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Looking for ways to spark creativity and enthusiasm in your classroom? Combine arts and crafts with math, science, ELA, and other subjects. “It’s joyful,” says Joanna Elliott, an arts integration specialist in Burlington, Vermont. “Exploring academic curriculum with hands-on making gives a huge confidence boost to visual learners, and it builds buzz and excitement.”
Student enthusiasm isn’t the only benefit. The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) found that incorporating the arts into students’ regular curriculum improves language development, reading comprehension, and math scores—and the results were even more pronounced for students with special needs or from impoverished backgrounds.
Elliott has seen academic gains in her own classroom: “When you teach across multiple content areas at a time, you draw on more of a child’s knowledge and experience, which deepens understanding and makes the new content stick.”
ABC Fashion Show
Submitted by: Greg Smedley-Warren, kindergarten, J. E. Moss Elementary School, Nashville, Tennessee. Blog: The Kindergarten Smorgasbord
Materials: Brown paper grocery bags, magazines and newspapers, glue, scissors, markers
When to Use It: After learning their letters and sounds, students apply their knowledge in this “letter superstar” art project.
Directions: Create a vest for each child from a grocery bag, and randomly assign each child a letter. Have them cut out words or pictures that start with the letter, and glue these onto their vests. Smedley-Warren’s students began the project as homework and finished it in class. Extend the activity by having students write a simple story using words shown on their vest, and then model for the class and parents!
Bubble Gum Graphing
Submitted by: Julie Lee, kindergarten, Big Spring Lake Kindergarten School, Albertville, Alabama. Blog: Mrs. Lee’s Kindergarten
Materials: Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, by Lisa Wheeler; construction paper; scissors; glue; pink balloons and tissue; yarn; gum
When to Use It: When teaching graphing and word choice.
Directions: Read Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, about animals that get stuck in gum. Discuss how words like chewy-gooey and icky-sticky tell what the gum feels like. Pass out gum and invite students to suggest adjectives that describe its taste, feel, and sound. Then, sort the class into “bubblers” and “non-bubblers,” based on who can blow a bubble. Have each student make a self-portrait using precut circles for faces and eyes, adding hair made of paper or yarn. In place of the mouth, “bubblers” attach an inflated pink balloon, while “non-bubblers” attach crumpled tissue paper. Have students add their portraits to either the “yes” or “no” column of a graph titled “Can You Blow a Bubble?” Use results to discuss graphing and ask questions such as: How many more non-bubblers are there than bubblers? If two more students learned to blow bubbles, how many bubblers would there be in all?Write number sentences. (If no gum is allowed, simply poll students.)
Light Unit Magic Wands
Submitted by: Joanna Elliott, K–5 art, Edmunds Elementary, Burlington, Vermont. Blog: Art with Mrs. Elliott
Materials: Opaque, translucent, and transparent materials; flashlights; 1.5–2V slow, color-changing LED lights; 22-gauge red and black wires; 3V batteries; dowels; yarn; tape
When to Use It: To bring magic to the study of light and electricity.
Directions: Have students shine flashlights through various materials, sorting them by whether they are opaque, translucent, or transparent. Then, create simple circuits. “Circuitry can seem mysterious, but even my first graders can tell you the basics now,” says Elliott. Each LED light has two “leads.” Wrap the metal end of a red wire around one lead and the end of a black wire around the other. Give a wired LED light and battery to each student. Have them experiment until they discover how to make the light come on. Next, have students tape the LED to a dowel and wrap the wires around it. They should tape the black wire to the negative battery side and secure it, leaving the red wire free to be an off–on switch. (Find instructions here.) Have kids decorate wands, leaving the switch exposed, and use opaque, translucent, or transparent materials to create covers for the lights.
Sea of Story Elements
Submitted by: Renee Glashow, grade 3, Shalom Torah Academy, Morganville, New Jersey. Blog: The Third Grade Learning Spot
Materials: Turtle Bay, by Saviour Pirotta; paper or foam bowls; construction paper; pencils; glue; scissors; green tissue paper and other media
When to Use It: Dive into story elements while studying sea life.
Directions: Trace an upside-down bowl on paper to create the turtle’s body; draw a head and tail; draw four legs and label them “Characters,” “Setting,” “Problem,” and “Solution,” with room for students to write in; trace bottom of bowl on a second sheet to create a smaller circle and label this one “Author’s Purpose.” Distribute copies. Together, read Turtle Bay, about an old man who welcomes sea turtles to a beach to lay eggs. Discuss the author’s purpose and the importance of taking care of the ocean and its creatures. Have students record the author’s purpose in the small circle and story elements in each “leg.” Next, have them cut out their turtle, glue a bowl facedown on the center of the body, and glue on the “Author’s Purpose” circle. Decorate and hang turtles to create a “sea of story elements.”
Submitted by: Linda Kamp, grade 2, Chaparral Elementary School, Gilbert, Arizona. Blog: Around the Kampfire
Materials: powdered cheese packets, juice boxes, black pipe cleaners, flowers cut from templates, scissors, hand lens, recording sheet (print below)
When to Use It: To teach pollination.
