Principal's Blog Page

  • This web blog has been developed to provide deeper information and discussion about Foothills and its overarching mission of "Artful Teaching, Artful Learning" and its vision of an environement that develops a 21st Century learner for their future.Topics such as curriculum, instruction, environment, assessment, and community will be of focus.



  • What is Arts Education, Arts Integration.... Arts Learning?

    Posted by Robert Benson on 11/23/2016 1:00:00 PM

    This is a good question that I hear often. The next one right after this is, "What does it look like in school?" Even when you read articles on the arts in schools, it can become confusing.  With that, Foothills staff have decided on a way to think about these areas and how we encompass the arts in many ways.  Here is a list of terms, definitions, and how they ring true at Foothills.


    • Arts Education-  By definition, arts education is the study of a particular art form. These art forms include performing arts (dance, theater, music) and visual arts ( drawing, painting, sculpting, etc.). In the K-12 Public education realm, these courses are taught by highly qualifies teachers whose certificates for teaching include these endorsements. At Foothills we offer arts education in our K-4th  program, and in our focused 5th -8th  arts academy programs.


    • Arts Integration- This term is often used widely in related conversations.  The big word here is "integration" versus an idea of "use". At Foothills, integrating the arts does not happen in arts education classrooms.  Integrating the arts happens in regular classrooms. Integration is a complex teaching moment and with that we at Foothills stick to a very strict and agreed upon definition. This definition was created by teaching artist at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts; a long time relationship Foothills staff has had. The definition is, " Arts Integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both."  An example often used is objectives in dance (the students will use body, energy, space and time to express themselves in movement) that go along with objectives in science (The students will understand the water cycle or Students will understand different kinds of weather). When these two objectives integrate together you include the "what the student is learning" , "how we will learn it",  and "how we will show the teacher we understand".  The objectives and standards work in unison rather than in competition with each other.   


    • Arts Learning- Arts Learning, again, has many different perspectives. At Foothills we believe this term spans ALL that we do with the arts (including arts integration and arts education) and related instructional techniques. if you ever hear me talk about the arts at Foothills, I often use this overarching word.  Here are some things we include in "arts learning" and in some cases they overlap.


                   - Interdisciplinary Arts-  Interdisciplinary means that things are made of parts and wholes... and they interact. In the arts sense, we see this as a means to "use" arts as a connector of things or concepts learned in the classroom. For example, it would be a strong idea for students to listen to music of Bob Dylan, or Odetta as a means to perhaps understand the topic of civil rights, political and/or social changes in the early 1960's. Are we integrating? No, but we are making a strong connection using the arts. The arts have amazing connections for relevant learning in any subject area.


                   - Studio Dispositions- This is a concepts that goes back to educational research.  Here researchers at Harvard University made real connections to the arts and "student achievement."  The researchers claims included things like we should stop saying the arts increases test scores.  Rather they claimed that what kids learn in quality arts programs may be a reason for such research based comparisons. These researchers studied visual arts classrooms (We believe it holds true in any arts classrooms), and the research connected the artistic mindset that students built within themselves in art classes was the same as a very successful professional artist.  These studio habits are Stretch and Explore, Express, Developing Craft, Envision, Understand Community, Observe, Engage and Persist, and Reflect. The  students of focus in the research who were doing well in school and testing, and were involved in the arts, were provided these opportunities to learn and be successful.  At Foothills we think these mindsets can be applied by all teachers. They fit beautifully with many state standards and in general excellent modes of learning.


                     -Artful Thinking- Artful Thinking, or sometimes known as the Artful Thinking Pallet, or the Thinking Pallet, is a way to teach children to think about what they are learning. A related word that many of our Foothills educators use is Metacognition, or "thinking about my thinking." In essence, this idea is about teaching kids how to use thinking strategies as a means to learn or to solve problems. Some "pallet" colors in artful thinking include, Reasoning (a very useful skill in todays testing world), Questioning and Investigating, Observing and Describing, Comparing and Connecting, Finding Complexity, and Exploring Viewpoints.  These thinking skills go hand in hand with the maturity and developmental level of a child. For example for young children observing, describing, and comparing things is a good skill. In older kids, we add things like reasoning, and exploring viewpoints.  It all depends on the learning moment.


    There are many things that can go under Arts Learning. At Foothills if we think the concept rings well with our mission and vision of "Artful Teaching, Artful Learning", then we will make it a part of our practice.


    I hope this helps. As my first blog, I may link to it again as a means to build a deeper and more useful understanding of what we are trying to do at bigger and bigger levels each day at Foothills.




