Teaching & Learning in the museum district

Fine Arts classes offer new outlets for students to express themselves

7th and 8th grade students take a fine arts class every day. Yes, you read that correctly... every single day of the year.  With over a dozen classes to choose from, students have the opportunity to experience a variety of visual, performing, choral and creative arts. Each year, new classes are offered as new topics of art exploration are uncovered.  This year's offerings have included Photography, Drama, Sewing, Dancing, Choir, Mixed Media, Mock Trial and more. These classes provide a unique opportunity for students to have a hands-on experience with creating something meaningful. Here's a glimpse of a some of the work of our unique fine arts classes.    

In Music, Poetry and Street Art students learn how to sharpen their observation and listening skills as well as critical thinking skills. Students are learning the vocabulary and tools for how best to approach listening to music, reading and interpreting poems, and looking at street art. The dominant theme of the first quarter was community. Students studied photos of street art to find clues to the community it represented. In music and poetry, students combined music, photos of our PS community and the spoken word to create an interpretation of Maya Angelou's "Human Family" iPhone commercial.

In the second quarter of the class, students began "The Wall Art" project, an original piece of street art reflecting a personal message, after studying the elements of community and activism with Mrs. Stoessel. Inspired to create their own street art, students brainstormed ideas about how to represent the PS community visually in a mural, and what elements of activism they might also include. Students chose to represent community with the PS window with each window pane representing a facet of the community that matters to them: sports, fine arts, academics, friendship, technology, core values, play and religion. The window is flanked on each side by the letters P and S, which is their "tag" or street art signature, because it will include each participant's name within the large letters. Their idea of activism is represented in a quote and in the desire to represent individualism and boundary pushing in the form of splattered paint outside the lines of the window. The student in charge of choosing the quote selected this sentiment by Teddy Roosevelt, "It's not the critic who counts; the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena." 

First Presbyterian Church granted the students permission to paint their mural on the outside brick basement wall of the north playground. While the work is still in progress, take a minute to look at a time lapse video below of how students are bringing street art to Presbyterian School. This project is anticipated to be complete by December 16.

Build and Destroy was inspired by The Collectivity Project, a 2015 installation at the MFAH by Olafur Eliasson, in which museum visitors were invited to build and take apart thousands of Lego bricks so that, over time, a communal construction grew out of individual actions in the same way that our city grows and is transformed.  Building and rebuilding structures out of Lego is one ongoing component of the class. 

Students wanted to explore the "destroy" aspect, so their first project was to disassemble and tinker with a variety of electronic and mechanical devices such as computer keyboards and alarm clocks that they photographed before and after disassembly.  The class also participated on walking tours to look for evidence of changes in the built environment and discovered examples of structures from every decade of the 20th century, including examples by renowned Houston architects, Joseph Finger and William Ward Watkin. 

In the second quarter, the class began a study of optics and photography as a method to document change.  Students transformed a classroom into a camera obscura where each student built a portable camera obscura and experimented with pinhole apertures and moveable lenses.  Students then moved on to image capture using iPads to take pictures of Lego creations, converted those imaged into negatives, and made cyanotype prints with the help of sunshine on the playground.  Their final project will be short stop-motion videos as Lego projects are built and destroyed.

Students in the Course through the Museum District walk to nearby art museums every class period (in rain or shine) to explore a variety of art and art related experiences in the Museum District.

Regular gallery visits have included The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Lawndale Art Center, The Jung Center, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and the MFAH Sculpture garden. Students explored the permanent collections of the museums and had the opportunity to attend many temporary exhibitions including Degas: A New Vision at the MFAH; Flow, a paper installation at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; The BIG SHOW a juried exhibition of local artists at Lawndale Art Center; and a unique light installation Kusama: At the End of the Universe.

Students not only examine, sketch and analyze art, but they also interact with real artists and museum professionals at the various institutions. Over two class periods, students met with Kaylin Weber, assistant curator of American Painting and Sculpture at the MFAH. Ms. Weber discussed the paintings as well as shared behind the scenes details and curatorial challenges of her new exhibition Julian Onderdonk and the Texan Landscape.  Students also interacted with working artists Rebecca Braziel, Shiyuan Xu, and sculptor Susan Budge in their studios at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.

The Chapel Band is composed of 8th grade students who play on acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass, piano and xylophone.  The Chapel Band, co-directed by Andrew Hebert, Class Trip Coordinator, and Chris Sanchez, 8th grade IPC teacher, leads the middle school student body in chapel worship and rotates through a selection of song material.  They hope to expand to other performance opportunities in the future. This ensemble will continue through the third quarter, but will change membership in the fourth quarter to allow for 7th graders to begin preparations to be Chapel Band leaders during their 8th grade year.  

