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What is arts integration and why does it matter?

For many teachers, getting through all the academic standards in English Language Arts and Math during the school year is a significant challenge, a task whose significance is highlighted by the standardized state testing that focuses solely on these areas of student development. In schools with many English Language Learners and special needs students, it is a particularly daunting task given that state funding and teacher salaries are often tied to these test results. Given that backdrop, you may wonder why arts education is important, and how it could possibly be included in the school day. As a media arts and technology integration specialist, I work with teachers to develop curricula that integrates arts education with core content. This provides an engaging and motivating context in which students can learn the literacy skills on which they will be tested.

There are countless ways to integrate arts education and core content, and while it does often take greater preparation for educators at the beginning in order to design a project for students to create, once students have begun to work on their projects they can be self-guided for the most part. Projects also allow for a lot more differentiation of instruction than typical workbook or textbook-based learning can easily provide.

Here are some examples of media arts based projects and the ways in which core content is integrated into these creative projects:

• A digital comic book from the perspective of a Colonial Era Pilgrim child attempting to survive a harsh winter, or as a Colonial Era Native American child attempting to survive the incursion of a European colony.

This project integrates social studies, English language arts, and visual arts standards, along with Common Core Standards and the Framework for 21st Century Skills.

• A digital timeline with photos and explanatory text delineating important events of the California Gold Rush

This project integrates social studies, English language arts, and visual arts standards, along with Common Core Standards and the Framework for 21st Century Skills.

• A stop motion animation demonstrating how a cell changes during mitosis.

This project integrates science, English language arts, and visual arts standards, along with Common Core Standards and the Framework for 21st Century Skills.

• A digital photo essay about an animal and its habitat.

This project integrates science, English language arts, and visual arts standards, along with Common Core Standards and the Framework for 21st Century Skills.

My general method for designing a project like the ones listed above is to begin by working with teachers to select a social studies, math, science or English language arts focus and a media arts focus, and figuring out how many weeks we have to do the project. Then I create a project packet for students to go through at their own pace, which includes many points for the student, their peers, and the teacher to assess their work before they move on the next phase of the project. Project packets also include extension options so that students who are highly motivated and able to finish their projects sooner than others have interesting and academically challenging activities to work on.

When students are able to work independently on creative and complex projects, it allows for the teacher to spend more time one-on-one with students, moving around the room to provide support and guidance to each student individually. This type of scaffolding combined with providing a creative outlet for students to express themselves and use their potent capacity for imagination in the classroom, creates a sense of connection, commitment, and interest that teachers can leverage to push students further. Once students have created a digital media project, they are also able to share their work in meaningful ways with students around their school and around the world. This creates an organic desire in students to produce quality work, because they know that there is a real audience for what they are creating. For these reasons and many more, arts integration is a powerful tool for educators to create transformative classrooms where each student has a voice, and can reach their full potential.

 

Why our elementary and middle schools need media arts and technology education

Today’s youth are growing up in a technology and media saturated environment, and yet many students are not given the proper tools to interpret, analyze, critique, or create media, leaving them to be simple consumers of media content rather than critical thinkers and innovative creators. This lack of media literacy education leaves students vulnerable to manipulation and cooptation. It also means schools are missing a huge opportunity for students to create media themselves, which can be the means to an engaging, empowering, and ultimately transformative education. Additionally, being an adept user of emerging technologies is a skill set that will impact the employment opportunities of nearly all our young students when they eventually enter the workforce. Giving students access to technology education will help ensure that they have a range of options available to them when considering future careers. It is especially important that Streetside Stories offers trainings for teachers and equipment for schools serving low-income students, so that these schools can provide regular access to high-quality technology education, thereby lessening the impact of the digital divide. The digital divide is an issue of class privilege, wherein some children grow up in homes with regular access to technology and are taught to use digital tools from a young age by parents who are regular users of these technologies, while other students do not have these items available for their daily use. By providing media arts and technology education in schools, we can help create equal access for all youth. In addition to the growing importance of technology in our daily lives, the experience of creating media provides an opportunity for students to share their stories with a global audience. Having a real audience for one’s work is a significant teaching tool that fosters excitement, investment, and pride in students. It also leverages the benefits of global connectivity by allowing students to communicate with other classrooms around the world.

It is heartening to see media literacy, information and technology literacy, and media production being incorporated in to California state content standards, the Common Core federal content standards, and the framework for 21st century skills. This inclusion is an acknowledgment of the importance and impact of media creation, media literacy, and technological proficiency for today’s youth. At the same time, these areas of the curriculum remain underemphasized and under-resourced. Many teachers lack the knowledge, and many schools lack the necessary equipment to adequately teach these media arts and technology standards. For this reason, it is particularly important that organizations like Streetside Stories exist, to fill the gap between our educational research, which asserts the importance of these areas of the curriculum, and the capacity of our educators to actually implement such ideals.