What is AOEU’s New FLEX Curriculum? (Ep. 127)

This week, The Art of Education University announced our newest offering–FLEX Curriculum! But what is FLEX, and what does it involve? AOEU’s Director of K-12 Curriculum, Cassidy Reinken, joins Nic to talk all about FLEX. Listen as they discuss how the platform meets and adapts to teachers’ needs, and how FLEX helps them plan and deliver the perfect curriculum for their students. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Nic: The Art of Education University has something to celebrate this week. On February 4th, we have released something called FLEX. FLEX is an online art curriculum unlike any curriculum I have ever seen before. I’m so excited because AOEU has been working on this for over two years, and this week is the release to the public. You guys are going to love it. I want to tell you more about it, but I thought I’d bring on my friend Cassidy to explain a lot more about FLEX and what we see it being used for in your classroom.

This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Hi, I’m so glad that you came today because we have some really big, exciting news with AOE University, and it is called FLEX. First, introduce yourself, and then we’ll get into what FLEX is.

Cassidy: Sure. My name is Cassidy Reinken, and I am the director of K-12 curriculum at The Art of Education University. My role is just to facilitate K-12 curriculum, and with our exciting news of the launch of FLEX curriculum, we have been very busy at AOEU working on this. Two years ago, it was an idea, and now we are ready to roll it out and share it with the world, and we couldn’t be more excited.

Nic: Yeah, me too. I have watched this developed over the last two years, as well, just being a part of the team, and it’s due time, because it’s phenomenal. I’m excited for the rest of the world to see what we’ve been watching grow. You’ve done so much. You said, “I just develop the K-12,” whatever you just introduced yourself as, but that’s not what… You have been doing so much work with you. This has to be kind of like presenting your thesis to the world, isn’t it?

Cassidy: Yeah, it’s been really exciting and so rewarding. The whole team at AOEU is just so encouraging and just live by this abundance mentality. It’s been a rewarding project because this is something that I’m just so passionate about in that “Where can we make the most growth and impact?” That’s my mantra personally, professionally. Then this curriculum just has such an opportunity to make student learning grow, and teachers grow in becoming better teachers and having the tools that they need, and just the impact and how many lives it can change. It’s been a whirlwind. 2019 was a hard but good year, and I’m so excited for 2020 now to share it and to take ideas and just pivot and keep going faster and faster with what we’re doing with FLEX.

Nic: Yeah. Well, maybe we should just hit on what FLEX is. Can you explain to our audience today what FLEX is? Then we’ll talk about what it looks like. But why it was developed, what it is in general, can you hit on that?

Cassidy: Yeah. Over the years, we’ve heard from hundreds of art teachers who said that there was a desperate need for new curriculum. On our magazine over the last eight years, the top search item has always been lesson plans, and so that’s solid data. We’ve had lesson plans before, and they just were very well-received. So after hearing from hundreds of art teachers about the problem, it really validated that we should create our own art curriculum and we should really make it modern.

The idea of doing this is incredibly expensive and time-consuming and very hard for the individual teacher to do on their own, and we really thought that teachers’ time needed to be spent with teaching instruction and classroom management and student engagement and their lives at home and so much other time. Previously, schools would choose to purchase textbooks for their art teachers, and a lot of art teachers don’t use those textbooks. I don’t know about you, but I used them for paperweights.

Nic: That’s what I use them for.

Cassidy: They’re so good. I definitely used it in the beginning for ideas, but I don’t think I ever really used it in the intended purpose of it. The art room is supposed to be this sacred hands-on art space, not a heads-down, read-from-a-textbook space. We knew art teachers didn’t want to follow a prescribed one-size-fits-all curriculum. They want to customize it. They’re already doing that. They’re likely getting lesson plans from a wide variety of places and spending time making their own resources and assessments.

Our why is really to create this new solution, which is a modern, flexible curriculum platform, which is meant to give teachers what they need when they need it. It’s going to grow. It’s going to have new content released on a monthly basis. That textbook that I had, it was in my art room from the beginning until I left. It just was stagnant. It just was the same lessons. I was excited, it was a new year, and I was never one to teach the same lesson more than a couple of times. That’s just what worked for me, and so I wanted something new. FLEX really will support art teachers like that in giving new content.

