Art has never been a more important commodity. We live in a world focused on design and have reached a point where we are so immersed in information that creativity separates the wheat from the chafe.The application of art has spread into every facet of our lives and is integral in all fields, yet art has been marginalized in formal education. I remember feeling overwhelmed with a student load over 200 until I spoke with an elementary art teacher who had over 500 kids. As they limit art teachers and courses in many schools, we should take it on ourselves to fulfill this need and as an opportunity to expand our own classes. Not everyone needs to apply the arts but anyone who can should. I have enough confidence in visual arts to use them as a part of my classes and find those lessons are some of my very best. I wish I was a musician but it ain’t happening.
The core of visible thinking is using language to express thinking. Words are great but many people think more clearly through other sensory communication. They hear music, create visual solutions, organize a dance, create through food or otherwise find a way to communicate in a manner that is natural to them. Embrace these differences for we all enjoy the products of great music and fine food. Pay attention and you can recognize deep levels of problem solving while providing students an avenue they want to express themselves in.
Why art when you have so much else to worry about? Engagement, learning, fun, differentiation… perhaps I should expand.
Engagement is the most clear reason, and the linchpin of successful art projects in content area subjects. I have many students that will do everything in their power to not solve another equation but really want to make the cool drawing. Students who love art have a reason to focus on the math. Other students feel like they can’t draw can use the tools of math to create something they can be proud of. Everyone wants to make work they can show off (it’s also useful for your student displays and portfolios). I have the attention of the full cross section of students with a good art project and so the math element that I am most focused on becomes a lot easier.
One of the challenges in formal education systems is putting all of the pieces together. Students view algebra and geometry as different little problems focused on different things and not elements of a way of understanding issues. History is a study of interactions and reactions rather than a seemingly infinite list of dates and names. A good art project can pull the various elements and combine them so the student create something that demonstrates a cohesive comprehension of the subject.
Art provides another very special purpose in management. Students are people who faces struggles at home and in school. We try to provide the best space for their learning but sometimes they are too upset to focus. I like to keep some easy and engaging activities for students who need a way to relax. My handiest toy is an old spirograph. The child explores how it works and focuses intently on making awesome designs and I can focus on teaching the rest of the class. I know the student is learning and the simple allowance on my part shows that I care. He or she no longer views me as another disciplinarian and is willing to trust my guidance as an educator.
Art is outside of the box. It is freedom constrained by medium and nothing else. It is visible and design thinking in action. Anything so powerful has its challenges. Good projects are not easy to create nor are they always easy to implement. Students are often hesitant to embrace creativity in traditional classes. They get better with practice.
Projects take time so pay attention how to make them move more efficient but don’t be overly worried for a good project can cover a lot of content. Once you start one in the class, you are indebted to finishing so students have the final product. It could easily be the best part of the class all year and one that the students take the most from. When designing or finding projects, aim for a balance. The project should not be a paint-by-numbers but it needs enough guidelines or directions for the students to know where to go. Students most likely won’t be able to learn and apply a new concept in a profoundly creative way all at one but they can learn through the applications you have guided them through.
Art projects are fun. I love coming up with new ones and long for the day when I can teach all of algebra through art. Always go through the process yourself beforehand so you can identify potential pitfalls. Do they need to use a ruler? Is it digital music? A music video? You will face a thousand questions about the medium so figure out how to answer them beforehand. If you start of with these things early in the year then future projects move along nicely.
All this nice, how about an example? I am starting a new page on the site for projects and will include the one that led to the image up top. I invite anyone who has developed really good projects to send them along. Let’s keep working together and make schools far cooler.