Today, we’re so proud to release the all-new IntegratED Curriculum. This is the first digital arts integration and STEAM curriculum supplement of its kind. Honestly, it’s way overdue.
In this special episode of Teaching with Creativity, I sit down with the curriculum developer, Laura Wixon. Laura’s the executive director of content here at EducationCloset and is leading our team’s effort in building this incredible resource for teachers.
She and I chat about why it’s taken us so long to create a curriculum like this and why I initially had some reservations. We also talk about the turning point for us as an organization to offer a curriculum supplement for schools. And, you’ll hear all about how it’s organized and the amazing components. Let’s dive in!
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Hi there! Welcome to another episode of Teaching with Creativity. I’m your host, Susan Riley and I’m joined by Laura Wixon today who’s also a member of our team. I’m so excited for this episode of Teaching with Creativity because it is curriculum launch week! The IntegratED Curriculum is now available.
So today our team member, Laura Wixon is here. She is the genius behind this new curriculum. Laura, welcome! How about we start out with you telling us a little about yourself?
LAURA: So I got my undergrad degree at St. Mary’s, a college in southern Maryland. I majored in art studio art history and English. And I minored in education. And then I did their MAT program which is a master’s program that they offer at the college. And I didn’t know like what area I wanted to be certified in. And so I’m certified in a million different things which has helped me a great deal. In curriculum especially, but in a lot of different areas. I’m certified art k12, ESOL, Special Education and English.
SUSAN: I’m excited to learn this because so many teachers I think struggle with “what should I get certified in it”, so just get it all.
LAURA: I started my student teaching in elementary and then slowly moved up and then I ended up teaching eighth grade. After I graduated I knew I wanted to be at an arts integration school. I had done my master’s thesis on it. I didn’t know at the time there was a name for it and no one really told me that there is a name for it. So I think I called it “Teaching art and everything else all at once” or something like that was the title for my thesis.
Anyway, I knew I wanted to be at an arts integration school. I knew the area of Bates in Annapolis was an arts integration school. I knew that because they had an Edutopia video done on them and so I went and interviewed there. And basically said like this is where I want to be 100%. They said we don’t have an opening for an arts integration specialist which is what I would have loved. But there was an opening for an English teacher and so I was more than happy to take that position.
I taught English in the school for two years before the position of arts integration specialist became open. At that point I moved into that position and I was the arts integration specialist for two years there. Then I met you at a conference – actually I met you probably before the conference because I started writing for EdCloset before I met you in person at the conference – and moved into this position.
SUSAN: I love hearing that back story because I think it feels like there was a roller coaster ride all the way through. But it’s enabling you to be able to do what you’re doing now. It gives you that back story which is so important when you’re thinking about arts integration because you really do have to do it all.
So this was not a question of that I had kind of prepped you for. What are some of the things to learn as an arts integration specialist at Bates middle school?
LAURA: I was under the umbrella of arts integration specialist and I will say that it’s a non-teaching faculty position. So in that sort of role they also have non-teaching department chairs which I think is great because it allows department chairs to like spend a lot more time planning with their teams. But as a non-teaching faculty member in general I think you get thrown a lot of additional duties that kind of come your way.
In terms of arts integration specialist, that encompassed a lot of things for me. I was grant writing because we were not funded through the county at that point. So all the funding we had for arts integration was coming from grants. I was organizing all the grant funding and kind of dividing it up into either artist residency or supplies.
That’s something we did which I think is super important and I totally talk about it as much as I can. It’s about not stealing art supplies. Arts Integration can be so hard because art supplies are in high demand always. Instead of taking from the art department, we had a whole separate closet and bins just for arts integration projects.
I organized that and tried to restock everything when we ran out and so that was part of what I was constantly doing. And then of course working with teachers and going into plannings and talking to them about what was coming up in the curriculum specifically. If they thought something might be coming down the line that was going to be particularly challenging and then trying to focus the lesson. That way we had time to organize lessons and get the materials together. We had to do great integration projects around those standards that might be more difficult to teach.
