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Bettendorf teacher's trip to Iceland meant to inform her instruction
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Bettendorf teacher's trip to Iceland meant to inform her instruction

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A Bettendorf Community School District art teacher recently spent a month in Iceland and will work on ways to use the experience to enrich education.

Ellen Craig, 47, went to the island nation during the summer as part of the federal Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad.

The program involves short-term seminars for U.S. educators that send them to different countries, Craig said. The participants go and experience the culture of that nation.

“We also create curriculum projects that we bring back to our classrooms, test out and then give back to the U.S. Department of Education,” she said.

Those packages won’t just be shared in the participants’ classrooms, but with as many people as possible, she said.

One of her goals on the trip was learning how people’s geography informs their art practices, she said.

Some of the traditional painters portrayed the beauty of the Icelandic landscapes around them, similar to Midwestern regionalist artists like John Bloom, Craig said.

“I saw a lot of connections between how they showed the land, and the beauty of the land, and the people,” she said.

In the case of some contemporary art, the creators used different materials, she said.

One artist incorporated local plants to add color — a sage green and a deeper blue — into her weaving, Craig said.

Another used straw in a sculpture and volcanic stone in an installation that created a pattern.

“So actually using pieces from the land within the art-making practice was pretty amazing,” she said.

Craig, who teaches at the Bettendorf district’s middle school, said she had shared some of her experiences and photos with her students. She also brought in a piece of volcanic rock for them to see.

She is, however, still developing the actual lessons that will draw inspiration from her experience, Craig said.

“I’m hoping in the next few weeks to start with little things and (I am) still developing this idea of how the land that we live on — the spaces that we inhabit — might inform our own personal landscapes or the art that we create,” she said.

The trip included spending more than a week in Reykjavik, then touring different regions of the island.

Her favorite parts were the people she met — both the other American educators and the Icelanders — and the land itself, Craig said.

The group of U.S. educators she was with were very dedicated people, she said. Their exchanges were really powerful.

“Being in that sort of intense learning experience, I think, drew us together as a group, Craig said.

The people of Iceland they met, including scientists and artists and Iceland’s president, were very welcoming, she said.

“They wanted to get to know us and share whatever they could with us, Craig said.

The island is physically diverse and changes from moment to moment for the traveler, she said.

“One minute you could be in a city and then an hour-and-a-half away you’re at an active volcano and then, about an hour from that, you’re in a glacier,” she said.

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