Arts Create Essay Integrated Language Photo

The school is seeing results from the experiment.

'Arts integration seems to be the best form of differentiation out there because it taps into so many different interests and abilities and forms of learning.'

Before IAA became an arts-integrated magnet school, only 17 percent of its third-graders were proficient in math on the NECAP test, Vermont’s standardized test. After five years, 66 percent met and achieved the standards. The school still has high levels of poverty, although now that poverty is less concentrated, and there are still high numbers of English-language learners and non-English speaking families. Riley says referrals to the office are almost nonexistent during arts integration periods, and students and their families are more engaged with the school.

IAA is still a public school, but now parents from outside the North End can choose to send their kids there. “Parents are interested in the arts model, interested in a different approach,” Riley said. The first year most kids still came from the neighborhood, but gradually the socioeconomic levels have evened out. Wealthier families are choosing to send their kids to IAA because of its program. Riley says the majority of students still walk to school -- it hasn't lost its sense of place in the community -- but now only about half the students qualify for lunch programs.

The program is also helping connect parents from immigrant communities to the school. “Art is a big part of many of their cultures, so I think they appreciate that experience,” Riley said. “I think they like the community vibe of the school.”


Art is not a second thought at the Integrated Arts Academy (IAA). Instead, artistic learning goals are held up as equals to academic standards and teachers work hard to design lessons that highlight content through art.

“If you pick a subject area like science, social studies, math or literacy and you integrate it with an art form, what you do is connect the two and find ways to really integrate the two so they lean on each other,” said Judy Klima, an integrated arts coach at IAA. An arts specialist co-plans and co-teaches alongside the general education teacher to help ensure academic learning is happening through an art form and visa versa.

For example, one third-grade science unit on leaf classification integrated visual arts into science. The teaching team used the close observation of leaves in science to teach about realistic versus abstract art. Students drew realistic drawings based on a leaf’s edge pattern. Then they made abstract art based on the scientific qualities of the leaf.

“When you engage hands-on and you are creating your own learning, you are deepening your level of understanding about a specific topic,” Klima said. In this case, students thought differently both about classification and characteristics, as well as about the differences between art forms.

Teachers rotate through visual art forms, music, dance and theater. One fifth-grade class came up with dramatic renditions of the Revolutionary War. They used the facts in their social studies curriculum to build scripts and then discussed the dramatic connections through volume, tone of voice and perspective.



The Integrated Arts Academy's success has come with a lot of hard work. “If you taught in a traditional method and then you come to arts integration, you have to change everything,” Klima said. “You really have to understand creativity and that it’s critical to students’ understanding.” While all IAA teachers were given the option to stay at the school when it became a magnet, some chose to leave.

“The classroom is a teacher’s island,” Riley said. “They have their students and their curriculum, teaching the way they teach. The arts integration really pushed us to collaborate. Opening up our practice and reflecting on it is a big part of what we do.” He said that’s not the norm at many U.S. schools. And that’s why he knows the collaboration necessary to integrate arts into academics doesn’t necessarily come naturally to many people.

In his role as school leader, Riley has focused on building up educators’ capacity to effectively collaborate. “You can’t just tell people to collaborate,” he said. “You have to put the structures and skill-building in place.” IAA has two teacher retreats a year where teachers create art and try out lessons together. It’s a time for community-building and collaboration, a space for teachers to stretch themselves as artists, too.

The school has also formed strong partnerships with the arts community in Burlington, taking advantage of its expertise through artist-in-residency programs and in turn helping to create a more vibrant arts scene. They’ve even started bringing graduate students in from across the state interested to learn and practice arts-integration strategies. While only in its second year, Riley hopes the Art Connect program can help spread these ideas to schools where participating teachers land.


At Cashman Elementary School in Amesbury, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Peterson doesn’t have the benefit of a schoolwide focus on arts integration to bolster her commitment to the practice. But she perseveres because she sees the approach making a difference for her fourth-grade students.

“I have to keep remembering and reminding myself that this is one of the best avenues to take. Because when kids are learning through the arts, they end up getting a deeper understanding and the concepts end up sticking much better,” Peterson said. Her strong suit is music -- she used to teach piano. When she went back to the general education classroom, she thought music could bring some joy and creativity to the academics she taught.

Peterson might ask her students to listen to "Sabre Dance" by Aram Khachaturian several times, often during snacks or at another transition time. As a class they talk about the dynamics of the music, its tempo and instrumentation. Then students draw cartoons illustrating a story they’ve developed based on their interpretation of the music. Peterson asks students to develop a setting, plot and storyline, ultimately having them write out their story.