That was a big part of it. I also was voluntarily going into classrooms and basically doing the things that teachers might feel awkward doing. Like, all right “I’m a flamenco dancing”. I’d go in there because sometimes teachers are a little bit more hesitant to do that with the kids. They have to preserve some dignity with their student.
Also, every quarter we did an arts integration showcase which involved an art exhibition of the different projects that have been completed over the of the marking period. They were in visual arts and Performing Arts and they were whole school assemblies with all 900 of our kids. A lot of times we had up to a third of those total kids performing, so it was coordinating the performances and things like that. Just an opportunity to show other students and also other teachers the projects that they were doing throughout the marking period.
SUSAN: Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about this new curriculum. Why a curriculum and why now? Because up until this point EducationCloset wasn’t – I thought about this the other day – our organization has really focused on professional development and not in purposefully not a curriculum. People have heard me say a lot that arts integration and STEAM are not a curriculum. They’re approaches. Arts integration and STEAM are approaches to learning. So why a curriculum and why now?
LAURA: Yeah okay. So I guess I’ll just start with the first question and which is why a curriculum. In particular I think that you know I definitely wouldn’t say that an arts integration curriculum complement would in anyway replace having an arts integration specialist. But I do think that I wish I had had this when I was working full-time in a school as an arts integration specialist. Because it would have taken a lot off my plate in terms of just the like developing and redeveloping a baseline of lessons.
I think that something that we had going, which was great, was the opportunity to build on lessons over the years so that when I became an arts integration specialist there were math teachers who already were doing an arts integration lesson in this unit. They did it from last year and they did it from year to year so they are familiar with it.
We could build on that and it’s going to branch out and develop new lessons and there was kind of a baseline of things to start with. If you didn’t have that in your school – if you are in a school that is an arts integration or it’s just not totally immersed in the arts – it would be a struggle to be developing this entire baseline across K-5. It’s a lot of a lot of work that went into it.
As an arts teacher, classroom teacher or administrator in terms of not having to constantly go out and search and look and try to align standards with what you’re already doing – that’s priceless. This is something that’s already there and everything is all-inclusive which is great. I think what that allows you to do is at least have a model for what an arts integration lesson can and maybe should look like.
From there, people can use that as a jumping point and take the initiative to be like “okay, I’m going to create a bunch more lessons that work really well in my classroom and I’m going to modify it or expand it and I want to do other things with it”. I think that’s great and I keep referring to it that way.
I think it should be kind of be this thing that can be modified and adapted to really suit the needs of teachers where they are.
For the second part of the question which is “why now”, I totally feel like teachers are searching for arts integration and STEAM resources more than ever. I felt it when I was the arts integration specialist and I definitely feel it here. Just the number of requests we get specifically for lesson plans and materials that teachers can take back and use in our classroom I think is astronomical. If we can help meet that need in some way that would be great.
SUSAN: I think that you have helped me come to an idea that this is a curriculum supplement. Let’s be clear: this is not a full curriculum by itself replacing any other curriculum. This is a supplement that you can use in addition to your current grade because it aligns with the units that are already in place based on standards.
I also I think that you’ve helped me to kind of understand that teachers need a way to get started. A model of what this looks like and that PD is great and it’s super important to understand what the approaches are. But without a tangible idea of “here’s an example of what this is that you can use” and then grow from there, it’s really hard to get started.
Right before this I just got an email from someone who said she had been desperately looking for STEAM and arts integration resources because her school decided to become an arts integration school. And this so often happens. Schools decide to become an arts integration or a STEAM school, but they have no support and no PD. They don’t have lessons or assessments and they don’t have training. So she’s desperately looking for something because she has no idea where to begin. Something like this is super helpful because teachers have the tools, yes, and also it relieves some of the burden.
