What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

The arts are critical to our foundational skills and understanding.

For National Arts in Education Week, we’ve asked members of our team at Kiddom what studying the arts meant to their education. Here’s what they said!


I always thought I was “bad” at all things artistic, and avoided taking art classes all through school. I only gained an appreciation for arts education after I began teaching high school, and met colleagues who supported our students’ sense of self-efficacy through hands-on art projects. During my years teaching at an alternative high school for over-aged, under-credited high school students coming from incarceration or transitional housing, I watched students who had struggled to find a voice at school blossom in art classes taught by a dear friend and colleague, Lisa Barnshaw. Students in her class learned that it was ok to make mistakes and how to express their pain, activism, and aspirations in a multitude of ways. She created a calm, warm classroom environment filled with opportunities for choice and collaboration, and framed all of her feedback with positivity and a growth mindset. In fact, on days when I was particularly stressed about my own lesson plans or classes, I would retreat to the back of her room to sketch or create alongside our students — it was one of the most meditative and safe classrooms I’ve witnessed in 10 years in public education. Thanks for all you do, Lisa!


Studying the arts taught me that art (music, poetry, illustrations, paintings, etc) doesn’t start and end with the piece itself. It’s a timestamp of thoughts, feelings and issues, in a point in human history. Art not only becomes something to admire, but a window into one’s mind in an era and place.

Shout out to Ms. Leatherman, my 4–6th grade music teacher.


Throughout middle school and high school, art class was the space I had to clear my mind and think creatively amidst busy school days. As a student who always felt the pressure to achieve academic perfection, understanding that everything had right and wrong answers, studying art helped to balance my personal perspective on performance. Studying art provided room for subjective expression, room to test the waters in an area where perfection cannot be defined. I learned that even in a field where technique can be studied and basics can be learned, it takes courage to think abstractly and take risks on a canvas that will not let you know you are on the right path. Having confidence and having faith in the process in art is just as important as the end product, one that can always be changed, improved, and interpreted in many ways.

Shout out to Ms. Gourieux for creating an open, creative, and relaxed atmosphere where we could learn about different types of art and appreciate a space different from our core content subjects. She formed genuine connections with her students and took the time to learn about our interests and our talents. I took her classes every chance I could get!


As a child, I gravitated towards theatre and performance. I still remember my first play at age 9, looking out into the audience from the stage, hearing the applause, and thinking “this is what I want to do when I grow up.” I went on to study theatre in college, and realized that theatre is so much more than just putting on a show.

Studying the arts taught me how to look at the world through different perspectives. It cultivated my ability to collaborate, to work with a group of people, to bring a story to life. It taught me empathy, compassion, critical thinking, creative problem solving. It taught me vulnerability. Studying the arts taught me who I am.

Shout out to all my acting, dance, and singing teachers in high school for encouraging me throughout the years.


I didn’t appreciate the arts until I started a rock band in high school. As the singer and lyricist of the band, I quickly realized this was going to be anything but formulaic, which is how I learned a lot of the core subjects in school. I struggled a lot through this project, but it helped me realize art can help eliminate the borders of isolated disciplines in schools. It’s inclusive, ignites curiosity, and gets young people to get messy. And it’s totally okay to get messy!


Studying the arts taught me how big the world is, and the different ways in which different people perceive things. I remember being blown away when I discovered that vanishing points weren’t used in early paintings because they weren’t invented yet. I thought the painters had chosen not to use perspective, when in truth the concept hadn’t been discovered yet. Now it seems so obvious! While studying the arts I was also amazed by the similarities in humanity; like the vibrant colors we see in early Greek statues. Ancient Greek sculpture looks so solemn and serious to us now, but when you learn how they were painted back then, there was just as much bling as we see in modern culture — they just didn’t have access to neon lights!


Studying the arts taught me how to “get the metaphor.” It taught me how to understand and accept the fact that certain concepts can never be contained fully with words, and can only ever be touched on with the help of stories, sounds, images… you know, art! This was crucial for my education, and ultimately helped me accept bigger things, like that life is more complicated than the easy labels we use every day, and that sometimes “the metaphor” is the only way to create an area of mutual understanding between two people. One thing I’m still learning from the arts is how different types of art convey meaning differently for people. For me, prose, poetry, and music were the best means to land a breakthrough. But for another person, photography might be the vehicle. Breakdancing, baking. It takes all kinds.

