A process drama program in Bellingham, WA

When Raven delivered a letter from Salmon and Owl to the children in Mrs. Welch’s 4th-grade class, they were astonished. Never before had anyone asked them for help to solve really big, complex problems.

The children agreed to help. What would, they wondered, make happiness happen for their friends?


Children studying the impact of human activities on planet Earth may be shaken by the serious realities that are taking place here and now, and the possibility that the long-term health of the planet is threatened.

To investigate, the children decided to enter drama world. Drama world is the place where anything can be imagined. Drama world is where, as Amelia said, “feelings feel real.”

In drama world students take on roles that are required for the inquiry, investigation and problem-solving. Through drama children find comfort and solace when circumstances are frightening, and the future terrifies.

Here you see Amelia in-role as Salmon.

From A Child’s Point of View 

—Lisa Citron



Dain Olsen, Media Arts Education Specialist

Media arts includes a broad range of existing and emerging forms, including cinema, animation, imaging, sound, interactive design (e.g. game, web), and virtual 3D/4D/5D industrial and environmental design, etc. This unique new offering in arts education has great potential for 21st century learning, as it promotes student-centered, project and design-based processes that can integrate all arts disciplines and content areas. This would allow students to create almost any kind of cultural object, structure, event or experience imaginable, while mastering core content in the process. The student is thus empowered to construct and direct their own rich and open-ended learning experiences, enhanced by technologically adaptive and interactive structures and tools. Its combination with the “traditional” arts then creates a novel configuration for learning that has not been previously considered.

The development and inclusion of a distinct media arts discipline engenders new understandings of the learning process itself in 21st century education, as well as the vital roles of the arts and aesthetics. Media arts is not just an addition of 20% to the existing arts picture, as it actually raises the field into a greater inter-relational gestalt across arts, design and 21st century cultural development. This new area can be considered “Aesthetic Design”, due to the inclusion of all areas of aesthetic, or “sensory-related” perception, construction and manipulation, communication, analysis and literacy, in the creation of physical and virtual worlds.

Our human worlds are constructed according to aesthetic precepts, principles and priorities. For example, you are reading this passage within an aesthetically designed format, with aesthetically designed type and graphics, on an aesthetically designed device, most probably wearing aesthetically designed clothing in an aesthetically designed space, etc, etc. Aesthetic Design then encompasses any and all designed situations and experiences. It would seem obvious that this should be an important component of education.

But the fact is, since Plato, the arts and aesthetics have been marginalized in Western culture and education as trivial and inconsequential. In the current educational drive for purely “measurable” accountability and rigor, the arts are seen as a subjective diversion, with only tangential benefits for student attendance and engagement. The term “aesthetics” is even derided as intellectualist and inaccessible. Aesthetics and the arts are due for re-description and specific justification in this new configuration, towards systemic support within educational orthodoxy.

Relevant to this assertion, new research in the cognitive sciences in the area of “Embodiment”, is demonstrating that aesthetics is actually fundamental to all levels of human cognition itself, and that artistic productions are exemplary instances of “consummated meaning”. In simplistic abbreviation, Embodiment directly references John Dewey’s proposition of “Continuity” and pragmatic philosophy, which describes a continuum of cognition in the mind embedded within a body and environmental situation, as opposed to the orthodox Cartesian dualistic split of mind vs. body vs. environment. This continuum describes levels of organization and complexity in relational cognition without a metaphysical leap into a distinct and seemingly “superior” realm of pure reason.

The implication of this discovery is that the vast majority of cognition actually occurs unconsciously within the body, with the new inclusion and importance of sensation, motion, active perception, emotion, and feeling-concepts, or “image schemas” in structuring consciousness. In turn, these become higher order, aesthetically formed metaphoric concepts and complexes, which in turn form logic and rationality. “Enaction” is the process of structurally-determined perception and action which “brings forth a world”, in structural coupling with the environment. This is in opposition to the generally accepted premise of perceptually finding a pre-given world and internalizing its objective representation for a computational structuring of cognition.

This substantially evidenced proposition reframes the cognitive process as developmentally structured “from the bottom up”, as opposed to “from higher-thinking down”. It would follow then that our cerebrally focused methods of abstracted presentations of information to passive/receptive students are less effective in long-term retention and practiced transfer of content. In fact, students need to continually embody learning through enactive methods, whereby meaning is consummated through aesthetically-based and culturally situated processes. In order to truly learn, and to continue learning how to learn, students need to engage in mutually creating worlds using the tools of language, math and science, while critically reflecting on the process. This follows Dewey’s propositions of experiential learning and the arts as “the paradigmatic case of all human meaning-making”. This also aligns with the new offerings of Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

Media arts standards, assessments, curriculum and programming are framed in fidelity to these precepts as an intermediary “hub” discipline for aesthetic-based design. They structure the creative cognitive process through iterative processes, intentional expression and the making of and reflection on meaning. They form inter-relational reciprocality across forms, disciplines, domains and cultures towards connectivist, global and holistic levels of learning. This new entirety of the arts then offer much more than engagement, but critical literacies in sensory-acute experience, emotional intelligence, tolerance for ambiguity, symbolic and metaphoric conceptualization, problem formulation, inventive courage, intermodal choreography and intercultural development. This reformation offers exciting opportunities for research and development of new and potentially more effective educational designs, structures and methodologies.