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New Faces/Spaces: Teaching Outdoors

Ms. Allison McElroy, a Professor of Painting and Drawing in the JSU Art and Design Department, was recently a guest at the MIT Global Community Bio Summit, where she spoke about the benefits of outdoor classrooms for her art classes and other courses based in creativity. “The classroom really has a way of killing curiosity and independent thinking,” McElroy stated. “So, I decided to utilize Jacksonville State University’s off-campus classroom Little River Canyon. To the right is a site with an 80-foot radius that they have cleared for my class to do Earth work.”

The course that McElroy spoke about at the summit is Art and Science Observations, where students learn about historical earthworks before eventually creating their own as a collective. McElroy presented her students’ creation titled “Compass,” an homage to the Cherokee Indian tribe compass, created by objects that were found on site.

“The center is representative of the universe… North is water, and it is made of a trench that ends in a small pool. South, we have earth … the seven chairs represent the seven clans of the Cherokee tribe. [West is where] the students gathered controlled burn limbs and buried them upside down, representative of fire. [For East] we have a handmade bamboo wind chime, as well as a wagon wheel half buried and turkey feathers hanging [to] show the air blowing.”

McElroy explained that her students already love the outdoors, so she hopes that she can teach them to “see the unseen” and help the environment.

McElroy’s presentation can be seen here, starting at the 1:29 mark.

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