Shout out to Mr. Williams, a former lit teacher who first sparked my love for literature and writing. He made a point to give my class stories that broadened our perspectives. Through those stories we learned how varied yet similar the human condition is, which was so good for a class of small-town kids in East Tennessee, where many of us hadn’t travelled far beyond ourselves.


And that concludes our team post for National Education in the Arts Week. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and that you gained a sense of how important the arts are to our foundational skills and understanding, as evidenced even in this small sample size.

If you are an arts educator, check out our free eBook, Standards Based Grading in the Arts to learn how teachers of all subjects use Kiddom to quickly create arts-based lessons that align to standards with one click. And as always, happy teaching and learning!

What Makes Kiddom for Android Special? Interview

What Makes Kiddom for Android Special? Interview

As many of you know, teachers can plan, assign, assess, report, and more using Kiddom, available via desktop, Apple, and as of earlier this year, Google Play.

But there’s more to our Android product than you might think. This week, we had a chat with Kiddom’s Mobile Engineering Lead, Guillermo Alcantara, to tell us what makes the Android product special.

 

So, what is unique about Kiddom Android compared to other versions of the product?

Guillermo: If you’re using Kiddom on Android you’ll find it is more similar to the web experience than our iPhone app, which often has a different interface, than what you might see online. That’s because we’ve created more custom widgets for iOS, whereas with Android we’re building more for Google’s vision. In other words, because Android’s store is owned by Google, the Android mobile product is more optimized for Google standards.

Kiddom on Android is also more performant; we’ve put more emphasis on making the product work in varied conditions. For instance, if your network is slow or your screen is small, the Android product can be handy in those situations… we have built it from the start with attention to limitations like internet speed, battery life, and smaller screens. Our Apple product, on the other hand, is a more optimized experience for newer Apple devices, in keeping with iOS protocol.

A third uniqueness about our Android product is the ability to be easily translated, which is on our roadmap to release soon. It’s not something we have prioritized, but the entire app is ready to be translated — as many of our users are Spanish-speaking, and we know that could help a lot of schools.

 

 

Speaking of what’s “on the roadmap,” can you tell us more about what is coming soon for Kiddom’s Android product?

Guillermo: Soon we’ll be able to offer a translatable version of Spanish and Chinese. Many developers are familiar with FIGS (French, Italian, German, and Spanish), which is perhaps a traditional approach to translate, but we’ll likely make our earliest translations in Spanish and Chinese.

We are also constantly using our Android app to run tests that help foster a better user experience, so often those roadmap features show up on Android first. Like the Snapshot Roster feature, and the ability to take notes, for instance.

 

Can you speak more on the Snapshot Roster feature?

Guillermo: One feature we’re excited about releasing soon is the ability to add students on mobile in a quick and easy manner. Teachers can simply use their phones to take a snapshot of their student roster, whether digital or in print, and from that list, our product creates a new account for each student using text recognition technology called OCR (Optical Character Recognition). This will save teachers a great deal of time when they need to add a new class or want to switch over to Kiddom in the middle of a semester.

 

…and the Notes feature?

Guillermo: Yes, it provides users the ability to make notes. This feature was first available only in Android and we hope to soon make it available to everyone. That’s because we typically use Android to test new features. If we see that enough people are using the features we’re testing, we’ll roll them out to all of our products for everyone to use.

 

Can you tell us about the Student Groups Feature in Android?

Guillermo: Student groups — right now Kiddom assignments are only available for the entire class or one individual student, but what if you have a team assignment? This is a feature being testing in Android right now.

 

In closing, can you share what is your favorite part about the Android app?

Guillermo: I like the Timeline better in Android than in any other client. It’s easier to swipe rather than scroll.

…and that’s all he had time for! (Engineers are busy people, you know.) We hope you learned something new and useful, and as always, teachers, please let us know your thoughts and requests! We are building these products for you. ❤

For more information on Kiddom Android, visit our Support Page, or you can always reach us at support@kiddom.co if you have any questions.

Teaching the Gray Areas of Conflict: an Opportunity for Critical Thinking

Teaching the Gray Areas of Conflict: an Opportunity for Critical Thinking

We like tidy narratives. Heroes and villains. Beginnings, middles, and ends. You need only look at the latest Marvel Blockbusters to see the formula writ large. There is an inherent danger to this structure, as we impose labels and story-arcs over people and events that rarely, if ever, conform to such a convenient structure. The opposite, though, the absence of narrative, is no better.