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  • Blended Learning: A New Foothills Approach- 2017-18

    Posted by Robert Benson on 7/2/2017 5:00:00 AM

    This school year has been very interesting. We have spent a great deal of time reflecting as a school about our existence. This has been done through a great effort in our accreditation process through AdvancED. We are an accredited school!


    In this process we see a teeter totter of what we are. We see awesome parent, community, and staff perceptions about the purpose and direction of Foothills dealing primarily with our mission and vision (artful teaching/artful learning). We see many areas of student’s perception of school that are higher. We know that students really like the arts and they really like their teachers. They also like the feel of the school and the fact that staff get along and tend to have a family feel. Students reflect that we have a high standard and the teachers do a great job teaching and driving them in the right direction.


    When looking at other data from our stakeholders, we see a need for resources for students. This is a wide topic, but the idea that our school and kids need more to learn from and they need technology, is a very common response not only at Foothills, but also in PUSD in general.


    Our achievement scores are about the same as other schools in the district and valley. We have bright spots and places to improve. With that, not many schools are holding their typical scores with the new AZMERIT state test. It is a very rigorous test and reflects the rigorous standards we now teach (Arizona College and Career Ready Standards). What we do know is that 3-4 days of annual testing is NOT a reflection of the great things that happen. I am not sure many school leaders know what a high AZMERIT score is; however, most innovative leaders see an issue… an issue that is complex and needs a very different approach to learning for our 21st Century students.


    Our new Superintendent, Dr. Darwin Stiffler, is a huge proponent of technology in the classroom and an approach to teaching and learning that includes the use of technology. There are many names for it. Blended Learning is one. The other we are using often is Personalized Learning.




    Blended learning is an education program (formal or informal) that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace. (


    As you can imagine, Blended Learning has many models in the classroom. However, this definition does a great job explaining in the most basic and broad sense of what it is. At Foothills, we desire to create a model that involves learning through technologically driven instruction, quality instruction of the teacher, and never letting go of our mission of “artful teaching and artful learning.” The last part of the Wikipedia definition drives other, more desired, needs in school as they focus on the child.



    The way humans learn is disordered and non-linear. In other words, there is no ONE WAY! In school, we have, over time, (even though most educators do not like this idea) been driven so all students in a grade level are on the same pace, in the same direction, with the same goal of “achievement” success. Though the intentions have been good, they are not realistic and todays achievement scores, on average in the state of Arizona (and across the U.S.) are wide spread as they reflect the needs of almost all children who operate at vastly different levels.


    The idea of personalizing a child’s education can have many perspectives, but in the sense of technology (Blended Learning), learning the basics that are needed in the next week of instruction or the next grade level, can be achieved through an on-line program. These programs tailor to the child’s need.. not the class as a whole. The worst-case scenario is the child who does not do well in a subject. Each unit of study for a general grade level only adds to the snowball of failure if kids are behind. It is also frustrating for a child who is ahead! Students become frustrated and then become increasingly despaired in their learning. However, what if a child could grow in a way that addresses their need? In addition, even though a child is “lower” or even “higher” in what is deemed “grade level” curriculum, they too can grow and certainly feel better about their success. Inevitably, the child will be able to address other learning modalities such as cooperative work that deepens understanding of skills and even activities that allow the child to use what they know as a means to apply and creatively solve a problem.




    Author Clayton Christensen wrote a book called Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. The author points out the “job” of many things. In school, based on research, the job of school should be two things. The first is, “fun.” Students desire to have fun at school and in their learning environments. The other “knowing where I am at.” Students desire to know where they are at in the success of school. They want that information NOW and not in a week or two when a project is graded.  


    Blended/Personalized learning offers these qualities. Technology offers a new way to track a student’s success and challenges them based on where they are. The teacher too knows this data and can help a student who is still struggling. Because a teacher does not have to plan for the lower level skill development (because it is done for them by the technology) they have time and energy to guide students to deepen understandings, offers creative ways to use knowledge, and have very specific data and intervention available on a standard or skill a student struggles with.


    Blended learning is a direction we are driven for, as we believe it opens the door for more arts based learning in the physical classroom that is outlined in our art-learning model. It also paves a pathway for higher achievement tests success. We will be starting these concepts the 2017-18 school year with a three-year plan for implementing, not just technology, but a wider environment that develops the best 21st Century creative learner.


    In further blogs, I will address specifics of our plan and research based ideas that will paint a clearer picture for our Foothills Community.

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