“They’re definitely more invested because they’re pulling from their own experience and it’s their own interpretation,” Peterson said. They write elaborate stories and then talk about the differences in each student’s interpretation of the music.

“Arts integration seems to be the best form of differentiation out there because it taps into so many different interests and abilities and forms of learning,” Peterson said. In the writing example, kids who hate writing happily develop complicated storylines and write pages upon pages of their own ideas.


As with most deviations from what has been done in schools for hundreds of years, many teachers see art as secondary to the academic standards they must get through. Even Peterson said she feels that pressure, but she knows she can teach the standards through art in a way that also gives students some independence to stretch their creativity.

Arts integration can also be a hard model for teachers to buy into if they don’t feel like they themselves are competent artists. “Art scares people who are not in the arts,” said Michelle Baldwin, a lead teacher at the private Anastasis Academy, where art is central to everything done in the classroom. “If they don’t have a lot of experience or don’t feel like they are good at anything in the arts, it becomes a personal insecurity issue.”

But she points out that teachers don’t have to be experts to open up the door for students. There are experts willing to share their knowledge online, not to mention collaborations with local and state arts organizations to support this kind of work.

Elizabeth Peterson often feels out of her depth in visual arts, but that doesn't mean she discourages it in her class. “I’m not a very good illustrator, but if you bring it into your classroom, some of your students might be,” she said. “Having an atmosphere of being open to various art forms is all your students need.”

Despite calls for more art in schools, artistic ability often isn’t recognized as a skill equal to computer coding or engineering by society. Many parents want their kids to study something that clearly leads to a stable job. Until the arts are held in high esteem, they will always come second in traditional schools, Baldwin said.

“Even if parents say they value the arts, they still have that ingrained industrial method of education that people have a hard time letting go of,” Baldwin said. And, in her opinion, it's very hard to be creative within the narrow limitations of what traditional school and its standards ask kids to do. “You can’t be creative when you are in a box, when you have no way to make your own choices and decisions,” she said.

Some teachers using an arts integration model, like Elizabeth Peterson, are working to help teachers understand how art can be built into any kind of classroom. A big part of that is being able to pitch the idea to administrators and defend what might look like some whacky practices to people who wander into the classroom on a given day.

As children, young children, everything meant playing and art. We saw the world as a playground and a canvass. It didn’t matter whether or not we could actually draw. What mattered was the thrill of creating something beautiful.

We were all artists. We still are.

So reminding students that inspiration matters, that art lives and breathes inside every segment of education also means tweaking your lessons a bit. Switching your perspective to what’s really important at the core of any lesson may mean the difference between losing your students’ attention and actually getting your point across.

Albert Einstein wrote: The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. So the unknown, the mysterious, is where art and science meet.

Keeping his words in mind, educators everywhere are beginning to work art into education. Because we live in the 21st century, we have all the tools right at our fingertips, quite literally. The Internet hosts site after site devoted to integrating art into education. Right here, you’ll find some of the best websites and some interesting ideas that are easily altered to fit various lessons. Explore 50 ways to add artistic elements to the simplest and most complex lessons.


1. Lego Engineers

Besides LegoLand embodying a living, breathing demonstration of how Legos inspire children, Lego is making a fortune off the coolest kits around. Lego building requires everything from patience to vision. To achieve that vision, the builder needs good strategy. Strategy relies on mathematical skills. Everything from basic addition and subtraction to engineering skills blossoms when Lego’s pop into the picture. So, have students use Legos to demonstrate mathematical skills at each and every level. From robotics to engineering, Legos inspire learners. Visit for more information.

2. Marshmallow Math

Stack them. Create shapes with them. Add, subtract, multiply and divide them.

Then eat them. If you take a bag of marshmallows and you tell a child, “I’ll let you eat these if you get all the answers correct,” then you let the child use the marshmallows to find the answer, that child will get all the answers correct.

That’s the art of teaching math. I used to think that the older kids got, the less they cared about silly rewards like those marshmallows, but I was so wrong. They care even more. Life becomes a series of “pointless” classwork and homework assignments with quizzes and tests to follow if teachers don’t force fun.

3. Design Parks

Mathematicians, whether they’re engineers or architects or otherwise, know the importance of technology so teachers need to utilize it when helping students understand the value of every lesson. At you can find interactive games where students can design a park in the center of town.