Unfortunately, for an example of the latter, you could just watch the news.

Not only do we increasingly like our current event stories to be clear-cut, they often seem to move so quickly that there is no time for ambiguity or complexity to evolve. Google “news cycle” and you will see a plethora of quantitative data and existential hand-wringing about the increasing speed — or complete erasure — of the news cycle. “Donald Trump killed the news cycle,” writes the Columbia Journalism Review. “Self-contained storylines that once would have risen and fallen in distinct waves of public attention have given way to information overload and frequent confusion.” The New York Times opines that, “. . . nothing matters long enough to matter.”

Labels and the illusion of character arc are still present — look at any recent story about North Korea — but context is left behind.

Forget simplistic narratives; it seems that in the news we’re often left with no narrative at all.

What does this mean for educators? It means that we need to complicate. . . everything.

We can no more teach Westward Expansion as a clear-cut moral story than we can allow our students to believe that a story no longer being talked about consistently is equivalent to the story no longer existing.

Any educator who teaches in the humanities or has the opportunity to develop students’ civic engagement, whether in class or an advisory period, has the responsibility to help students make sense of the world around them.That means identifying fake news, reading multiple sources, and identifying bias and assumptions. It also means acknowledging that very, very few events have easy-to-trace beginnings and ends or fit into convenient, all-encompassing summaries.

Case in point: Syria. The war there, which started in 2011, is still happening. It is also very, very complicated. The same can be said for Yemen, which also isn’t exactly in great shape, though you aren’t likely to hear about it either if you glance at the latest headlines. And the justifiable uproar of family separation has masked the potentially more destructive removal of asylum for those seeking refuge from domestic abuse or gang violence.

It’s impossible for every teacher to help their students fully understand every one of these issues. It’s impossible for any person to fully understand every one of these issues. But we can refuse to buy into the mindset that nothing matters long enough to matter.

We should work with our students to identify issues they are interested in, research context, and follow events as they unfold over the course of a school year. This is different from just learning history or just talking about headlines. It’s a shift in the way we perceive time and learning. Instead of a predetermined lesson or objective, we have ambiguity. Instead of a backwards-planned unit, we have uncertainty. Instead of resolution, we have the beautiful, chaotic mess of life.

If we want our students to genuinely enact democracy, to engage with the world, then our classrooms need to authentically engage with the world while it is happening. As John Dewey wrote, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

I am not advocating that we forego curriculum in order to only follow current events, or that it’s even possible to track every major news story. (What counts as a “major” news story, anyway?), but I am advocating that we open our classrooms to uncertainty and vulnerability.

Watching the world unfold in real-time is a terrifying, wondrous proposition. Follow any story closely enough, and conflict will arise in your community. Students will have differing opinions, will question why something matters, will venture into realms that are uncomfortably personal. Rather than seen as a cause for concern, we should view this for what it is — a beautiful opportunity.

Conflict within the context of learning is an opportunity not just to speak about civics and civil discourse, but to actually practice it. Not just to speak about restorative justice, but to struggle through it. Not just to theorize about right and wrong, but to wrestle with its embodied meaning for us as human beings.

So, as you develop your curriculum for the upcoming year, schedule some room for ambiguity. Give students a chance to decide what stories they want to follow. Learn what matters to your community. Make a few predictions about issues that you think will become increasingly important. And then, over the course of the year, get to know the people involved. Research the places, the histories, the futures. Help students see the connections between the content you are studying and the events unfolding around them.

Situate your classroom in the world and dwell there. Let the world matter long enough to matter.

Guest Post by: Dan Thalkar (@dthalkar) Humanities Teacher in Los Angeles, CA

Back to School Tips and Tricks for Classroom Teachers

Back to School Tips and Tricks for Classroom Teachers

To kick off a new school year, the Kiddom Success Team has put together some recommendations to help you get the most out of Kiddom and start the semester strong. These tips and tricks will help you and your students engage and get ready to tackle another year!

 

Tip #1: Create a Getting to Know You Survey

Investing time in getting to know your students early in the school year is essential for building strong relationships that allow students to take academic risks and encourage open, honest feedback.

Using our Google Drive integration, you can create a survey in Google Docs and share it with your students in Kiddom. They’ll each receive a private, personal copy organized automatically in a Kiddom folder in your Drive. Our assignment settings make it easy to share this without it counting towards a grade to ensure that students aren’t afraid to be honest.

