David Owsley Museum of Art

Look to Learn Sets Its Sights on the Future

Collaborative Program Will Expand


Look to Learn project evaluator, Professor Felicia Dixon.

After more than three years of grant writing, curriculum development, and student testing, Look to Learn, an innovative language arts program developed by the David Owsley Museum of Art, is wrapping up its pilot program.

Thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, the curriculum began testing in grades 3-6 at Burris Laboratory School in the fall of 2010. The learner-centered teaching method, Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), uses art to develop critical thinking and language skills. The program utilizes the museum’s collection as a way to jump-start student-driven discussions. Working with Ball State Teachers College and the Department of Educational Psychology, Burris faculty and museum staff conducted a three-year longitudinal study to determine student improvement.

Ball State University Emerita Professor of Educational Psychology Felicia Dixon served as project evaluator. She and John McConnell, a doctoral student in counseling psychology, analyzed data from Burris students and from a control group of students who attend Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) Model Laboratory School. The EKU students did not participate in the Look to Learn program or use the VTS method.

“All of the students took a critical thinking test and submitted writing samples based on viewing digital images,” Dixon says. “Those students (from EKU) didn’t have the strategy. We did a quantitative study and we did find differences.”

Dixon says the differences were mostly in the writing samples. She notes it is important to recognize that Look to Learn and VTS might not be the only reasons for the differences, but she acknowledges the curriculum did seem to aid in developing critical thinking skills.

“It really is a very good beginning project that shows how the strategy can be used and how the museum collection can get students immersed in critical thinking,” Dixon says.

A grant from the Ball Brothers Foundation will allow the museum to expand and plan for further distribution of the Look to Learn program.

Director of Education Tania Said says the museum will partner with more schools over the coming year, allowing third grade students to explore Look to Learn. Getting the program out to more schools and students is an important consideration.

“My hope is that we can build more interest and attention for this project, and more schools can participate,” she says. “Right now schools are stressing the importance of developing the twenty-first century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, which this project emphasizes. It really focuses on the Common Core.”

For more information about the benefits of looking at art and the Look to Learn project read, "Art is Fundamental: Look to Learn program helps develop critical thinking skills in students." 

 Supported by: Institute of Museum and Library Services

David Owsley Museum of Art
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