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SmithsonianX: Teaching Critical Thinking through Art with the National Gallery of Art

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Learn how to integrate works of art using Artful Thinking routines, effective strategies from Project Zero at Harvard University, in this interactive online course for teachers of all levels and subjects.

16 weeks
3–4 hours per week
Progress at your own speed
This course is archived

About this course

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Based on the National Gallery of Art’s popular Art Around the Corner professional development program for teachers in Washington, D.C., this five-unit online course provides everything you need to begin creating a culture of critical thinking and collaboration for any classroom, subject, or level. You do not need an art background or museum access to successfully integrate the course materials into your teaching. Your willingness to experiment with new teaching practices is all that is required.

The strategies presented in this course are adapted from Artful Thinking pedagogy, developed by Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You will explore three thinking dispositions, using eight thinking routines that are easy to understand and implement with STEAM curricular content.

  • Starting with the disposition of observing and describing , you will learn how to guide your students in slowing down, using their senses, and communicating impressions of what they see in a work of art...and in other things.
  • Next, the routines used in the disposition of reasoning with evidence ask students to make hypotheses about the art and support their arguments with observations.
  • Finally, the questioning and investigating disposition challenges students to hone their natural curiosity by expressing their wonderings and formulating open-ended questions.

Throughout, you will discover the power of art to develop your students’ inclination, motivation, and ability to think deeply.

When you enroll, all the resources you need for your classroom to strengthen critical thinking by using art will be immediately available. We recommend spending a few hours learning and practicing each section before progressing to the next.

The online course environment features over 20 videos and interactive tools:

  • a zoom tool to examine works of art at full resolution
  • polls to compare your thoughts with those of other participants
  • discussion boards where teachers around the world share ideas, plans, and results
  • authentic lesson demonstration videos that model routines led by real classroom and museum educators with students of varying ages, with corresponding downloadable lesson plans
  • interview videos on topics like using thinking routines with emerging language learners and making accommodations for all learners

Participating with a global network of educators who, just like you, want to hone their abilities to teach critical thinking skills and explore arts integration will be an added bonus to your course experience.

At a glance

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcripts: English, Español, Français, 中文
  • Associated skills:Museum Education, Critical Thinking, Zoom (Video Conferencing Tool), Project Zero, Teaching, Arts Integration, Pedagogy

What you'll learn

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  • How to use Artful Thinking Routines to strengthen thinking.
  • How to facilitate meaningful conversations in your classroom using art for artful learning and artful teaching.
  • How to help learners of all levels develop more discerning descriptions, evidence-based reasoning, and meaningful questioning habits.
  • Key strategies for using content information to push original thinking deeper.
  • Exciting, immersive activities for any type of classroom.
  • How to use online teaching resources from the National Gallery of Art, including downloadable Artful Thinking lesson plans

The course contains an introductory unit and four content units listed below. It will take approximately 14-20 hours to complete this self-paced course. Those who audit have access for 16 weeks. Those who register for the verified certificate have access of a full year.

Unit 0: Welcome (2 hours)

Unit 1: Diving into Thinking Routines (3-4 hours)

Unit 2: Observing and Describing (3-4 hours)

Unit 3: Reasoning with Evidence (3-4 hours)

Unit 4: Questioning and Investigating (3-4 hours)

Learner testimonials

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"I have been teaching for 25 years and nothing has fired me up like this Artful Thinking course since I came out of college!"

"Outstanding course. Impressive use of educational technology and a huge variety of teaching resources from very knowledgeable and experienced teachers."

Frequently Asked Questions

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What web browser should I use?
The Open edX platform works best with current versions of Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, or with Internet Explorer version 9 and above. See our list of supported browsers for the most up-to-date information.

What should I expect from this course?
In this free five-unit course, you’ll spend just a few hours per week, at your own pace, engaging in the course material. Whether you teach language arts, science, math, languages, social studies, or art, you’ll learn strategies and be shown examples that fit your needs throughout: watch videos of lesson excerpts from most grade levels in classrooms and the museum, practice strategies with the online community of teachers, use customized tools to explore works of art, contribute to discussions, read informative texts, participate in quizzes, complete application assignments, and access resources about the featured works of art and thinking routines.

Why art? How can art help my students’ critical thinking?
Works of art are often ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations (much like the real world!). Art invites critical analysis to support different interpretations. Students can practice this type of critical thinking with art, in the safe, stimulating environment of the classroom. When students practice routinely with art, they become critical thinkers, using these techniques with other school subjects and in the real world.

Do I need to take my class to a museum?
You don't need to have access to a museum or physical works of art. We'll show how teachers like you are using art to spark engagement and dialogue with their students in the classroom. These Artful Thinking techniques apply across curriculums, and getting students inspired by art to build rigor in their thinking is applicable in any subject! So while you won’t be making art or studying art history here, our online course and museum’s website will provide all of the resources you need in your classroom. Of course, if you do have a museum nearby and are able to take your students there, a museum visit is always a good idea!

More about this course

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All video closed captions and downloadable teaching resources in Teaching Critical Thinking through Art are available in Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Todos los videos con subtítulos y recursos descargables del curso Enseñando el pensamiento crítico a través del arte, se encuentran disponibles en español, francés y chino.

Tous les sous-titres de vidéos et les ressources pédagogiques téléchargeables associées au cours L’enseignement de la pensée critique par l’art sont disponibles en espagnol, en français et en chinois.


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