iOS as an Art Teacher

Dad disclaimer

This blog is entitled nashworld for a reason. You can’t see the subtitle in this stripped-down theme I chose, but it reads: “to teach, to learn, to empower, this is my world.” It was only intended years ago as a place where I would share the reflections of my learning as a dad, as a teacher, as now as an instructional technology specialist. It is a quest to share my learning. In that quest, I have typically blogged about education, technology as used within our schools, and the roots of learning as it plays out in my classroom, the classrooms of my peers, others across the globe, and in the informal spaces of my home.

I have always been cautious of reading too much into the learning of my own children. They are, in some ways, an anomaly. They are growing up in the home of two devoted public educators. Therefore, their learning experiences in many ways are not typical. I try hard to separate this from my daily work. To me, this is an important distinction. If my decisions as a district employee weigh too heavily upon what happens at home, I am not acting as a representative of the 11,000+ learners in our district. Plenty of times I have seen the drawbacks of reading too much into happenings at home… and protracting that into decisions made for the masses. I am probably overcareful of that. I suppose that is my classically-trained scientific mind reflecting on the reality of such data.

The meat

Given these facts, there are still those times where open eyes at home allow insight into the workings of little brains as they make their way about our world. Today, an image my wife posted to Instagram took me back a couple of years to a learning experience by our then three-year-old that I once spilled upon this blog. You really do need to read that piece to understand the rest of this post. Go do that now, the rest of this post can wait…

Erin posted the above image including words from Delaney, our now five year old, that read: “This reminds me of that game… you know… Jackson Pollock.” This was in reference to her backyard creation of a twisted stick plunged into the top of an errant smoke bomb left over from the 4th of July.

In 2010, I wrote of her sitting upon my lap and finger scribbling within an app on my iPhone. At the time, I tied the experience to her early understanding of science concepts via an experience with music. Today I’m stopping by to record the latest in this saga… and it relates full-circle back to art and design. Yes, the above image shows a stick emerging from a smoke bomb. Big deal. And yet, the mere mention of this “creation” as something that reminded her of Jackson Pollock seemed pretty interesting to me. Something in this spontaneous little creation actually reminded her of that two-year-old experience… an experience she pinned to the artist. Do the twisted shapes of this little sculpture really mirror that of the artist’s work? Perhaps not. But in my opinion, this connection is pretty interesting for a five year old. I’m certainly intrigued.

Further, it’s not like that was the only connection to have happened since 2010. Just this past June 8th, I took Delaney and Neve to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. In the course of that rather eventful day, we happened upon a painting in the “contemporary art” section that made her jump excitedly. Strangely enough, she ran from my hand to the painting above and read most of the display aloud. She remarked: “Wow… that’s Jackson Pollock, the app where I can paint.” Of course, I tweeted it. Actually, that particularly early Pollock painting held few of the familiar abstract paint streaks of the iOS app.  It features a bit more structure than his later works. She connected nothing of the “cells” discussion of two years ago, but she did remember the name. At the time I was impressed that she merely connected the name. Apparently, she conected perhaps a but more than the name alone.

iOS as an assistant

When young kids rummage about the yard you don’t imagine they have the names…. or the particular style of key artists… at the forefront of their brains. And yet, somehow she connected the design of this odd little yard sculpture to that of one of the many artists she has seen in the past few years. If that was an authentic connection, and it seems to have been, then I am definitely impressed by the string of experiences that led to this.

This all started with an iOS app on my phone. Did the app allow her to understand the core design nuances of Jackson Pollock? Perhaps not. I’m not much of a nuts and bolts art teacher. Do iOS apps “teach art” in a way we’ve never been able to before? I’d say no. A big, fat no. Come on, the title of this post was meant to be a little provocative. And yet, something is going on here. Something that certainly didn’t happen for me as a kid. I didn’t know who Jackson Pollock was until Art 101 as a Senior in college. Do iOS (iPhone & iPad) apps “teach” more effectively than conventional methods? Of. Course. Not. Do they quickly and easily allow access to a world the adults in the equation can take advantage of? I’d say they do. If you think this micro case study has value, then you must ask yourself: where was the turning point that led to the added value in this instance?

To me, there is little doubt that the value here lies within the synergy between attuned educator and iOS app. Would this have happened with books alone? No. Would it have happened with books + interested parent-teachers? Perhaps. However, the simple detracting fact here is that I don’t have any books that really feature the work of Jackson Pollock. Nor do we possess any titles that do a good job on abstract expressionism. We’re biology teachers for heaven’s sake. We have a pretty respectable and eclectic library at home, but it’s not the Library of Congress. Our phones, however, are windows to the world. And well, we aren’t the most unattentive parents on the planet. I don’t know, is this something?


Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at


  1. Great sinopsis and art and science and human connections made here. I can’t wait to see the connections our own little girl will soon be able to communicate.

    • Thanks, Jennifer. For me, I think connections between the arts and sciences were always rather natural. I’m not 100% sure of why that is, and is it a constant source of reflection. It’s funny how you listen to tales of childhood with an additional lens as an educator.

      How old is your girl? It really is pretty exciting stuff for sure.

      • My little girl is just now one. It has been an exciting ride so far. It is amazing how quickly they learn and how exciting it is to see the smallest change all the while wondering where that newborn went. I think Caleb makes a good point. It is when emotional connections are made that some real learning happens. Technology aside and included, relationships in learning are so important. We see this in the classroom with our students and see how well the students do who have good and supportive relationships at home as well.