We were really excited to create a solution. I think about engineering; you find a problem and you solve it. That’s what we do as creative beings, and that’s what the whole team has been working on. It’s been exciting.

Nic: You’re right, it is such a team, and with people with many different backgrounds, as well, as how to teach, what level they’re teaching, and people that aren’t in education, as well, so people wearing different hats, maybe in administrative, and in the business aspect, too, helping develop this so that it fits the entire educational system. That’s what I’ve noticed about FLEX.

Cassidy: Yeah. My previous role was a magnet coordinator in a leadership position at a STEAM magnet school. I think about magnet schools across the country, and if there is… Schools that are working to integrate arts in general, this is another great option for them. We’re not only going to support art teachers, but any teacher who wants to integrate art and art lessons and have the resources and tools. Definitely made it for art teachers, but I think there’s also many people who can benefit from art.

Nic: I agree. Yeah. Just knowing the platform, as well, I think you’re absolutely right. Can we talk about the, we’ve touched on a little bit of this, but the overview of the curriculum itself that we’re presenting as FLEX?

Cassidy: Yeah, sure. FLEX is, if you know about PRO, it is… PRO Learning is basically our online platform for professional learning. That’s where you can go to participate in PRO Learning Packs, and you can get certification hours, and you really watch videos. It’s kind of like taking a graduate course, but through videos, and it’s for the teacher.

FLEX Curriculum then takes the next step and makes it into a curriculum. It has lesson plans and resources and assessments, so it’s more student-facing than our PRO Learning is. It’s also an online platform or website like PRO. What it’s created is collections, and collections are grouping of materials that have a common theme. A collection can be anything from Contrast through Color, Movement and Me, Emotions and Identity, Current and World Events, Simple Landscapes, and more. In each collection are curated content around lesson plans, resources, videos, and assessments. These are all created by The Art of Education University. There are three levels within each collection, beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

The idea is that FLEX is flexible. If you get into this collection, you might even be inspired by an advanced lesson, even though you teach elementary. It’s really meant to be modified based on what you want to do with your students. Beginner lessons are all aligned to K-5 visual arts standards. Intermediate are sixth through eighth visual arts standards. Then advanced is ninth through 12th alignment. That was really, really important to us that it was aligned to National Visual Arts Standards.

Even better is that it is aligned to all 50 states’ standards. Some states-

Nic: Whoa.

Cassidy: Right? Yes, this is a huge undertaking on our side.

Nic: Wow, totally.

Cassidy: Several, several, several team members are spending so much time aligning these standards, these experts. If your state uses state standards, it will be aligned to your state standards. We just wanted to make this a solution for every art teacher.

Yes. Then the last layer of that is it’s not only aligned, but it’s filtered. There’s a top bar at FLEX where you can filter all the content. You can filter by collections, by lesson plan, resources, videos, or assessments, by the standards, and then by the areas of studies as well. At the top, I can filter it by theme, subject, media, elements and principles, art movement, connection, the core content areas. Then I can filter it by standards as well. I could pick a presenting standard and then a standard one for an anchor standard, and all of my content that was aligned can be filtered. It’s amazing.

Nic: Yes. This is what it sounds like to me. It sounds like no matter what your goals are, if it’s your school goals, your state goals, your class goals, you’re going to be able to… I love the filter idea… be able to just hone in on that and be able to find what you need quickly.

Cassidy: Yeah, so the middle school that I previously worked at, we were transitioning to standards-based grading. We had priority standards in the art room. I was also a modified-choice art teacher, I would say, and so I would often teach the standard, I’d give a demo, I’d often have a theme for a lesson, and then the students had a choice in what media they could use and then the type of art that they would create. I had my presenting standard, standard one, and if you wanted to make a painting and your classmate next to you wanted to make a drawing, that was totally fine as long as you were meeting the standards.

