Elementary Education: On Integrating the Arts

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I spent the last two weeks immersed in a course that focuses on integrating the arts into the classroom. A focus on arts integration was one of the things that attracted me to Columbia, so needless to say I had high expectations for this course. I’m happy to report that this class blew me out of the water, and I am now even more excited (if that’s possible) to find ways to dynamically bring the arts into my future classroom. Anne Becker is also just a phenomenal educator. She had the whole class very thoroughly invested in experimenting with visual arts activities, even those in my cohort who have little interest in the arts. We were also able to spend a full day focusing on integrating science and music, which led into some very serious drumming performances.

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We spent a lot of time focusing on the creation of short activity sets that could integrate any art (dance, music, theatre, and visual arts) with any content area (social studies, science, math, or language arts). I am very happy with the results of my activity sets and plan on sharing some of the exercises on the blog over the next couple of weeks. The first one I’m going to share was our final project. We were instructed to visit a museum in order to generate pre-museum and post-museum visit exercises. The other goal was to integrate the work at the museum with another content area. My partner for this project was Rachel Bernkopf. We visited the Intuit: Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. After our visit we felt so inspired that we decided to create a series of activities that would all relate to the museum visit. These exercises would integrate visual and language arts (although they would also make use of music).

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Pre-museum exercise: 

We will listen to music by Mucca Pazza.  We will make a list of words we associate with the music.  This will lead into a whole-class discussion on what it means to “think outside the box.”  Then, we will present a slideshow of paintings by artists whose works were considered radical because they challenged the aesthetic and philosophical norms of their era (Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol).  We will guide a conversation about how these artists were thinking outside the box.  We will talk about what it means to be an outsider in society and how outsiders express their feelings and views.  We will list examples of outsiders, making sure to include people with which the students are familiar, especially characters from previous read-alouds and famous movers and shakers from the past and present.  We will include a description of the actions they took that made them outsiders.

We will do an interactive read-aloud using Tacky the Penguin  by Helen Lester.  We will ask the questions “Is Tacky an outsider?  How can you tell?” to guide our discussion on the book.

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Museum exercise: 

We will lead a guided tour of the exhibitions.  Our discussion will touch on questions regarding the aesthetics and themes present in the works we view.  We will also ask students to compare and contrast the works in the museum with the previous works we have studied from Monet, Picasso, Pollock, and Warhol.  Students will bring paper and pencils to the museum in order to capture a visual pattern that they find in one of the works from the museum.  Lastly, students will visit the Henry Darger Room Collection and be asked to imagine the characteristics of the artist who lived in this room.

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Post-museum exercise: 

We have created an exercise that would be completed over the course of the week post-museum visit.

Students will free write in order to generate ideas for a work of creative fiction in which the main character is an outsider.  Students will go through the writing and publication process in order to create a book dealing with the themes surrounding being an outsider.  Students will create a work of outsider art for the cover of their book that is potentially inspired by the pattern they selected at the museum.

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I’m excited to start my new courses this week. This semester I’ll be taking:

  • Methods and Materials for Teaching Social Studies at the Elementary and Middle School Levels
  • Methods and Materials for Teaching Science at the Elementary and Middle School Levels
  • Psychology of the Middle School Child
  • Methods and Materials for Teaching Students with Disabilities

Here’s to the spring!

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