Now is the time for Arts Integration. Has time, or a pacing guide, ever held you back from trying to integrate the arts? This was my main concern when I started tiptoeing into using an arts integrated approach with my students. I was able to work within our reading curriculum to incorporate the arts because that curriculum is more flexible, but not in my math class.
For math, my school district has a strict pacing guide, meaning we had a certain amount of days to teach certain skills, sometimes a skill a day, and we have a specific test to give on an almost specific date. Without matching this pacing guide, students won’t be exposed to all of the skills they need for our state testing. It seemed impossible to do an arts integrated project that would fit into this structure. With a little creativity and flexibility, I think figured it out a way.
Time for Arts Integration?
While I need to stick closely to my pacing guide, I have a relatively long math block. I’ve found a routine that works, and I don’t want to mess with it too much. Yet I know it’s time for arts integration using a project-based approach and giving students time to do the authentic work to help them internalize our math concepts.
To work within this constraint, I designed a project, and instead of devoting entire class periods to the task, we worked for a few minutes a day as we made our way towards our end goal. While it is not the ideal situation for project-based learning due to it’s guided nature, it allows us to squeeze in a project for each unit.
In order for this to be successful, selecting or designing a project or task that exactly matches your objectives is imperative. While large-scale, thematic projects are great for students to make global and overarching connections, this project needs to be concise to explicitly target the goals you have set.
The example below was completed during my unit on fractions, and I incorporated Mondrian’s Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow. While there are many different ways to use math with this piece of art, I designed each step of the project to lead students to a deeper understanding of fractions. Depending on the students’ interpretation of the directions, the mathematical artwork is unique, yet definitely inspired by Mondrian due to the geometric patterns, primary color choices, and the amount of each color.
3rd grade Mondrian Fractions in 10-minute increments:
- Day 1, at the beginning of our fractions unit: used the Strategy See Think Wonder with Mondrian’s Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow. After the students had time to share out, I modified this to ask what math they See Think and Wonder is incorporated in the art. Then, we go into our typical math class.
- Day 2, I share background information on Piet Mondrian and I explain that we’ll be making some art, using math, that is inspired by the artwork we explored on our first day. Then, we go into our typical math lesson.
- Day 3: By this time, students have a basic foundation of the math skills needed to start the project. Our directions are step by step, so we go over the process of how it will proceed each day. Students work independently, but with accountability partners. This means that prior to completing each step students discuss it with their partner and clarify what they are about to do. After performing that step, they sign off on each other’s directions sheet. After this explanation, we continue into our typical math lesson.
- Day 4-6: At the beginning of class, students spend about 10-15 minutes working through the project step-by-step until it is complete.
The same basic model of spreading the project across a unit in small increments is built into this free, low-prep unit. This unit incorporates metric and customary measurement, data collection, bar graphing, technology, and infographics. While it sounds like a lot, these concepts naturally integrate and are very effective (and high interest!) when taught using this flexible structure. Access this unit here.
The Alternative: Project-Based Theme Days
This year, our schedule shifted slightly, allowing teachers in my grade level slightly less explicit teaching time for social studies, science, and health. While these topics are integrated into other parts of our day, we were concerned about losing the weekly time devoted to these subjects. We came up with a unique way of squeezing more arts integrated, project-based learning into our content areas without sacrificing our daily schedule and pacing guides. One day per month, we devote an entire day to a content area topic from our curriculum.
Project-based learning is easier to manage when you have a longer block of time, and by not following our schedule for the day and treating it like a special event, we don’t have to work within the constraints of the bell. Students love it because it is a break from our normal routine, and it allows us to go deeper into our studies through hands-on, process-based, thematic activities. Another perk to this is that materials can be prepared for a day, rather than having to set up and tear down multiple times.
Arts Integration Doesn’t Have to be Time Consuming
It is important to note that some of the best arts integration does not happen in a huge, thematic project, but instead within a relatively short lesson. It is fine, and effective, to keep arts integration simple. Remember that the only “rule” is to find a content standard and an art standard that naturally connect. Find free, downloadable lessons for many grade levels and subjects from EducationCloset.
Have you found any creative ways to “find” time to integrate the arts? We’d love to hear your ideas! Share them in the comments below.
Dyan is a third grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.