94 Future Forwards: Exploring Frontiers in Education
And so Fish posed this question: What if she modified the Curiosity Project as an in-class assignment for
her art students? What might they produce if given the freedom—and time—to explore a visual art style
that makes them curious? In the following interview, she reflects on what happened next.
Why did you make this an in-class project, rather than assign as homework?
Karen Fish: If I’m really going to honor students’ motivation and interests, I realized I need to give them
time. So I handed over 12 class period for this project. That meant shortening some other units and picking
up the pace. I thought that would be a good thing. We get too bogged down sometimes. This would be a
nice, short unit with a lot of student ownership.
Did students quickly identify what they wanted to work on? How did you help those who struggled to come
up with a project idea?
KF: Some did struggle at first. If they seemed a bit lost, I asked them, what do you really care about? One
boy wears a baseball cap to school every day. Baseball is clearly his passion. When I pointed that out to
him, his eyes got all shiny and he came alive. Another boy, new to the school, said he had only worked in
black and white. It turns out he loves the ocean—he’s a surfer. So here was a chance for him to use color
to explore drawing waves. Other students brought in a specific image or example from an artist who
inspires them. The inspiration was different for each student.
How did you structure the project?
KF: I knew I was going to have a lot of kids doing different things. How was I going to give feedback to
everybody? We set up a Google Doc and I had them reflect after every class. Then I could respond with
resources or individualized instruction. I might share a You Tube video or book with one or show another
something about a technique like dry brush.
What was challenging about this for you, as a teacher?
KF: At first, I wasn’t sure how much I should get involved. This was supposed to be student-directed
learning, right? I wanted to let them find their own way and not keep telling them, here’s how you do this.
But at first I pulled back too much. I was missing the teachable moments. So I talked with Scot (Hoffman),
and he reassured me that it’s OK to help them in a project like this. Then I started guiding them more.
What did you notice about students’ reflections?
KF: One girl started with a ceramics project. She made candleholders, kind of sculptural but not very
challenging. She told me, ‘ I can make clay fast. I want to try something harder.’ So then she tried painting
sunflowers, inspired by Monet. There are layers of paint behind the surface of her canvas—a lot of
starting, stopping, starting over. She has a lovely sense of textures. She has discovered a clear talent
toward painting and she wants to explore this more. She has found a confidence that a lot of kids don’t
Another girl, new to the school, arrived with very little English. I don’t speak Japanese. So we’ve had to do
a lot of gesturing. She showed me a photo of a dock jutting into the ocean, showing a vanishing point.