Jun 29 2011
Integrating Art and Social Studies
I believe the essence of having a good education is being able to see beyond traditional boundaries and to make connections in unexpected ways. That’s why I think this Edutopia video demonstrates education at it’s finest.
A social studies teacher and an art teacher collaborating together is exactly how education should be proceeding all of the time, yet this sort of collaboration is remarkable enough to be highlighted on Edutopia. We are so hung up on standards, and measures, and outcomes that we forget this sort of learning is desirable or even possible.
Social studies and art are both humanities subjects, so I am not blown away by this concept. It simply seems natural. I had a great social studies teacher in 8th grade who had us make art projects as a part of our learning. One of my favorite co-learners from my personal learning network is Paul Bogush, a middle school social studies teacher who regularly integrates the arts into his teaching.
But what about integrating two subjects that on the surface are completely unrelated? What could be done with poetry and physics? Or chemistry and literature? What about history and science? To me, these odd juxtapositions are what makes teaching exciting and full of possibilities.
My nine year old daughter is developing an aversion to math. It’s too bad because she’s a bright girl and has the potential to do well in math. What’s really sad is she has a strong interest in science. If her attitude about math doesn’t change, she’ll probably follow the typical path of losing interest in science once the math comes to the forefront in middle and high school.
Right now, my daughter’s attention is primarily on softball. She’s a sports nut, but really loves playing and watching softball & baseball. A while ago, she and I started looking at batting averages of players and trying to make some sense of it. With herheading into 4th grade, understanding percentages, fractions and averages is a good thing to spend some of her summer working on.
Together we figured out what her own batting average was, and compared it with her favorite major league players. We also made graphs to show what those averages looked like in graphical form. Maybe it’s just a small integration, but it did let her take out her rarely used colors & markers from the past school year to create something interesting and educational.
To me, one of the biggest problems with math education is that the subject is typically taught by someone who loves math. The other big problem is so often in the early grades it is taught by someone who is really fearful of math. I think the ideal math teacher is someone who struggled with math but worked through the difficulties to proficiency and confidence. Maybe this is a problem in all subject areas? People who teach any given subject loved that subject and it came easily for them. They have a hard time being empathetic to those who don’t share the same facility and passion.
Perhaps, in integrating unfamiliar subjects into the subjects we teach and love, we can experience some of that dissonance; some of what our students experience when learning something new for the first time? But how many times when given an opportunity to know something new and unfamiliar do we simply say “I’m not good at that” and avoid the experience?
My challenge to you today if you are a teacher is this:
Take your subject area, and combine it with a subject that seems to be as far remote from your subject as possible. Preferably it is something you know little or nothing about, but have at least a passing interest in knowing more. Now combine the two into an integrated lesson. How could those two subjects be connected?
I’ll give you one example of a past project I did with my students. I teach computer technology, so my two remotely connected subjects were computer graphics and pumpkin carving. I had noticed that the complexity of pumpkin carvings around Halloween time was increasing, and I suspected it was a function of the spread of computers, graphic software, and digital imaging capabilities. I had never carved anything more complex than the typical toothless grin and triangle eyes jack-o-lantern. So I tried creating a pattern using Illustrator and a picture from the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.” After much research, I finally made a decent pumpkin.
It took me another year to figure out how to integrate this idea into a visual literacy class project but my students were eventually able to create their own designs and even we wound up doing a carving competition with a K-State architecture class on the main campus.
I believe teaching is best done with a broad view of the world, interconnecting the subjects together instead of leaving them to stand apart. What kinds of connections are you making with your students?