In Drama, students are learning how to communicate, research, design, collaborate, and create in theatre. Student projects include working on theatrical set and costume designs, creating characters and original short plays, learning audition techniques, monologue work, and scene study, which includes research and rehearsing short scenes from plays. 

Click here to see a complete list of fine arts classes for the year. 


Asian Art: Reimagined

7th and 8th grade students participate in a fine arts class every day. Students have a variety of classes to choose from including courses through the Museum District, photography, literary arts magazine, video news, yearbook, choir, drama, mixed media, sculpture, creative writing, drumming, guitar and much, much more. The hardest part of the class is choosing which one to take! The daily exposure to the arts has impacted our students' creative and critical thinking skills and helped them to see how art can influence all areas of their life. Here's an inside glimpse of one of our classes...

The 8th grade fine arts class, Museum Ambassadors, spent several days in the Asian Art Galleries at the MFAH learning about the way the museum's collection was curated and exhibited.  After studying the collection, students chose one or two pieces of art to research individually.  They came together as a group to discuss how each of their objects might fit together in a student curated exhibition.  

What emerged from their studies was Asian Art: Reimagined, a Presbyterian School exhibition of works of art from the permanent Asian Art collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) which went on display in the Middle School hallway the week of December 14.  The goal of this exhibition was not to copy the MFAH exhibition style and curatorial choices, rather students were charged with thinking about these objects differently.  Every part of the exhibition, from the researched written statements to the color of the walls, was intentional and carefully considered. Some of the objects were the same medium and culture – Japanese Works on Paper, for example – and logically worked in a group. Other objects seemed to have a more loose connection, and the students diligently researched ways to link their images together to create a unified exhibition group.

Click here to read student reflections and research on the MFAH Asian Art collection.

Posted by Mrs. Andrea Lawless in Student Involvement, Opportunity in Museum District on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 09:01AM
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Highlights from My History Class

by: Andrea Estrada (Class of 2017)

On September 26, the seventh graders enjoyed a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston for the Mark Rothko: A Retrospective Exhibition. Rothko's paintings spoke to the students in different ways. Students were guided though the exhibition by a few museum instructors that helped them find the deeper meaning of some of Rothko's art that featured very dark or radiant colored stripes on large canvases. They were also able to see how Rothko had changed his style of art throughout his career. One of the most interesting things students learned about was the journey he took in his career and in his life.


On October 2, the seventh graders also enjoyed visiting the Menil, The Rothko Chapel, the University of St. Thomas, the Greek Festival, and the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. They were able to go to the Menil and see different artifacts from different civilizations. This gave them a more deepened understanding of the different cultures that they were learning about and their traditions. In the Rothko Chapel, they were able to take a moment of tranquility in this breath-taking and special place. Some of the true artists in the grade were able to see through Rothko's sorrowful yet beautiful paintings and the stunning architecture that enlightened Rothko's art. For some, they found a place to go to where they can take a step back, breathe, and reset. It was a place where they could also find peace and patience within themselves. The seventh graders were very grateful and blessed to find such a place that they can take them away from their daily life problems.


The students walked through the campus of the University of St. Thomas to go to the Greek Festival. The beautiful campus caught the students' eyes, making them want to explore the campus and linger for a bit longer. For most, the Greek Festival was the favorite out of all the visits, which was not a surprise. Between the marketplace and the delicious food, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Some of the food the seventh graders relished were the tasty desserts and gyros. Although, there were many other foods that the seventh graders enjoyed trying out. In the market, there were variety of objects to choose from such as the Greek candy and accessories including flower headbands and sparkly fedoras. Some of the students had already attended the Greek Festival before and had looked forward to going again, but most had never been and were very eager and excited to go for the first time.


Last but certainly not least, the students attended a service at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. There couldn't have been a better ending to the day filled with smiles and laughs. The students watched a video inside the cathedral that helped them better comprehend the religious concepts they were learning in history class. 

All of these field trips were filled with many learning experiences and very enjoyable for the students. Only our amazing teachers that the students love so much at Presbyterian could make that work! These learning and very delightful experiences will be remembered as one of the greatest highlights of seventh grade for many of the students. Thank you, Mrs. Webb, for all your hard work and generosity to organize this whole field trip.

The Sublime to the Ridiculous: 45 Minutes in the Museum District

Portrait of Isabella D'Este, Titian

I visited a 7th grade elective this week and the topics of conversation included the dangers of in-breeding to royal bloodlines as well as jousting, the fine line between entertainment and exploitation, the differences observed between the utilitarian and the ornamental and the Caravaggesque style, or chiaroscuro. This was their third class meeting.    