You can also align your survey to any of the CASEL standards for social emotional learning — we suggest the competencies that measure Self-Awareness and Relationship Skills. Once students have submitted their responses, you can comment directly on the Google Doc or use Kiddom’s commenting features to start a dialogue that will last all year.

 

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Tip form Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead

 

Tip #2: Make Every Assignment Unique…and Engaging!

It’s simple: When you give students meaningful, engaging assignments, they’ll appreciate the material, and they’ll appreciate you.

Bellwork, exit tickets, and other re-engagement activities can be crucial for retaining information, and Kiddom’s K-12 Library lets you easily offer exciting and engaging materials for all subjects. You can then use our Playlists to organize and store all of your saved videos, interactives, games, and more without hours of searching or planning. Your Playlists will be ready to go with a simple drag-and drop!

Let’s start by creating an assignment in a Playlist. The Playlist will be saved in your Planner, so you can easily drag and drop your classwork for each day whenever you’re ready to assign, without creating the assignment over and over again. Within your Playlist, you can make an assignment for each day and attach content from the Library (or your own…or both!), standards, points/rubrics, and assignment type. Use your Playlists to group lessons, resources, videos, assignment types — whatever works best with how you’re organized.

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When you’re creating an assignment in your Playlist, click the Kiddom “K” logo to access our content library. With about 100,000 resources, we have exactly what you need: videos, interactives, practices, and more, for all subject areas.

Simply select your grade level, subject, and if you want, where you’d like to see the resources from or resource type. This will generate all of the content we have for your subject and grade. You can also use keywords like “American Revolution” or “Molecules” to narrow down your search. Preview the content to see if it’s the right fit and then click select to attach it to the assignment.

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Since Playlists live in your Planner, you can carry them with you from class to class. When a new week starts, simply edit the assignment to add new content/change due dates/points or rubrics. kiddom

Tip from Shabbir Manjee, Support Specialist

 

Tip #3: Create and Assign Class Roles

Clear and consistent routines and procedures can make or break classroom management systems. When I was an 8th grade teacher, I often wished I could multiply myself to get it all done. So I did! I created a list of “class roles” for students to act on, such as homework recorderoffice assistant, and tech assistant. This gave them the chance to practice taking on more responsibility while freeing me to focus on instruction.

Not only do class roles give students greater agency — if done right, they can be an orderly foundation for your class culture.

 

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How can I implement this in my class?

  1. Think of tasks students can carry out to help the flow of the day or period. You know your class and students best, but feel free to use our resource of possible class roles and descriptions.
  2. Create an assignment for each role in Kiddom. Write out the descriptions in student-friendly language so they will be able to understand the expectations when it is their turn.
  3. Create a Playlist of class roles that you can drag and drop into your Timeline and assign them to different students throughout the year.
  4. Go over the roles and expectations as you would routines and procedures. Depending on your students, you may need to model it, review it mid-year, or have them sign up. Ask them to master it and then teach the next student for you.

That’s it! Enable your students to contribute to the class and give yourself a break.

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Tip from Nicole Plante, Support Specialist

 

Tip #4: Start a Student Club! Run By Students, Powered by Kiddom

Teachers using Kiddom know it’s a great way to plan, organize, and assess student progress throughout a school year. But did you know you can also use Kiddom to power student-run clubs?

If you are an advisor for a student extracurricular, whether it’s student government, debate team, or the anime club, you know it’s a lot of work to get members the information they need about upcoming events, trips, fundraisers, and meetings. You’ve probably found yourself wondering how you can put more of the onus on your students to get it done. That’s where Kiddom can help.

If you want to give student club officers control of their clubs, it’s as simple as creating a teacher account for them to use on Kiddom.

Just set it up with credentials for students by creating a student officer email account, then use that account to sign up with Kiddom as a teacher. This account can be used each year as new students take leadership roles in your activity.

Here is an example:

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Class: Debate Team

Teacher: Ms. G

Collaborators: Debate Team Leaders

Now your students have access to the same posting and commenting abilities that you have, putting student-run clubs back in the hands of students.

Do your student officers need to distribute an itinerary for a upcoming club trip? Do they need to vote on a revision to club by-laws? They can easily post documents, questions, and polls for their club members with this account!

In addition, these student club leaders will have the ability to assign members of the club individual tasks and goals; just like you would do in an academic Kiddom class. Meaning, not only can your club become officially student-run, but your student leaders will be able to distribute tasks and assignments to groups of club members in order to get everyone invested in club goals and activities.

