At The Foundations School, we believe in using the arts as a tool to break the barriers of traditional learning. We use a method of teaching and learning called arts integration that weaves the arts into academics through project-based learning. The goal is to enhance a student’s understanding of both subjects.
Recently, students embarked on a project that perfectly exemplifies arts integration. “The teachers were told not to plan anything for September 14th,” said Dr. Susan Wemette, Director of Arts Integration and Creativity. “No tests, no lessons, just come ready to have a good time. And we gave them a one-sheet set of instructions, kind of Mission Impossible task for the day and that was to create an outdoor learning space/playground.”
Once the teachers arrived at school and received their instructions, they immediately jumped into brainstorming ideas with their students. They explored different types of playgrounds and decided what they would like to incorporate into their dream outdoor learning environment. Most students sketched their concepts before bringing their ideas together and creating a visual representation of their class’s collaboration. Some students drew on posterboard while others created models or dioramas. At the end of the day, the students presented their playground to the rest of the school.
“We had had a meeting sometime prior with the teachers, and we were getting the sense that… it’s going to take some time for them to adopt [arts integration] as a method of teaching rather than a moment where the artist comes in to support what they’re doing,” said Marsha Bhwansingh, Administrative Assistant. “With the arts integration, we want them to get used to the idea and start practicing arts integration as a method of instruction, rather than something else that’s supporting their teaching.”
Teachers had an entire school day to dedicate to the playground project. Students brainstormed all sorts of creative ideas; a scorpion trampoline, an outdoor science lab, even a zipline entrance!
“Sometimes, you get very engaged in the routine of teaching and the teacher becomes the facilitator, the one who drives the instruction,” said Dr. Wemette. “We wanted the teachers to kind of have to take a step back and allow the students to drive the instruction, which is ideally how arts integration is approached.”
Confidence and Joy
Arts integration is a unique approach to teaching and learning. For teachers and students comfortable with traditional classrooms, arts integration can be intimidating. “I would hope that through this experience, arts integration as a method of teaching is not as feared,” said Ms. Bhwansingh. “For a lot non-artists, the word creativity is attached to art skills. But that’s not what creativity is. So, I would hope that they are a little more confident in delivering instruction through arts.”
CCE staff also wanted the teachers and the students to remember how much fun learning and teaching can be. Throughout the day, students and teachers engaged in animated discussion, bringing their dreams to life through project-based learning. “They were creating their ideal playground,” said Dr. Wemette. “How much fun is that? And then we snuck all this learning in on them.”