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Spotlight on: Fawn Johnson, Chancellor Livingston Elementary School

Fawn Johnson is the art teacher at Chancellor Livingston Elementary School. A 2009 graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a degree in Art Education, Ms. Johnson was honored to receive “The Most Promising Art Educator of the Year” award for 2013 from NYSATA (New York State Art Teachers Association). She has three boys and lives in Hyde Park.


How did you get interested in STEAM?
I have been hearing about STEAM for quite some time, and was thrilled when CLS opened the STEM lab. I was excited when I spoke to David Woulfin and he was on board with some collaboration … putting the “A” in STEAM. I feel like infusing ART with Science, Math, Technology and Engineering is just so natural.

What is the one big change that gets you excited about the future (OR keeps you up at night)?
When I think about my future at CLS I’m excited about all of the collaboration that is happening, with art and all of the other special areas. I want nothing more than to support my students’ learning by reinforcing subjects/topics from the general classroom and using art as the catalyst.

What are you reading right now?
As I am currently in the final stages of writing my thesis, I spend most of my time reading academic journals on the topics of student perception, forms of motivation, teaching for artistic behavior and a choice based curriculum. Innovation and creativity is a common thread that runs through these writings and this is a perfect tie into STEM or STEAM. We need our children to be willing to try and fail and work through a problem, and to be imaginative with their thinking. This is what I hope to instill, that and a love of art and making.

What do you do when you aren’t working?
When I’m not working, or doing my college work, I enjoy drawing and painting. I have discovered something called “Zentangle”, which is sort of like organized doodling. I even teach it in my classes. It has inspired me to take my own art-making in a whole new direction. I also love to read for fun, scrapbook, make jewelry, and cook. I can spend hours scouring Pinterest for art lesson ideas and ways to promote innovative thinking.

Now tell us a bit about the work you are doing with STEAM and the work you did recently with Mr. Woulfin’s STEM lab classes.
The first collaboration was with our innovative Kindergarteners! They created their own paintbrushes in the STEM lab, focusing on form and function. They then were able to see how they functioned in art class. I gave them only the three primary colors (red, yellow & blue) so some color mixing could happen naturally as they experimented with their brushes. It was a grand success as they were engaged the entire 40 minute art class! Hearing comments such as, “I just made orange”, was a special added bonus!

My third graders are currently constructing their own miniature cardboard furniture, which is not something they are doing with Mr. Woulfin, but I refer to things like design, engineering, building, and construction, and expect them to figure out how to make their pieces stand, stay together, etc. We talk about how this art lesson could have been done in the STEM lab.

Mr. Woulfin just completed a unit with the third graders where they constructed cardboard gliders which we will be painting shortly. I enjoy how they share with me the choices they made and what they learned in the construction and how I can then build upon that with the artistic choices they make.

What is the most amazing thing you learned from the experience?
I was a child care provider for MANY years prior to becoming an art teacher. I always was looking for ways to include science and math wherever possible, be it cooking, art making, or outdoor play. This experience just reinforces my belief how important these connections are for our children. I also am thrilled that this program begins in Kindergarten and continues on, as it’s such a great way to get them excited about all of this right from the start.

What do you wish people knew about STEAM?
Sometimes I think art gets a reputation for being an “extra” in schools, and isn’t always valued the way the core classes are. We are lucky in Rhinebeck that our community does value the arts, however this isn’t always the case which is evident when art and music programs get cut. STEAM is a way to help show people that the Arts can enhance a child’s learning and is just as important as science, math, technology, and engineering.

What is your big goal for this coming year?
My goal is to continue working with Mr. Woulfin and the STEM lab whenever possible. I am also excited to start using the new laptops and tablets with my students. There are tons of amazing applications for the arts and my goal is to try and incorporate more technology in my curriculum. I am also working toward creating an art room that is more like an art studio, which will allow my students more freedom and choice. The more ownership they are offered, the more their work will be authentic and meaningful to them. This is the topic of my thesis, so I am quite passionate about it.