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Issue Date: September 2005 Issue

Building on Education

Idea Center provides a robust framework to help revitalize lesson plans and carve a place for technology and culture in the classroom.

Kristen Hampshire

You can practically see the gears in Lois Klamar’s mind moving a mile a minute as she considers the tools her teachers will tap into at Idea Center. “It’s so exciting!” she enthuses. As Cleveland Municipal School District’s manager of technology integration, Klamar’s job is to sniff out cutting-edge ways to train teachers, provide enrichment programs and introduce new learning methods so educators can keep lesson plans fresh and vital. At Idea Center, her vision meets reality.

Through its technologically sophisticated education facilities, Idea Center serves as a virtual communications hub that provides content and programs for schools and agencies throughout Northeast Ohio. The facility enables ideastream educational services and Playhouse Square Foundation’s arts education department to fuse their strengths — technology and the arts — with their common goal, education. The Center acts as an arena for educators to step outside their schools and explore creative possibilities they can take back to the classroom.

“We have our pioneers, and they try everything to make their classrooms exciting,” says Klamar. For those teachers who aren’t pioneers, but instead a little intimidated by high-speed broadband and Internet videoconferencing, ideastream and Playhouse Square Foundation will help educators find ways to deliver culture, science and other offerings using current and emerging technology.

Klamar and the Cleveland Schools already enjoy a partnership with ideastream, tapping into its video conferencing resources and co-sponsoring a TV program through the Board’s math department called “What’s Your Math Problem?” The game-show format focuses on sixth grade curriculum and addresses tough problem-solving questions that prepare students to succeed on standardized tests.

Playhouse Square’s arts education department, together with Young Audiences of Greater Cleveland, provides professional development opportunities for teachers in the Cleveland and Berea school districts who bring their students to performances at Playhouse Square through the “Partners in Performance” program.

Connecting schools with arts education opportunities through Idea Center’s network will expose more children to cultural opportunities, points out Colleen Porter, director of arts education for Playhouse Square Foundation.

“Arts education levels the playing field for children,” she says. Idea Center “is a point of access for people who have never participated in performing arts; we can give that experience to them.”

“ideastream and Playhouse Square are educationally minded, they focus on what schools and teachers really need,” Klamar explains. “We come up with an idea, they have the expertise of using unique technology or arts curriculum, and together, we create something new.”

In a perfect lesson plan, arts education would infuse every subject from math to science to spelling and phonics. That is why Playhouse Square offers a series of professional development workshops for educators that provide the tools they need to integrate the arts into the classroom, Porter says. Students exposed to the arts enjoy well-rounded educational experiences — they think creatively, ask curious questions and explore career opportunities in cultural fields.

Gay Mayfield, career education facilitator at Bay High School, brings a group of students to Playhouse Square Foundation’s Career Days every year. “It’s fabulous for our students to see that there are possibly jobs in lighting or scenery or sound if they are interested in theater but don’t want to be actors,” she points out.

ideastream educational services offers its own series of career-focused information sessions, collaborating with area organizations and individuals to deliver career days focusing on such diverse fields as biotechnology, professional sports, firefighting, health services and education.

Programs can be designed and presented on virtually any career area or profession that teachers or students might identify, and Idea Center can facilitate it all.

And, because the education services of ideastream and Playhouse Square Foundation will share the new Idea Center facilities, their individual offerings and pooled resources will greatly enhance the content and services available to area schools.

“The real advantage to students is they have a richer life by teachers using the resources that will be created at Idea Center,” says Roy Norris, senior director of education services for ideastream.

Klamar and Porter agree that in order to reach even more students, ideastream and Playhouse Square programs must reach out to more teachers.

“Having access to technology and distribution will enable us to reach teachers,” Porter notes. “They need to be able to use performing arts and technology in their teaching.”

The tools exist. In fact, Ohio schools are more connected than most — Cleveland Municipal School District is one of the top-10 wired districts in the state, Norris says.

“Now, what do you do with it?” Norris asks, barely pausing before he answers the rhetorical question. “There is a dearth of content that ideastream and Playhouse Square Foundation are pledging to compensate for.”

Norris says the relationship between the two organizations is already feeding programming ideas. Pre-show talks before Broadway performances can be broadcast into classrooms, for example. And, because of Idea Center’s versatile design, every classroom is a recording room — every square foot is wired.

Porter and Norris believe Idea Center is just the beginning of the participatory renaissance that is possible when community meets culture through technology. “People who are engaged in the arts are more creative citizens,” Porter relates. “And that is what Northeast Ohio needs now — ways to create a new kind of workforce and creative feeling in the city.”

Technology also feeds the arts economy, fills seats and sparks interest in young people, Norris adds.

This domino effect fuels economic development — it posts a welcome sign to Cleveland that invites Northeast Ohio residents to take advantage of its wealth of activities. “That connection is an important part of what Idea Center can do for the whole community,” Norris says.

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