The Arts Really Teach!

Marion Cilker Conference for the Arts in Education

A participant at last year’s Marion Cilker Conference for the Arts in Education (photo by Mary Cheung).

The Marion Cilker Conference for the Arts in Education will pair teachers with artists at campus and downtown San Jose art venues on Nov. 21-22.

Media contact: Robin Love, 408-924-4698,

It’s not every day that throngs of school teachers convene in downtown San Jose to launch sticky Gummi Bears through the sky in handmade parachutes.

But that’s one of the professional development activities included in this year’s Marion Cilker Conference for the Arts in Education to be held Nov. 21-22 at SJSU and other downtown arts venues.

A joint venture of SJSU and the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the event has paired education students and Bay Area teachers with music, dance, theater and visual artists each November for the past five years.

This year, the conference is changing it up and bringing teachers to downtown San Jose arts venues for hands-on lessons in how to bring the arts into school classrooms.

Inspiring teachers

With tight budgets and more classroom time being devoted to core academics, conference organizers say it is more important than ever to show teachers how art can be used to teach traditional academic subjects.

Arts is the first thing that’s cut from schools because of lack of time and limited funding,” said Robin Love, an associate professor at the Lurie College of Education’s Department of Child and Adolescent Development.

“Through music, through theater, through dance, through visual arts, you can teach other subjects. There’s evidence that would support that the arts are good for you cognitively, but also it can just be motivating for students.”

Love says introducing teachers to a host of different museums also offers them wonderful resources to spice up their lessons and can help arts education thrive.

“Thrill-Seeking Gummi Bears”

The conference will bring artists, musicians and actors to SJSU’s campus on Nov. 21 to put on workshops for 250 students in the Lurie College of Education. On Nov. 22, 125 teachers will convene at the San Jose Museum of Art for “Thrill-Seeking Gummi Bears.”

For this design challenge, teachers will be tasked with making parachutes and baskets for Gummi Bear candies and be judged on how long their sticky bears can stay aloft.

They will move on to workshops at the Children’s Discovery Museum, the Tech Museum of Innovation, the Museum of Quilts and Textiles and the California Theatre, where the Silicon Valley Symphony will present.

Workshops include how to teach math skills through quilting and music, how to use color, texture and sculpture to explore geography, how dance can help teach mapping and how origami can be used to teach visual thinking.

Cultural connections

Esther Tokihiro, visual and performing arts coordinator of the Santa Clara Office of Education, says the goal in moving the conference out into museums was to help foster relationships between classroom teachers and museum and theater arts educators.

Susan Verducci, associate professor in the Department of Humanities at SJSU and one of the conference organizers, says arts help connect students to other cultures and allows them to understand the world better, but that not all teachers or education students have exposure to the arts.

What we hope to do with the conference,” she said, “is to tantalize them and show the power the arts can have in teaching various concepts.”

The festival is supported by a generous gift from the late Marion Cilker, a graduate of San Jose State with a degree in art and education. Cilker also endowed two full-tuition scholarships for teacher education students who show a commitment to infusing their teaching with the arts.

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,740 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.