LAURA: I keep hearing from people and you have forwarded some of these emails and I’ve also been responding to them. There was one woman who had written in saying that she was a specialist teacher like a music or an art teacher and that because her school had decided to become an arts integration school, now the burden of doing all of this integration was falling on her shoulders. In addition to her full class load! Plus she was already teaching and you know she’s not getting a pay raise for that. I think that that’s a huge burden. Sometimes administrators might not – or maybe they do – see it, but they don’t know how to work around it.
Hopefully this offering will help those poor teachers who are becoming overly burdened. You know, we want to be an AI school but we are not entirely sure how to get there.
SUSAN: And there are teachers, especially arts teachers, who would naturally love this but they are really nervous because they know what the reality is. It’s “you can do this on top of your job” or “let’s use this curriculum instead of having an arts teacher”. That’s NOT what this is for.
Now, how did you structure this curriculum? You’ve had a lot of experience at arts integration lessons, looking at planning and looking at all the different ways that curriculum could be structured. How did you decide to structure this?
LAURA: It’s written down by grade level and it goes automatically through the different historical art movements. They start with the first known cave paintings and petroglyphs and then they kind of work through the Renaissance and all the other periods. We end up with fifth grade ending in contemporary art and the current climate of the 21st century. Slowly, we work through all those different art historical periods and we’re also trying in different content subject areas, different art subject areas, and standards.
The standards-based piece, which we both feel is extremely important, is something I really like about this curriculum. All the standards are already linked for you. Even if you don’t like the lesson, at least you don’t have to do the brainstorming part of standards alignment. That’s so much footwork that’s already been done.
We use Common Core standards, we use Next Generation Science Standards, we use National Arts standards. Every single lesson has an arts standard and also has a content or a general education standard and then we explain how we link them. We talk about the connections that we need and so it’s organized by standards, by grade level, moving through art periods. We reference media arts, dance, music, theater and visual art.
I also try to do some vertical mapping to make sure that we hit lots of different arts and that we’re moving progressively and increasing in terms of levels of difficulty.
SUSAN: I’m just blown away at how comprehensive it is and how it all ties together. I also love the different arts standards and looking at this through the lens of those artistic movements. What’s great about that is the crossover in those artistic movements. Something like the Renaissance is great for visual art, but it’s also great for music. Being able to kind of weave those things together makes it so very strategic and it helps you to move through things sequentially in a way that’s meaningful in the current curriculum that you’ve already got.
I’m also excited by the PD you’ve woven into this every other month. You can attach PD hours to it so you can print out your certificate and go. But even better than that is the idea that a curriculum supplement comes with PD embedded along with communities.
I think about what we learned from the rollout of Common Core years ago. Everything came out at once and you had maybe one or two days of training and then you were on your own. This is more sustained and it’s more purposeful so it constantly support you.
Okay, so we’re going to wrap this up. Last question: do you feel that a curriculum like this will limit creativity in the classroom?
Something like this, which is outlined beautifully and includes resources built into each of the lessons – I mean all of the student worksheets, PowerPoint, assessments, everything – is packaged in each of those lessons. So with something so comprehensive, do you think there’s a danger in limiting teacher creativity in the classroom?
LAURA: I think in and of itself, no. I don’t think this limits creativity in the classroom because it’s providing teachers with an opportunity to include more creative space for their kids in the classroom. Especially if your curriculum doesn’t include arts integration, which most don’t, this is a complement or a supplement that add in that space for creativity in a general education classroom where there might not otherwise be any sorts of arts projects happening.
On a more thoughtful note, I think that like we said, it’s really a great resource for teachers to have these model lessons. So that if you want to do your own thing and you have the time in your schedule, you know, more power to you. Yes, also do your own thing! You can feel free to use these as models and jumping points and then go off and create new lessons. That would be amazing. That’s my hope.
SUSAN: Thank you all so much for joining us for today’s episode. Don’t forget to check out this new arts integration and STEAM curriculum supplement.