During an afternoon class March 17, Dublin Chapman Elementary School first-graders are faced with a problem to solve: Figure out why the nation's coins are disappearing.

Their teacher, Patrick Callicote, displays some images that could explain the missing coins, and he's met with laughter.

A coin could be surfing, Callicote surmises.

Another coin could be vacationing in Paris, he guesses.

The students are tasked with using the medium of their choosing to illustrate their own ideas for where the coins are, or what they could be up to. Callicote reminds them that their solutions don't necessarily need to adhere to realism.

"I want to see your creative idea come to life today," he tells his students.

The students get to work. Some take out markers and paper, while others crowd around a table with clay. Some sit at computers and use 3-D modeling software.

This is an elementary school art class, and one that more than likely looks different from the classes these children's parents remember from their years in school.

That's because arts education at Chapman has shifted from simple music theory and drawing and painting instruction to curriculums that emphasize creative thinking and problem-solving skills children can put to use now and when they join the work force.

The history of education in the U.S. is one that fostered the decline of creativity as students aged, said Callicote, a visual arts teacher.

As a result, adults don't possess the confidence necessary to explore new ideas or brainstorm alternative options.

In contrast, Callicote said he wants to foster what young children bring to an educational space.

"I feel like my goal is to keep them creative," he said.

In Callicote's class, that means teaching kids how to think rather than teaching them how to make aesthetically pleasing artwork.

Students are taught to value their imaginations and curiosity, Callicote said, as well as to persist through failure and explore.

"My overall goal is to have them leave here thinking like artists," he said.

Both Callicote and music teacher Joanne Prendergast value learning through play.

For Prendergast, her current classroom is a far cry from how she taught at the beginning of her 37-year career in education.

Back then, Prendergast said, she focused on teaching musical literacy and worried more about what students were learning at the moment than what skills they would need to be successful adults.

Whe she started teaching in the Dublin City School District, she had to alter her methods to adhere to the district's emphasis on helping students learn to think critically.

"I'm letting children notice things that I never, ever gave them the chance to notice before," Prendergast said.

Now, students have the chance to improvise music, alongside learning musical theory, Prendergast said. An average class has them moving around doing activities including singing, playing games and listening to pop music, classical music and music from different countries.

"We're never sitting in one place," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah