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Lesson Plans

How public art builds community - Student Reporting Labs

August 13, 2019

Full Lesson


Editor’s note: Educators from across the country dove into the world of youth media-making in late July as part of PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs’ (SRL) four-day broadcast training workshop in Arlington, Va. Attendees created the following short current events lessons based on SRL’s latest video series, “Art in Real Life,” about the significance of public art in local communities.

Directions: First, watch the Student Reporting Labs compilation video above on “Art in Real Life.” Then have students choose one or two (or more!) of the videos below and answer the discussion questions.

Video #1: These giant guitar statues show off Austin’s energy”

Craig Hein’s “Vibrancy” sculpture is another addition to the tens of guitar statues around Austin. The guitars reflect the unique flavor that fits the local character.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs in Westwood High School in Austin, Texas.

Kent McCutcheon, Leigh Walters, and Isabel Espinoza shared their thoughts about youth journalism: “Youth media gives youth a voice in an area where they’re often unheard.”

Lesson by Leigh Walters, (Hall High School, Little Rock, Arkansas); Mary Dunn (EC3/College and Career Center, Elizabethtown, Kentucky); Isabel Espinoza, (Pease Communications and Technology Academy, Midland, Texas); and Kent McCutcheon, Antioch High School, Antioch, CA)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: Why is public art important to a community? 

2. In what ways does public art reflect the culture of the city?

3. Media literacy: Based on your interaction with this piece, what conclusions can you draw about this community?

Video #2: “Combining food and art, this cafe is definitely Insta-worthy”

Honey Art Cafe encourages young artists to pursue their passions.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Jersey Village High School in Houston, Texas.

Clint Stephens, Abri Nelson and Shari Adwers

Lesson by Abri Nelson (Washington-Liberty High School, Arlington, Va.), Shari Adwers (Loudoun Valley High School, Purcellville, Va.) and Clint Stephens (Southwest Educational Development Center, Cedar City, Utah)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: How does public art help community members to connect with one another?

2. Are there any places within your community that function like Honey Art Cafe?

3. What is the value of “third spaces” — locations other than work or home where people spend time and collaborate?

4. How can collaboration help individuals reach their goals? Can you think of an example in your own life in which working with others made a project successful?

5. Media literacy: What questions do you still have after watching this video that were not addressed?

Video #3: “This artist donated a 30-foot statue to his local high school”

Local artist, Harry Bachman, donated a 30-foot statue to his local high school where students were then given the opportunity to personalize the statue.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, Delaware

Ivan Olinghouse, Vilma Zefran and Joe B. Wright

Lesson by Ivan Olinghouse (Hedrick Middle School, Medford, Oregon); Vilma Zefran (TC Williams High School, Alexandria, Va.); and Joe B. Wright (Southwest Educational Development Center, Utah)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: What is the impact of public art on civic engagement?

2. How does the school administration’s response influence the artist?

3. As a school community, how can we develop a process for growing art and community engagement?

4. Media literacy: How does this video encourage other local artists to get more involved in their local community?

Video #4: “Mermaids improve marine life in Florida”

The 1000 Mermaids Artificial Reef Project & Gallery of 1000 Mermaids is a massive public EcoArt project which aims to revitalize and replace vanishing reef populations as well as support marine life. The artificial reef installation will also serve as an underwater eco-friendly destination for tourism and research.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Pine Crest School in Florida with station support from South Florida PBS.

Gavin Bernard, Nikki Vrandenburg, Darcy Bakkegard and Sarah Oberholtzer say one important idea to know about youth media production: “Elevating student voices is invaluable to making learning relevant while also highlighting important issues we ‘older people’ might otherwise miss.”

Lesson by Gavin Bernard (re:imagine/ATL, Atlanta, GA); Nikki Vrandenburg (Montana PBS, Bozeman, MT); Darcy Bakkegard (Prairie Public Broadcasting, Fargo, ND); Sarah Oberholtzer (Free Spirit Media, Chicago, IL)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: What impact has public art made on this community?

2. What role do artificial reefs serve for marine ecosystems?

3. How does the use of visually appealing art change the impact of the project?

4. How can STEAM courses help solve global issues?

5. Media literacy: Whose perspective isn’t represented in this story?

Video #5: “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…giant bat?”

Sculptor Dale Whistler created a sculpture that can withstand 100-mph winds.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Westwood High School in Austin, Texas.