Once your students have access to their club’s Kiddom course, the possibilities for student ownership are endless!

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We hope you find these hacks for using Kiddom fun and exciting! Let us know how you’re using Kiddom by emailing support@kiddom.co, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter below for the latest news, guides, resources, and more!

Celebrated Summer

Celebrated Summer

Ah, summer. Sweet, sweet summertime. A time for relaxation and peace, for lengthy samurai novels and Bruce Lee movie binges.

A time for families to be separatedviolent crimes to risecelebrities to kill themselves, the Supreme Court to legitimize inhumane practicesthe openness of the internet to succumb to the inevitable pressure of capitalism.

Hurray for summer.

I always appreciate this break. This year, I desperately needed it. This was a long, emotionally draining year, at the end of which I didn’t know how much more I had to offer. How many times can you hear children say ‘I want to die’ before it no longer burns?

And so I am incredibly grateful for afternoon naps, for waking up early to catch all of the World Cup games, for sitting outside with a beer in the middle of the afternoon (or, in the present moment, late in the morning). Yet, the world stubbornly refuses to relax and abide by a teacher’s schedule. The world keeps happening. As a result, summer is also when I tend to feel most impotent and lost.

These last few weeks have bordered on the surreal. Our president wants his people to respond to him the same way Kim Jong Un’s are forced to respond. Thousands of children have been ripped from their parents and held in cages — but, by the way, says Border Patrol, even though they are technically cages, let’s maybe not use that word? — and, though that may no longer happen, there is still no plan to reunite the families, and there is now a path toward indefinitely detaining entire families in cages and former Wal-Marts. We’ve left the U.N. Human Rights Council. We were never the most conscientious members, but the symbolism stings. And the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court.

This is our country. If history has taught us anything, it’s that this has, more or less, always been our country. We are habitually unjust to the oppressed. We have a lengthy tradition of exclusion and internment. This is us.

History has also taught us that we can fight, and we can be better. This is the pocket where I try to live as a history teacher. Our society is unjust and oppressive, but we are descendants of a long and proud legacy of resistance and love.

Lately, it’s been a lot easier for me to tap into anger than love. I don’t quite know what to do with myself. Venting brings me no relief. Phone calls and marches, though I do both, never feel like enough. I make meaning of myself and the world through teaching. I process current events with the kids in my classroom. It’s where I find hope and where I feel useful. I can’t teach right now. I also realize that I really, really need to take a break from thinking about teaching right now. I need to breathe.

When I was younger, my anger was enough to give me energy and push me through. It isn’t anymore. It probably never should have been. If I’m going to be my best come August, I need to let myself heal.

This work is consuming. We’re never good enough. We never do enough. We never see enough, hear enough, speak enough, listen enough. There’s always more to learn, more to plan, more to systematize, more to refine, more to interrogate. This work will consume you, if you let it.

Don’t.

We can’t do this work if we burn ourselves out of oxygen, be it through anger or passion. What I’m trying to let myself learn this summer is that it’s okay to feel impatient. It’s okay to spend time with discomfort. It’s okay to sit with my feelings and thoughts. It’s okay to heal.

Whatever you’re doing this summer — whether you’re working summer school, planting a garden, or sleeping and watching Netflix — please, please, let yourself heal. I know it’s hard, considering what’s happening in the world. If you’re anything like me, then teaching is part of your healing process. That’s fine (I tell myself), as long as it isn’t everything. We are, all of us, gloriously multifaceted. When we let what we do define us, when we let what makes us angry control us, we limit our humanity. This, in turn, limits our effectiveness as educators — and partners and parents and siblings and friends.

And so, as I watch the news and fume or phone Congress and feel impotent, I am simultaneously plotting new ways to teach civic engagement and finding new comics to read. I’m learning more about the origins of human rights so that I’m better able to teach them, but I’m also going for walks and letting myself process. I’m watching documentaries I might want to show in class, but I also just watched Power Rangers. I’m letting my mind wonder and wander and seeing where it takes me. I’m spending a lot of time with Walter Benjamin and the Bhagavad Gita. My theory is that the more whole I am as a person, the better I’ll be as a teacher.

I don’t know if any of this will make me a better person, but it feels right, and so I’m listening. If it does, if it helps me heal, then I’ll be better for it and able to keep growing when the school year starts. If it doesn’t, well, at least I watched Power Rangers.

 

 

 

Written By: Dan Thalkar

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