4. I Hart Math Doodles

Take note of a girl and a math mission. She blows the concept that math means repetition and rudimentary mechanics right out of the water. Her site provides plenty of innovative “techniques” for seeing math in a different light. In one very amusing video, she shows how the typical factoring lesson turns into doodling stars, which she turns into a lesson on factoring itself. Check her doodles out at

5. Khan Academy

If doodling isn’t quite enough, try the Khan Academy for more of Vi Hart and the basics as well as anything else your heart desires. Math, Science, Economics, Humanities, and even test prep fill the website. It’s different because it doesn’t condescend. It doesn’t condescend because the site and it’s master creator, Sal Khan, offer visuals on how to understand the basics of math and other educational subjects without the assumption that it’s impossible to communicate. Start with the link on how to use it in the classroom. It will make all the difference.

6. MArTH Tools

At Math Munch, they’ve even conjured up a witty name for their merging of art and math called MArTH Tools. Teachers can find resources for inspiration, but more importantly, there are links to interactive tools that teach difficult concepts as well as practical skills.

7. Colors Multiplied

Multiplication can be taught with simple yet beautiful colors and shapes. Check out some beautiful images at Even teach prime numbers using some manipulation.

8. Math Journals

Teachers can vary assignments and difficulty levels by creating a math journal, which is ultimately a math adventure in the same vein as Indiana Jones. It gives importance and application to

9. Bridges

Basic word problems require students to draw or write out how they came to their conclusion. So why shouldn’t more complicated math be seen in the same way?

According to the Bridges Organization, math needs art and vice versa. This organization plans an annual conference focusing on the connection between art and math. At their website, you can find a wealth of information on mathematics and art.

10. Cinderella

Cinderella.2 software offers users geometry, virtual laboratories, and university-level mathematics with analytical functions. Students will learn while creating.


11. GeoGebra

GeoGebra gives students insight into planetary motion, exterior angles of polygons, rotating triangles, and more. The site also offers loads of information and worksheets.

12. Mosaics

Mosaics are a great way to introduce shapes to young minds so why not communicate the same way with older students. You can create them the traditional way, out of glass, or use cellophane paper or even just regular paper. Review basic shapes then piece them together and have students create patterns.

13. Patterns

Tessellations, infinite patterns with varying shapes, can help you teach about the polygon, plane, vertex, and adjacent. Students can put patterns together on paper or use basic computer programs to tile images. Just taking the time to show students something so simple gives them the basis they need to move on to more difficult problem solving lessons.

14. Origami Art

Origami art will add dimension with texture and movement. While giving young students a fun way to see shapes come together and create all sorts of animals or three-dimensional geometric shapes to marvel at, the origami art can evolve into a sophisticated tool for using math and engineering skills. Robert Lang explains the transformation at the following video:

15. Three-Dimensional shapes

With some compass points, scissors, glue, construction paper and bobby pins, students can create Polyhedra. Learn more about that at

16. Wheel of Theodorus

Students calculate, draw and create new images while learning the Pythagorean Theorem. Find details at

17. Alice & Algebra

Teach multiplication of fractions using the story of Alice in Wonderland. Melanie Bayley, an Oxford scholar, wrote a dissertation on this very subject. Just the manipulation of size from small to large and back again becomes a starting point for calculations to begin. Find out more on the practical implementation in the classroom at

18. Triangle to Square

So many sites and blogs have great animation to teach all kinds of theories. Matt Henderson teaches signal processing with rotating circles and a digital square wave. He also creates some cool doodle animation showing how drawing lines starting with a simple triangle can turn into a square.


19. Art in Labs

Students take a concept and turn it into art or even use the materials for art. Many artists do this anyway so why shouldn’t this be a part of coursework? Visit Working in labs themselves, students then create art out of bacteria and fungi.

20. The Art of Biology

Students create beautiful works of art with imaging technologies. Use that to introduce various lessons or a concept and the brain’s eye will attach itself to the particulars much better than simply assigning homework and moving on to an exam. Visit to learn more.

21. Toothbrush Robots

If your goal hinges on recruiting girls into the scientific field then art helps. Try They gather the girls to shoot rockets, create art shows, and play with bugs. Just knowing that science is NOT a man in a white lab coat ready to slice open a dead animal might mean the difference between a career in fashion and a career in chemical engineering. You’ll also find information on unique activities such as making toothbrush robots.

22. Chemistry

Through the Art Institute of Chicago, teachers can access lectures and lesson plans on the value of art in teaching chemistry and the chemistry of physics and light plus art and astronomy.