This would be so beautiful for me because I could filter it by standard, and it could be kind of a database for my students who sometimes don’t know what to do with choice because they are eighth-graders and no one’s given them any choice in their career. So we could stand there, and I could be like, “Okay,” or they might even say, “I know I want to use oil pastels, but I don’t know what to do,” I could filter it by oil pastels.

Nic: And then give them so many options.

Cassidy: Yes. I could even download the lesson plan PDF, print it out, and hand it to them. I would always reference Austin Kleon. He wrote the book Steal Like an Artist. Maybe in that situation, that kid might not want want to follow the lesson step-by-step, but just by having that, that might be an inspiration for them to take it to the next step.

Nic: Yes. I think in choice education, when you’re giving choice, you’re right, you can’t just say, “Pick something.” That blocks a lot of people. I wouldn’t even say children. It blocks a lot of people. Giving them the resources to have that jumping-off platform and then develop their brain beyond that is such a good resource for the kid.

Cassidy: Yeah, I think that idea of creativity, sometimes that’s something that we just have to nurture a little more. Some kids can run with it. Even when I did give a theme, if I had a student who came up and said, “I really don’t want to do that. I want to do this, this, and this,” I would say, “Does it meet the standard?” They would say, “Yes, by this,” and I’d say, “Great, go do it.”

I think just giving options is, to me, a really important part of choice. I know that it works differently for other classrooms, but this definitely can work for a choice-based teacher, for a brand-new teacher, for a veteran teacher. I just feel like all teachers will find this useful. There’s so many different components of it, too.

Nic: Yeah. Visually, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Some of the resources are ones that I can’t wait to get a hold of and put in my classrooms. Specifically, I adore the videos and the graphics that you guys have developed. Let’s talk about those videos and the resources that you have.

Cassidy: Oh my gosh. Each collection, when we were writing these and editing them, we would consider how many we had, and we had an idea of how many we would have, but some collections had more than others. So when it actually got into the platform and I went to the resource page for the first time, I was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s over 400 resources, and you can just scroll through them. And they’re so beautiful, and they’re just going to be so useful.”

I think about all of the time that I would make an exit slip in my classroom or that I would make a how-to-write-an-artist statement document. Being the artist that I am, I wanted it to look nice, and I wasted so much time. I mean, I didn’t feel like it was a waste of time, and I’m going to tell myself it wasn’t. But you don’t have to do that now. You can save time, and time is so important. That’s ultimately what brought me to this role. I wanted time back, and I wanted autonomy.

I think those resources are just going to be amazing, because also I think when we talk about assessment, it’s really hard, because assessment doesn’t look the same in an art room as it does when you’re assessing math or when you’re assessing literacy. This can give art teachers the tools to have those conversations with administrators, and administrators have the tools for art teachers, to say, “No, this is what assessment can look like, and it’s not just your finished art project.” There are so many important ways to assess learning throughout. You shouldn’t get to the end of a drawing and say, “Oh, that’s enough.” No. How are we-

Nic: How are we getting there?

Cassidy: How are we looking at that? What are our bite-sized pieces of assessments to support students?

Great resources, and then, yes, the videos. There were some really great videos that I showed to my students, but they were 25 minutes long. Research says, what is it, you have five minutes past your age? In my middle school classroom, they probably, maybe, had an 18-minute attention span. Plus, time is just getting cut with students, so it’s so limited.

Anyway, the videos are three to five minutes long, and they are beautiful, and the graphics with them. Just such a great team. The voiceovers… Nic, you may recognize her voice.

Nic: That’s right.

Cassidy: Yeah. Nic and Tim. They are just going to be really great, I think. Right now, there’s a video for the elements of art, and there’s a beginner and an advanced video. You can choose what that means for you. You might want to show your advanced to fifth-graders, you might want to show it to high-schoolers. Then there’s a couple of other videos that are What is Pop Art? and What is Perspective? Those will be released for new content, as well. We already have videos in the works, ideas.