Directions: Pass out one large flower per group and one small flower per student. Sprinkle powdered cheese on large flowers. Give kids juice boxes, and have them attach a small flower to the top by putting the straw through a hole in the flower. Next, have each child wrap a pipe cleaner around an index finger, and get a partner to twist it to form legs and feet; form antennae with the other piece. “We talked about the bristles of the pipe cleaner being like the tiny hairs on many insects’ feet,” says Kamp. To pollinate, students use their “proboscis” (mouth) to sip “nectar” (juice), while stepping their feet in the pollen. They then tap their feet on the small flowers, transferring pollen. Use the recording sheet to guide students in writing about the pollination process.
Submitted by: Anne Marie Chevalier, formerly grades 3–4 (now grade 1), Saint Gabriel Catholic Elementary, Cambridge, Ontario. Blog: Elementary AMC
Materials: Interactive whiteboard or projector; A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat; construction paper cut into 2" squares; large paper; glue; skills sheet (print below)
When to Use It: Add pixel personality to lessons on area, perimeter, and fractions.
Directions: Explore La Grande Jatte via whiteboard, zooming in on the dots that make up the pointillist painting, connecting these to pixels that make up a digital image. (Chevalier shows a short Minecraft video.) Pass out paper squares and have students arrange and glue them down on a white background to create a “pixel person” who is symmetrical in shape and color, and then calculate the perimeter (in units) and area (in square units). Ask students to attach a math sheet and write an addition problem with multiple addends to represent the colors they used.
Pizza Box Fractions
Submitted by: Tara R. Eiken, grade 4, Myakka River Elementary, Port Charlotte, Florida. Blog: 4th Grade Frolics
Materials: One pizza box per student, construction paper, scissors, glue, assorted art media
When to Use It: Make “pizza” while doing equivalent fractions.
Directions: This project lets each kid put his or her mark on a favorite thing—pizza! Inside open pizza boxes, students draw or use paper or other materials of their choice to create a pizza divided into at least eight equal slices. They then create five different toppings and cover portions of the pizza with them to represent five fractions. “I absolutely love how different each project is…some drew theirs, some used construction paper, some used Play-Doh, buttons, all kinds of creative ideas,” says Eiken. Students attach a key to the inside lid to show what fraction of the pizza each topping covers. Finally, next to each fraction, they also list two equivalent fractions. For example, pepperoni = 2/8, 1/4. Images and instructions can be found on Eiken’s blog, or printed below. Display finished pizzas to make a mouthwatering math buffet.
Realistic and Abstract Cells
Submitted by: Ada Leaphart, grades K–5 art, The Integrated Arts Academy, Burlington, Vermont. Blog: IAA Art Studio
Materials: 3" or 4" wood discs (buy at craft store), paint, colored pencils, construction paper, glue, tape, string
When to Use It: Use this while teaching plant and animal cells.
Directions: Tell students that a scientific model is a 2D or 3D representation of an idea, object, or system. It is used to explain what the scientist is studying and shows the important parts of an idea but not necessarily all the details. Explain that scientists use clear, neat shapes, forms, and colors to represent ideas on their models, and labels, lines, and arrows to point out additional information. Next, discuss the difference between realistic and abstract art. Pass out wood discs (Leaphart uses cherry stumps). Have each student trace the disc on paper, using the outline to draw and color in the parts of the cell; they should then label each part. Next, have students paint the flat surface of the disc to match the cell they drew. Display finished discs together on a colorful wall display or glue them to the paper diagrams. As an extension, have students work with a partner to design a 3D abstract representation of a cell. It should explore the shapes and arrangement of cells and their organelles using construction paper. Describe techniques to give paper 3D form, such as accordion folding, pop-outs, fringes, tears, cones, and links. Hang finished abstract cells in a classroom installation.
Stylized Animal Totem Poles
Submitted by: Zachary Stoller, grades 1–5 art, Thomas Elementary School, Dublin, Ohio. Blog: Thomas Elementary Art
Materials: 12" x 18" construction paper in four colors, scissors, glue, drawing materials
When to Use It: To learn about Native American art and culture.
Directions: Students begin by researching Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, learning about tribes, the use of totem poles, and animal symbolism (see additional resources below). They also use nature books to research animals of the Northwest. Students collaborate in groups of four, with each child choosing an animal. Using the research, each student sketches the animal of his or her choice and then recreates it on one of the four colors of construction paper. Stoller explains his techniques on his blog.“I tell my students that they need to use about 98 percent of their paper. It really forces them to rethink the way they have drawn animals for their entire lives.” The children in each group combine their animals to create a totem pole, trimming the edges for a woodcut look. Display the totem poles on a wall.
Don’t Worry, Be Artsy!
Think you lack the art gene? Some people do have an innate genius for making art, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t make some pretty cool-looking stuff that’ll give math or science hour an extra sparkle! Here are a few tips to see you through.
- Start simple: Don’t try to execute an elaborate project your first time out. Many of the ideas we present here don’t require an art degree. We know. We made a couple!
- Put curriculum first: Your learning goals should guide the project. Think about what you really want students to learn (how to graph, how to think about fractions), and then brainstorm an artful way to represent that.
- Borrow ideas from colleagues: Don’t hesitate to steal, borrow, and beg ideas from fellow teachers. Chances are they will be flattered—and happy to share their tips!
- Get ideas from Pinterest: Pinterest is a gold mine of creative ideas. The only issue will be pulling yourself out of its depths once you dive in.
- Hunt down artsy education blogs: Like the teachers whose ideas we feature, many other teachers, homeschoolers, and parents have their own blogs where they share ideas that run the gamut.
Photos: Adam Chinitz; Linda Kamp (pollination activity)
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