23. Fresco Chemistry

Check out’s newsletter on various activities from green chemistry to music in chemistry. Several activities fill the newsletter with step-by-step processes followed by an explanation of how the chemistry works. One of those is making a fresco.

24. The Golden Dream

Return to the beginnings of chemistry and art with alchemy at

Follow the guide to turn metal into gold. The fascination with the process sparks curiosity if nothing else.

25. Unique Perspectives

Try for ideas and articles on the mixture of science and art. Article upon article covers current topics in relation to the importance of science past, present and future. Ready for students to read, bring reality into science fiction with articles such as “Earth-like Planets May Be Closer than Thought.”

Computer Science


Alice teaches students how to program through dragging and dropping graphics. They’re taking 3-D objects inside a virtual world and animating them. They ultimately learn to build stories, create interactive games or video’s for sharing.

27. Polynomiography

Dr. Bahman Kalantari, professor of computer science at Rutgers University, introduced the idea of polynomiography. It literally means the visualization of polynomials. “Polynomials are so important that all students need to know about them no matter what scientific field they would want to follow.

But because the foundation of solving equations can be identified with points in the plane, visually it is very appealing to all ages,” Dr. Kalantari explains. Visit to explore.

28. Scratch

Scratch is a site hailing from MIT. Students gain access to software that teaches them to create and share interactive stories, games, music, and art.

Movies used across curricula

29. BrainPop

There is nothing that BrainPop can’t teach. The films are silly yet humorous and by far, they’re educational. The mini movies run the gamut from Language Arts to Math to Science to Social Studies. Kids like it because it’s not in a textbook. Adults like it because it’s not in a textbook.

30. Bitesize

In the same vein as BrainPop, Bitesize delivers the basics in short movies or sound bites. Teachers can use this to help students practice or even begin their journey into standardized essays and Spanish basics. The visuals and set up make it a great place to return to in order to build upon different lessons within any subject.

31. Sheppard Software

Like Brainpop and Bitesize, Sheppard has mini movies and games. Choosing one over the other depends on the difficulty of the lesson and the extent of the film.

32. VideoLab

If you can’t actually demonstrate in the lab, the next best thing is video. At teachers can show short videos to begin a lesson, transition from one to another, or just explain the facts and information with the necessary visuals.

Writing & Grammar

33. Art in a Word

Inspired by Doodle for Google, the annual competition giving students a chance to draw a new Google theme, the idea of Art in a Word challenges students to take the vocabulary word and turn each letter into the representation of its meaning. On the back of the page, teachers should have students use the word within context, writing it in a sentence, identifying the part of speech, then defining it.

34. Advertising

Have students create a full-page ad for their favorite product. Make up the criteria for them so that they have to use sentences with adjectives and strong verbs. Then have them edit their work. Meanwhile, teach them all types of grammar lessons in the process.

35. Bare Books

A book of their own means more to students than an ipod. They just don’t know it until they’ve created it. Depending on the assignment, teachers can buy books in bulk for as little as a dollar each. These books can be used for poetry or stories, leaving the rest of the blank space for art. If your students are more electronically inclined check out a new site that’s making it even easier to create e-books at

36. Paint the Strawberry

For writing teachers who need to emphasize the idea of “show don’t tell,” have students describe the strawberry or another type of food commonly eaten. They need to reconstruct the image including taste and sensations in the reader’s mind.

This means they have to come up with 10 to 20 descriptive words (depends on difficulty level) and use them in a paragraph describing the strawberry. The strawberry should be on display on a stool as the subject of their work of art. It sometimes draws a comedic response for an even better lesson.


Some students thrive in any reading environment. Others crumble. Over the years, I’ve noticed the basic difference between an engaged reader and one who struggles is the ability to visualize.

37. LiteracyHead

Whether students are struggling with basic reading awareness or writing skills, this site helps teachers use art as an inspiration to bridge the gap in communication. For comprehension, an image opens on the screen and asks the question, “In what ways does this picture connect to others?”

38. Graphic Novels

Greek Myths can confuse even the most interested reader, but turn it into a graphic novel or a booklet with illustrations and you’ve got an active, engaged reader. There’s a reason why there’s a comic culture out there in which people become obsessed with superheroes.

39. Comic Creator

When reading Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe with students, I rely on an amazing website full of free lesson plans and links to everything you need. For this one, I read the story in a scary voice, the room dark, only the words projected while the students predict the next twist. Then they have the option of creating a comic strip about it. They can use the comic creator if they don’t want to draw it themselves.