"When you take an art history class in high school or college," the teacher instructed the semi-circle of twelve year olds standing beside her, "you'll see this painting by Titian in your textbook.  Do not forget that in seventh grade, you stood here in front of it and it was hanging on walls that were painted this particular green." As Jeryn Mayer, MS Museum District guest teacher and PS parent, explained to the students at the major exhibition Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections, this is a rare occasion for these pieces to travel outside of Austria to be accessible to us.  

 After standing in front of paintings by masters such as Caravaggio, Titian, and Velázquez and studying arms and armor, court costumes and carriages, the students went, in this case, from the sublime to the ridiculous.  On the way out of the MFAH, they playfully created their own art in the interactive installation Shadow Monsters by New York-based British artist Philip Worthington. They went from observing and contemplating art objects to fully immersing themselves in creating temporal art of their own, all within the forty-five minute 7th grade Museum District elective.

Shadow Monsters Andrea Estrada and Carson Clingman


Art at the Heart of Learning

This past Fall Lower School Art teacher, Jacqui. Chaltain, took each 3rd and 4th grade class to the MFAH to view the exhibit, Selections from the Museum’s Collection: Modern and Contemporary Art.  Students selected and photographed their favorite piece from this collection in order to reference and respond to it later in the art classroom. Upon returning to school, students created a painted response as well as a written response articulating what they felt the artist was trying to say, and how they said it through composition, scale, brushwork, or other materials.

Thirty of the student’s painting and written responses were selected by a jury for submission into the Art at the Heart of Learning exhibit at the Kinder Foundation Education Center Gallery at the MFAH. The remaining response pieces not featured at the MFAH have been chosen to be a part of the Art at the Heart of Learning Refusés Salon at Presbyterian School in Palm Court.  Both exhibits will open Sunday, February 8, 2015 with openings at 2:00 p.m. at the MFAH and 3:00 p.m. at Presbyterian School Palm Court.  The exhibits' opening receptions will celebrate our student artists and their art teacher, Ms. Chaltain.

Throughout history artistic choices have, on occasion, necessitated the emergence of new movements.  The infamous Salon des Refusés of 1863 is one such moment in art history where the establishment, the jury of the official Paris Salon, did not accept two-thirds of the paintings presented for submission.  Among these works were pieces by Whistler, Pissaro and Edouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l'herbe.  The works did not include subject matter, color schemes or classical techniques, which the traditional salons deemed acceptable.  Because the artists and their friends staged such a protest, the Emperor Napoleon III, sensitive to public opinion, allowed the rejected works to be displayed in another part of the Palace of Industry.  The Salon des Refusés received thousands of visitors and the critical attention legitimized the emerging avant-garde movement in painting.  What began as a rejection turned out to be the dawn of Impressionism and more widespread acceptance of new ideas and techniques. 

It is in this same spirit, that we are establishing our very own Salon des RefusésWe cherish the creativity of our students and the canvas of their future has yet to be painted.  Who are we to limit their potential? 


Click here to view an invitation to the February, 8 opening reception at the MFAH.

Posted by Mrs. Andrea Lawless in Student Involvement, Opportunity in Museum District on Wednesday January 28, 2015 at 11:42AM
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Geoff Winningham Illuminates Día de los Muertos

Sendero de maravillasPuebla (1989)

"Heaven, just heaven" this is how Professor Geoff Winningham describes the incense or "copal." Really, in my perspective, it is how he describes all of Día de Los Muertos. A few years after he first came to Mexico, he met his forever friend, Felix. Prof. Winningham sat down in a chair in Felix's home and he waited for the evening, which is when your loved ones' spirits come back to life. When it happened, Prof. Winningham said that he could feel the presence of his lost parents. "If you believe it will happen, it will." His Día de Los Muertos presentation wasn't just a speech, it was a memory to hold on to, a trip to Mexico, but most of all, to me, truly it was one of those times that makes your childhood worth remembering.

-Eve Kroencke, 5th grade 

Professor Geoff Winningham is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker and photographer based in Houston. He has taught photography at Rice University for over 45 years and has been studying Mexico and Mexican festivals for over 30 years. His photographs have been widely exhibited and collected by major museums throughout the United States and Mexico and he is the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships and five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Invited by Spanish teacher Eby Harvey, he came to Presbyterian School on October 22 to speak to the entire 5th Grade class as well as one section of 7th Grade Spanish.


Posted by Ms. Courtney Daniell-Knapp in Guest Artist, Student Involvement, Teacher Development on Wednesday October 29, 2014 at 01:53PM
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