        • Emotion is everything. I couldn’t agree more. I realized that very early on as an educator when diving into topics along the lines of ecology. As a early-twenty-something male I would have read this line of discussion and assumed “emotion” had to do with the mishy-squishy end of the emotional spectrum only. I quickly learned that kids hooked into things that were happening to their planet with a very real and ripe set of emotions. Those things were cemented in reality within their brains.

          I became rather infatuated with Bloom’s affective domain back in the early 90’s. We’ve long been aware of the power of emotion as it relates to learning. Bloom’s team knew it in the 50’s and yet we still haven’t developed that domain out to the level of the cognitive domain. I suppose that might be due to an area that is a bit messier for research.

  2. I think to a large degree, you can credit the “gamification” of learning. Physical books, for better or worse, are fighting an uphill battle when compared to digital devices. Part of the issue is that books live within a very narrow band of sense stimula. In contrast, your iOS devices appeals to a child through visual, audio, and tactile feedback. (Smell-o-vision is part of iOS 6, yes?)

    Delaney could have very well read a piece about Pollock and viewed an accompanying photograph of an art piece, and not been excited (entertained?) to the point of creating a permanent memory that allows her to later recall the artist’s name and style.

    However, when allowed to be creative and paint, using visual and physical feedback on the iphone, in the style of Jackson Pollock, she develops an emotional attachment to the piece she has created, and (I’m assuming) was proud that she was able to emulate the artist (or her dad, who was just previously using the app.)

    In my own experience, I’ve been fascinated to watch how my 2-year-old responds to the iOS ebook version of Sesame Streets’ “The Monster At The End of This Book” as compared to the physical book. My child loves books, but this particular one has never really held his attention, for whatever reason. However, he LOVES the iPad version, where he gets to knock down walls that Grover builds, etc. It’s a game, yes, but it’s also a learning experience. (We haven’t made it to Pollock yet, baby steps…)

    I’m sure there are some large downsides to the gamification of education (attention span deficit, development costs, motivational consequences) but all that aside, I’m excited about the potential of the generation that grows up with smart devices and their contributions to the world.

    • The Monster at the End of this Book is still a pretty beloved title by our three year old. Oh man.

      For one, I appreciate you stopping by to post here. The idea that I can attract Joetown nerds across the occupational spectrum is pretty cool. It’s funny how oftentimes your initial audience on a blog is geographically distant. I know some rather prominent bloggers who have colleagues in the same school with no clue about their blog. (that might be a symptom of another problem, but) Anyway, it’s pretty cool to have some local folks kick back their own two cents into the conversation. I really do appreciate it.

      Two things:

      1) I think you’re spot-on with regard to the value of Delaney actually making art in a similar method of Pollock as opposed to just seeing it. Good teachers (and parents) know this: doing is better than seeing is better than hearing.

      2) I also agree on the need for attention paid to… attention. That is way beyond even the scope of this one post/topic. That is a reality of the times in which we live. Every tool/philosophy/approach/etc. comes with its affordances and its drawbacks. Keeping an eye out for the “less than thrilling” effects of the digital age are just as important.

      Thanks again.

  3. Sean,

    Just read your blog. I think your comment “Our phones, however, are windows to the world.” was perfect. Jessica just finished at Benton having to use a laptop her last semester. And has since taken a online class at Western led by a Professor. I asked what she thought about it compared to conventional type classes. Beyond an easy way to submit homework or get assignments, she liked the flexibility. They met with the Professor once or twice, had some video conferences and the rest of the time she was on her own. And this was a gym class. I guess what I am trying to say is if internet access gives the students/anybody “windows to the world” that is great.
    It will be interesting where Benton and the school district goes from here. It sounds like the first semester was successful. I think there may be a fine balance between getting the info. from the instructor vs the internet. But done right, internet use is a great tool. And I think Jessica just a little more prepared for college because of it. (Also because of Erin’s great teaching.)


    • More local feedback! I could certainly get re-energized here on the blog due to that fact alone. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond.

      The sort of “micro-case-study” feedback you provide here is more valuable than you might know. Even when you’re a fantastic student, there is still huge value in having a strong initial comfort level. I have been receiving that sort of feedback from students directly -ever since we started down this path several years ago. It instantly reminds me of the feedback from a student in this post: If you can do something as a teacher that allows a student to find comfort and familiarity in a foreign place at a future time, then that just might be the best influence you could possibly have. That is certainly a form of empowerment.

      The “fine balance between getting information from an instructor vs. the Internet” comment is particularly wise. That couldn’t be more true. The Internet is undoubtedly the biggest single resource we have ever unleashed upon not only schools, but on the free-thinking public at large. That said, the real value in our schools is the interaction and coaching that happens between trusted adults and students, as well as student to student. Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It will continue to be the careful interaction between students, teachers, and all resources available, that makes the difference. You make a great point.

      And finally, thanks for the kind Erin-comment. I can certainly assure you that the sentiment there is mutual. Erin is a huge fan of Jessica’s. I remember back to some of those best teacher/student relationships. There is never a time where a student gets tons of value out a relationship with a favorite teacher… without the teacher learning an equal amount in return. My best students helped me to become the educator I am today.

      Thanks again for being here.

  4. This post is interesting for me to read after my most recent post about my own children ( ).

    As the child of an educator (an art teacher, I might add ;), the wife of an educator, and an educator myself, there is definitely some over-analysis of my own children’s learning going on in my house – my own micro case studies. However, I do think that my students at school benefit from the insights I can get only from observing my own children, who I know so much more deeply than I ever get the opportunity to know my students.

    And yes, I think the synergy of attentive parent (and/or teacher) and an open window to the world through technology is definitely something.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks, Laura. It made more sense to post a response at your place. It’s also fun to think about how the particular benefits and limitations of this little technology relates to how we communicate and build little communities of practice, isn’t it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *