EVERETT, Wash. — Navigating middle school can be tough for students. Many kids are trying to discover themselves in a system that can seem one-dimensional. 

Helping students get through middle school is no picnic either.

"I don't want to just create little robots," said teacher Cynthia Gaub. "It feels like most of the school day can sometimes be a little robotic."

Gaub is trying to short-circuit that way of thinking in her art class at Everett's North Middle School, and she's gaining national attention for it. 

She uses a teaching technique that encourages students to 'think like an artist.'

It's called Teaching for Artistic Behavior, or TAB, and it encourages students to look at everything differently.

"Like, if you see someone walking and you're a robot you just see someone walking. If you're human you can see them running, you can imagine them doing anything else. It's all about creativity," said 8th grader Phillip Wharton.

Gaub focuses on themes and skills in her class while each student chooses his or her own projects and materials. They encompass everything from traditional painting to stop-action animation and 3-D drawing.

"I can choose a bunch of different things that I can do and make of it what I want," said Katrina Garberding, as she coded drawings for a video game. "I can make video games about crudely drawn characters screaming at demons in caves!"

Gaub will receive a National Arts Education Association Award for her work with the kids and community.

She hopes the skills she is teaching will serve her students long after they leave her classroom.

"Not only will they translate those skills into other subject matter, like writing and history, but life as well," she said. "I think creative problem solving is huge and it's what our employers want these days."