Same with collections, three new collections every single month. That means new content. That textbook that we use to smash our papers stay the same. This will not. This will continue to evolve, the content, the platform. Our amazing community at AOEU, all of you listeners, we want to hear what do you want, what do you need, because we want to ultimately continue to meet your needs and solve your problems and make your life better, because that’s what we’re here for.

Nic: Yeah. That’s the exciting idea of this online curriculum. A, it’s not taking up so much space in your room, and it’s developing and it’s continuing, but it’s live. You’re having a conversation with AOEU. If you have something that you really think is missing, then you can just reach out. You guys are so approachable and welcoming to new ideas.

Cassidy: Thank you.

Nic: Yeah. I think that’s going to be a real asset to FLEX.

Cassidy: Yeah. I think so, too, because that’s what we’re here for. When I think about how this is going to help teachers… Our mission is to grow art teachers by providing rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning at every stage of your career, and this does that, just to continue to support you.

Another feature in FLEX, before I forget, you mentioned something about having it online. We have a feature called My Classes, and that’s where, if you imagine your digital plan book, you can add lessons into units, so you can make a unit. You could have Kindergarten, Mrs. Smith, and you could have unit elements and principles, and then you can throw in lessons and resources and video, and you can drag and drop them in the order. I could literally be like, “Day one, I’m going to use these four resources,” just a really great way to not only constantly search, but to save. It’s almost like Pinterest and having boards where you can pin things. It’s so user-friendly, just that idea.

Nic: Again, it’s just such a great resource to have that communication with your administration to say, “This is what’s happening.” That’s where I fail as an art teacher. I know the value in everything that I’m doing. I can explain it to the kids, but when it comes to maybe explaining it in the language of my administration, sometimes that’s difficult. I think that’s what you’ve laid out here, is you have this common language between the students that you’re teaching, the art teacher, the administration, the national standards, the state standards. It’s all wrapped into one.

Cassidy: Yeah. No, I’m going to… Okay, so you said fail. We’re going to fail forward, Nic. We have an implementation page where there’s tools and resources to support teachers in doing what you just said. This is an opportunity for you to advocate for FLEX, to advocate because FLEX was… We have a monthly subscription for teachers, but ultimately we really created it for districts. We created it like you’re not going to buy a textbook for your art room, generally. You don’t buy a math textbook. The districts fund those.

We want to empower you, because we know budgets are small and you might not even get curriculum dollars, but we want to help you either reach out to your district for you. We have a bunch of documents that say how to use it as an art teacher, how to use it as an administrator. You can print out these documents, and you could literally ask for a 15-minute meeting and have a binder and say, “Hey, this is what it is,” and flip through it and say, “Let’s look at this document together. This is how it’s going to help me, and this is how we can do a review process.” We can help you fail forward, Nic. This is not a dead end.

Nic: No, it shouldn’t be. I love that you’re creating something that’s going to let you help me and others communicate, mostly me. Thank you for having me in mind, communicate the need and how it meets everybody’s needs, not just the art teacher’s-

Cassidy: Yes, and don’t be afraid to do that. As art teachers, we already spend so much of our own money. I’m not going to lie, I probably would have just been like-

Nic: “I’ll just get it.”

Cassidy: … if I had the finances, “I’ll just buy it,” but that’s not really what it’s meant for. It’s there. We want to provide access. This is about equity and access. Everyone can try and get it. That’s why we have these tools, is to help you to have those conversations. Go to your district first and try and get them to invest in creativity. The 21st-century skills we all know are so important in art.

Nic: Well, Cassidy, thank you so much for chatting. Is there anything-

Cassidy: Well, thanks for having me.

Nic: … that was missed as we part here?

Cassidy: Oh, my. No, I don’t think so. Just please, please, please check out FLEX and reach out for support. We are here for you.

Nic: All right. Thanks, Cassidy.

Cassidy: You’re welcome.

Nic: Can you even wrap your brain around what we just heard? FLEX could save us a ton of time, help us communicate with our administrators, create an even better classroom because we have so many different resources just accessible to us and different inspirations in the lessons that are provided. This could be a really powerful tool in your hands. Head on over to the AOEU’s website. Check it out for yourself. I will chat with you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.