I think this is yours.

That’s all the email said. “I think this is yours.” And this image was attached.

Wire project from undergrad, 25 years ago!
Wire project by Aaron Stratten, art educator

Uh, yes, it is mine! I remember shaping every wire… 25 years ago! But why is someone sending me a picture of it now?

It took me a few minutes to start processing the other pieces of the puzzle. There’s a signature: Professor Georgia Strange, Ed. D., University of Georgia.

I have no affiliation with the University of Georgia. I made this sculpture at Indiana University. But, wait! It’s been a quarter of a century — the name! I know that name don’t I? Could she have been my instructor for a sculpture class in undergrad?

I don’t trust my memory so looked her up and found her CV. Sure enough, at the time of my undergraduate studies at IU, Georgia was an MFA student then an assistant professor. It’s starting to make more sense.

I replied, and Georgia was kind enough to shed some light on the situation. She is currently preparing to teach a 3D class and is having some old (very old) slides of student work scanned for use in PowerPoint presentations. She shared, “I  only wrote names on slides with a pencil, so I sometimes look online to see if I can find the name.”

Georgia, I’m glad you found me.

So what’s this got to do with education? (You know, since that’s kinda what I usually do in this blog…)

I am absolutely fascinated by exactly how strong a reaction I had to seeing an image of a project I had done so many years ago, and how strong the memory of it is still in my mind. I don’t think I am surprising any artists by saying that we know our own work, so I think this is a lesson for the rest of the educators out there at the power of project-based learning.

I can’t help but imagine an alternate scenario where one of my old high school teachers is going through an old box of files and finds a quiz with my name on it. If that teacher looked me up and sent me a scanned image of the quiz, do you think I would recognize it? Do you think it would bring back a flood of memories of the struggles, and challenges, and learning I experienced? Of course not! Producing an original product is a uniquely powerful way to learn, and many educators and schools know it and are working to harness this power.

School systems in the US are beginning to gain the flexibility to develop alternative assessments to replace some of the standardized tests that have infected our educational system for so long. Many, including my own school division, are striving to replace the tests with performance-based assessments.

As teachers in other disciplines strive to strengthen their understanding of project-based learning and performance-based assessments, I would encourage them to tap into the expertise of their art teachers who do this work every single day. In addition to knowing the ins and outs of these approaches in general, art teachers know how to make a student absolutely passionate about the outcome of their assignment. Art teachers know how to direct students to learn as they create a project that they will remember a quarter of a century from now.

I wonder where that sculpture is now. Perhaps it’s just a squashed lump of rust in a landfill somewhere, but it survives in my mind… and in this photo. Thanks, Georgia!



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