40. Poetry Café

This can be used as monthly or even weekly motivation for students to work on poetry. Decorate the room with poems and artwork inspired by those poems. Then let the students enjoy readings from other students. At the end of a lesson or as a reward for long, tough assignments, students can organize a coffee and cake session where they read their works or the works of poets around the world.

Social Studies

41. Map Art

Old maps hanging on a wall build an atmosphere of art and history combined with adventure. But, understanding them can be a difficult task. So having students create maps ignites the learning process and forces them to work through those difficulties. Visit for simple explanations on the creation process.

42. Divide and Conquer

Teaching about different cultures means making them come alive. The Inuit people should live on a canvass, dancing, singing, hunting, and building. So, have students make a brochure from a poster cut in half. Bend it into threes. Divide into sections such as origins, tradition, geography, food and accomplishments.

43. Forget-Me-Not Dioramas

I haven’t met a history teacher who hasn’t had a diorama project quick on hand. However, requiring an artistic approach changes the dynamics of the criteria with which the student learns. Give the students an assignment they will never forget. Isn’t that the idea?

For example, war isn’t about guns and death as much as it’s about lost love. If World War I must be represented, let it be told with love. Start with the love letters of Harriet Johnson to her boyfriend and continue from there. This not only teaches the emotional loss at Wartime but adds value and meaning to a lesson.

44. Folk Art

It’s as simple as having students recreate folk art from a certain time period and a culture and presenting it with facts and information. The inspiration matches the assignment giving each student a firm grasp of the value of an individual within a larger segment of society. Visit or for more ideas and information.

45. Transformation

Change the entire classroom into a diorama. It’s been done many times in my own classroom. Entire walls become pyramids. Others become waterfalls. And, the great part isn’t even the fact that students will work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to build a pyramid, but they will learn everything about that time period while they’re doing it. It takes a lot of patience, planning, and very considerate faculty, but it’s worth it because of the pride and energy students earn from this lesson.

46. Film Recreations

Students, especially older ones, love filming anything. So have them recreate a historical event, film it, and present it to the class. Sure you could have them act it out but using video and technology will allow them to edit and start over if necessary.

47. Documentaries

In order to get students’ attention, tell them they need to mimic documentaries. Show them several types and then let them choose one to duplicate or even come up with a current event of their own to document. The student presentations not only reteach the subject matter to each other but give them control over their learning.

48. Write History

Have students recreate a time in history and include themselves. They can take on characteristics of certain people who lived at that time or they can create their own person from pieces of different types of people during that time period.

49. Hero History

Twist the concept of a hero into the ordinary citizen as a leader, innovator, and survivor of that time. Students can choose an actual “hero” or famous character to dress as and give a speech about or they can piece together a hero from the famous leaders of the time.

50. Twisted Timeline

There’s nothing better than a timeline to teach important dates in history. But, no one ever teaches that stories, which are what history is about, never quite move in a straight line. The timeline still flows in the same direction, students just twist it a little, take side routes and learn about details they might never have paid attention to when cramming for a test.

For example, if the time period focuses on the American Revolution then use the dates to carry students through to the next date but wind around to the left or right, take a detour, find out some interesting cultural facts within those two dates and add that to the timeline.

Visit for detailed timelines with great images that students can add to their own.

As a final note, if the art warrants it, always make sure there’s a wall or a table for display. Displaying finished pieces gives artists a sense of satisfaction. Children who don’t see their work rewarded lose motivation, the same is true of young adults, and even more so of adults.

If yours is a virtual classroom, build a blog around your students’ creations. Creating one is simple enough nowadays. You don’t even have to know how to code. It doesn’t matter if the entire world knows about it. All that matters is that they know about it, that they can say they’re work “hangs” there.

Lastly, introducing art into any classroom means thoughtful planning but also a very real understanding that there will be loss of control. Knowing this can be very liberating for a teacher, but it can also be uncomfortable. However, once you allow yourself to be comfortable with it, students will master the lesson and, more often than not, surpass it.

About Lisa Chesser

A former Publications Specialist at Florida International University where she also received a bachelor’s degree in English, Lisa Chesser left the publishing field to pursue a career in education.

In her first three years of teaching Language Arts, she won an Excellence in Teaching Award for helping students achieve 50 percent learning gains. Because she’s also a writer, an editor, and an artist by trade, students often take more interest in their learning environment because she teaches them the value of it in the workplace.

You can find her on Google+.

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