Lesson by Christopher Harper (Rising Starr Middle School, Fayetteville, GA); Michelle E. Dyer (Surrattsville High School, Clinton, Maryland); Sara Jones (Titusville High School, Titusville, PA)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: How might art help change our preconceived notions about the people who live in our communities?

2. Why did Whistler choose bats as the subject of his sculpture?

3. How did the artist address the wind issue in Austin with his sculpture? How can art teach students about weather science?

4. Media literacy: What additional questions would you ask Whistler about the development happening in the area and how it prompted the sculpture?

Video #6: “Rethinking Graffiti in Knox-ill”

Knox-ill is a collective of graffiti artists that work with business and building owners to conduct large-scale public artworks.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Smoky Mountain Youth Media in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Kristyn Bomberg, Benjamin Garcia and Ryan Hendricks

Lesson by Kristyn Bomberg from WGVU Public Media in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Benjamin Garcia from Southern Oregon Public Television in Medford, Oregon; and Ryan Hendricks from Wisconsin Public Television from Madison, Wisconsin.

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: What value might graffiti bring to the public square?


2. What is the difference between graffiti and a mural? What makes graffiti different from traditional art pieces created through traditional mediums?

3. Does the meaning of graffiti change if permission is acquired, thus making it legal?

4. What motivates a graffiti artist to engage in this particular medium? How does commercialism affect the perception of graffiti?

5. Media literacy: Who else would you like to interview for this story?

Video #7: “Art meets tech in this Southern startup city”

This mural in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, is one of the world’s only augmented reality murals.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Middle Creek High School in North Carolina, with station support from UNC-TV. Learn more how SRL’s public art series appeared on Instagram here.  

Zach Liniewski, Nancy Zubiri, Ethan Calk and Justin Deutsch say, “It’s important for the youth of today to learn great skills in production as they are the newest generation tasked with preserving the stories of the past, present and future.”

Lesson by Justin Deutsch (The LINC, Philadelphia, PA); Ethan Calk (Communications Arts High School, San Antonio, Texas); Nancy Zubiri (Venice High School, Venice Beach, CA) and Zach Liniewski (WGVU Public Media, Grand Rapids, MI)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: What is the impact of using social media to tell stories?

2. Write a definition for augmented reality in your own words.

3. Compare this experience to looking at a traditional mural. Which would you prefer to view and why?

4. Do you think it’s acceptable to require an observer to use a piece of technology to view a work of public art? How about privately-commissioned art?

5. Media literacy: Why do think the producers chose to shoot this story on a phone instead of a traditional camera? What were the positives and negatives of this format?

Video #8: “The Dumpster Artist”

Osiris Rain is the muralist behind Charlotte, North Carolina’s most iconic and Instagrammable spots, but his artistic path started in conflict with the city.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Fort Mill High School in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

Tim Shelton, Jody Sandru and Karin McKemey

Lesson by Karin McKemey (Fort Mill High School, South Carolina); Jody Sandru (Twin Bridges High School, Montana); and Tim Shelton (Saint Francis International, Maryland)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: In what ways is public property open for artistic presentation?

2. Should artists be able to use any space as their canvas without permission? Explain.

3. Describe the difference between graffiti and art.

4. Media literacy: How did sound impact this story?

Video #9: “How similar are penguins and humans?”

From the Arctic to the nation’s capital, penguins mimic everyday rush-hour commuters in this iconic Silver Spring, Maryland, mural.

Produced by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at John F. Kennedy High School in Maryland with support from SRL producers Kristy Choi, Briget Ganske and Rawan Elbaba

Michael Conrad, William Swift, Joan Magee and Mekca Wallace-Spurgin

Lesson by Michael Conrad (Royal Oak High School, Michigan); William Swift, (Student Reporting Labs, Arlington, Va.); Joan Magee (University View Academy, Louisiana); and Mekca Wallace-Spurgin (Centerville High School, Iowa)

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: How might public art engage community members with one another?

2. Describe how public art reflects your community or communities you have visited.

3. Media literacy: Where did you obtain your prior knowledge of penguins and penguin behavior? Look around you. What stories are you inspired to tell based on the video?

Extension activity:

Check out this daily news story from Classroom, “12 news stories that make STEM meaningful for students” all written by Texas teachers and based on PBS Student Reporting Labs and NewsHour’s top science stories.

For monthly updates containing teacher resources on Election 2020, click here.

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