Guest Blog Post: How Integrating Art into Math Provided Multiple Connections for Me and My Students

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By: Theresa Bender, Middle School Math Educator
Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy
Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Prior to working with Progressive Arts Alliance, teaching for me was driven by state exams, academic rigor, and pacing charts. When I heard my school was adopting an arts-integration strategy, I was skeptical and extremely concerned that I would not be able to integrate art into my math class. I just didn’t know how I would blend the two concepts together and still reach the academic demands that were set by my district.

At the beginning of this school year, my school received a grant that launched our partnership with PAA. Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled for the reasons I mentioned earlier.  Yet, I knew I had no choice and needed to see this through. I was paired with Ben Horvat, one of the artist-educators from PAA. We met a few times and decided to create a unit that incorporated the Laws of Levers into a three-dimensional mobile project. Again, I was skeptical because I just didn’t see how this would help me meet my objectives and educate my students in math. I didn’t understand the vision of how all the pieces came together.

As part of the collaborative planning process with Ben, I researched how mobiles were balanced by applying the Law of Levers. Once the PAA program started in my classroom, I  worked alongside Ben and my students on the project. A short time after the project began unfolding, I reached an “ah-ha” moment – I heard my students solve multiple problems using knowledge gained from the arts-integration lesson in other lessons outside of our PAA time. The students were demonstrating to me that they were able to apply the concepts from PAA’s mobile project to other situations and I learned that the students had created connections I hadn’t expected.

In the end, I discovered many things about PAA’s arts-infused lessons I plan to incorporate in my future lesson plans. By collaborating with PAA and Ben, I reached my students in new ways providing them multiple connections to the concept. I also found that my students were engaged at a higher level, and students who normally struggled with math seemed to flourish. Finally, the permanent display of the mobiles in our school’s cafeteria created a visible sense of pride for my students and other students in our school. As a result of these outcomes, I am eager to continue my collaborative work with PAA again this semester.

To learn more about the mobile project at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy, click here to visit PAA’s YouTube channel.

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