif. He holds up a random puzzle piece to try and throw off students as to what the rules of the system are. Senior Priscila Rodriguez, 18, right participates in the exercise as others try to guess the pattern of the elements which is equal spacing distance between two people. The puzzle pieces they are holding is a decoy for those trying to figure out the system. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)


"BRAIN HARMONY" was funded by the LUHSD ED Foundation

OAKLEY -- With the help of modeling clay, Wiffle balls and a sheaf of introspective writings, some Freedom High School students are developing an appreciation for what happens between their ears when they learn.

Psychology instructor Rick Halberg introduced the class he calls "Brain Harmony" last fall after realizing that the key to being an effective teacher has as much to do with meeting adolescents' emotional and social needs as stuffing their brains with information.

The epiphany came when one of his students -- a boy who was doing poorly in class -- threw a rock through a window of Halberg's house.

The incident prompted him to pursue his interest in neuroscience by designing a curriculum that's not only a primer on brain anatomy and function but helps young people understand what makes them tick.

The idea is that once teens recognize their emotional needs and have the skills to meet them, they are better able to concentrate on the higher-level mental activity of acquiring academic knowledge, Halberg explains.

His method turns the traditional I'm-telling-you-what-you-should-know approach to teaching on its head. Instead, Halberg guides teens along a road of self-discovery that doesn't involve memorizing the names of chemical elements, reading chapters on B.F. Skinner's theories of human behavior or taking tests (there are none in his classes).

A key part of this course on the science of learning is understanding the connection between the mind and heart.

Halberg had students start by whittling a long list of values to seven and prioritizing them. Topping the list was family relationships, followed by friendship, respect and the need to feel important. By contrast, education ranked second to last.

"That's not their highest priority, and if we assume that it is, we're going to resort to a top-down management style that's going to turn students off," Halberg said.

Through class discussions and private journals, teens learn ways to satisfy their most basic and compelling needs.

The class has taught 18-year-old Priscila Rodriguez to articulate her feelings without putting others on the defensive and to consider someone else's perspective, a tool she says has helped her be less judgmental when people are disagreeable.

One activity that made an impression on senior Isabella Gerundio called for students to sit in a circle and share something about themselves, then pass a ball of yarn to a classmate while holding on to a length of it.

"We're all different, but we still made this web where we're all connected," she said.

Gerundio, who has done volunteer work in the past, found the exercise made her want to be even more altruistic.

"Usually, people just connect to their own friends and don't feel the need to help other people," she said.

Young people who lack the social skills to make friends are more likely to be distracted in class by worries about what their peers think of them, Halberg explained.

Similarly, teens who don't understand that the respect they crave is something they first must give won't be focused on the lesson at hand.

"If you're feeling dissed (by a teacher), you're not going to pay attention," Halberg said.

That's also true of the teen who doesn't know how to listen well, accept others' values, or resolve conflict, all of which are basic to forming healthy relationships, he said.

"In education, our focus is on the core content, but we're leaving out some of the most important skills that students need to be successful in our society," Halberg said.

Brain Harmony's self-inventories also get students thinking about how their interests can motivate them to learn. The budding artist, for example, might discover that he takes better notes if he plays to his strength by translating facts and ideas into drawings, Halberg said. 

He invites teens to shape the curriculum by proposing their own class projects; giving them that measure of control over their education prompts them to participate more in class, which in turn helps them grasp and retain the material, he said. 

"Learning is an active process that starts with them," Halberg said, noting that students in his psychology course last year came up with the ideas for about 20 percent of their assignments. 

"Even if I have the best teacher, I'm the one who has to make the connection between the neurons and the dendrites," he said.

And students become acquainted with those biological processes, too.

Students learn the names and functions of the parts of the brain by forming each out of modeling clay. Teens also see the physical changes that take place as a person absorbs information. There's video of a nerve cell producing the fine black tendrils -- dendrites -- that receive chemical information and pass it along. And color-coded images from brain scans reveal that different intellectual activities stimulate changes in blood flow to specific areas.

Halberg offers another illustration of how neurons communicate by having students place pipe cleaners end-to-end within an outline of the brain, arranging these symbolic neurons to show the path that their electrochemical signals travel.

The wonders of the central nervous system become a little more real when kids don latex gloves, one hand representing the receptor end of a neuron and the other, the transmitter.

Students then play catch with dozens of Wiffle balls -- the neurotransmitters -- to get a sense for all the chemicals and electrical impulses that speed through and between these specialized brain cells as they learn.

"Imagine having over a trillion neurotransmitters circulating back and forth!" Halberg said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.

Rick Halberg, right, who teaches "Brain Harmony" at Freedom High School, works one-on-one with junior Alex Benitez, 17, as he uses a forcefield analysis to tell students that when you force people to change they often push back on Wednesday, April 3, 2012, in Oakley, Calif. Halberg is teaching systems theory and how to get outside of your own view or perspective and look at the entire system. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

All content © 2012- Contra Costa Times

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