humanities

Art History Enrichment Club: Painting to Understand Human Culture

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Two things that are rarely taught in tandem, outside of college elective courses, are Art and History, yet these two disciplines are inextricably linked. Art gives us a window to the minds of humans living in another time.  Every detail can tell a story, from the subject and the setting to the style of a time period.  Each of these things gives us hints as to what life, attitudes, and technology were like when those pieces were created.  Art as old as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as that created in modern day can shed light on how humanity has evolved and provide a glimpse to human potential. Some might argue, if you don’t know the history – how can you create the future?

This important connection between human expression and history has inpired the educators at NYOS Charter School in Pflugerville, Texas, in the Art History Enrichment Club.  According to the project team, the goal is for students to better understand how history and art are interwoven throughout the ages. This understanding will allow students from all backgrounds to connect the art they studied to the community and world around them. By studying the craft of painting in a variety of techniques, they will not only grow as artists, but also make connections between advances in art, history and culture, from paintings in famous museums to those found in their local community.

Students explore important connections between art and history in "Art History Enrichment Club"
Students explore important connections between art and history in “Art History Enrichment Club” in a series of after school enrichment workshops and a field trip to the Blanton Art Museum in Austin, Texas.

How does art history after school enrichment support cognitive and social skills in intermediate grades?

The Art History Club was open to students in 4th and 5th grades. Students applied, with parent permission, and thirty of them decided to stay after school one day a week for an hour. This allowed the school to serve up to 20% of their student population. The classes were offered for 20 weeks and were capped off with a trip to the Blanton Art Museum in Austin, Texas.  Not only did the project allow students of all backgrounds to connect with history and their communities, it also gave them a new visual language to identify styles and techniques.  Research has shown that students who are enrolled in art programs increase cognitive and social skills that are then applied in daily classroom activities.

Students shared what they were learning on an Art Board in a common area of the school.
Students shared what they were learning on an Art Board in a common area of the school.

An important part of this enrichment program is that it wasn’t just passive observation.  These students received hands on experience, so to speak.  Not only did students see and study the art and varying techniques, they also put those lessons to the test.  A weekly display of the information about an artist and the students work was also shared in a common area for all students to view. Additionally, there was an art show displaying student’s artwork open to the NYOS community.  NYOS also has a collaborative relationship with local business. These business were able to display artwork allowing students to share their achievements with their local community.

What other benefits came from this project?

According to Melissa Hefner, project awardee, the project was designed to make broad connections between art, history, and real life: “The first goal of the project was to teach how history and art were interwoven. The second goal was to show the different styles of art that have been created throughout history, starting with Egyptian Art and ending with Modern Art.  The third goal was for students to identify famous pieces of artwork on clothing, TV shows, movies, posters, etc. making the connection that masterpieces are all around us.  The fourth goal was to have them identify art in their community and then add their own art to the community.”

Students were able to share their art with friends and family at a school fine arts night.
Students were able to share their art with friends and family at a school fine arts night.

The students have discussed art throughout many historical periods and created pieces of artwork in many different styles in the after school program, every Thursday for an hour.  In April, students showcased their work at Fine Arts Night, and even the parents managed to learn a little something they didn’t know previously.  In the beginning of May they took the field trip to a local art museum and graffiti wall.  A great contrast between fine and street art, and a great lesson about the importance and impact of both.  As a direct result, students have become aware of how much art exists around them in the books they read, historical events they study, current events they hear about, and even in their social media feeds.

This project is off to a strong start and continue to impress us at the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation.  Here’s to a few more years of making art and creating history!

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Integrated Studies: Placing Learning in the Real World

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How do visual arts, science and literature come together for student engagement and success?

Journaling This month’s blog presents Valuing Place: A study of human impact on the American West an 8th grade integrated studies project that explores the impact of human activity on the American West’s ecosystems.
Ben studies the map of the Great Basin Region in the Visitors Center at Antelope Island State Park.
What is integrated studies?

Integrated studies connects two or more disciplines, showing ideas in context and giving students a more realistic view of how one works in the real world.

Teaching this way promotes:

  • collaboration
  • critical thinking
  • an in-depth understanding of the areas being studied

For support developing an integrated studies approach visit the Edutopia website.

What can integrated studies look like for 8th grade students?

The project Valuing Place is a collaboration between science, humanities and visual arts teachers at the Salt Lake Arts Academy.

Image 2

Through this project teachers have designed a cohesive curriculum that unifies the facts, skills, goals, and knowledge found within their core standards.

By designing a collaborative unit the teachers have created a powerful learning model for future integrated curriculum.

These powerful learning activities included standards-based connections to each content area:

  • In the humanities, students read works of fiction and non-fiction, including primary sources about the settlement of the American West and Utah.
  • In science, the standards addressed the theme of “change” and students were asked to analyze the influence humans have had on the environment. Students studied the geological forces that created the geography of the American West and its natural resources and eco-systems. Through experiments and fieldwork students studied how human activity, along the Wasatch front, positively or negatively impacted the local eco-systems.
  • In visual arts, students were taught photography, basic drawing and watercolor techniques. Additionally they analyzed old photographs and artwork of the American West and Utah.

Emmaline's mantis

Students created original products that showed a deep understanding of the complex issues as a result of western expansion and how those issues remain relevant to the present as well as to the future way of life for Utah.

The Valuing Place project helped students demonstrate:

  • increased proficiency in narrative, expository and informational writing
  • targeted visual arts techniques
  • multiple perspectives about how human activity has impacted their local eco-systems over time.
The Salt Lake Arts Academy has an award-winning leadership program that invites their 8th graders to identify an area that needs improvement and the actions they must initiate to make these improvements a reality. They used this leadership program with the Valuing Place project.
Fieldwork Provides Opportunities For Integrating The Disciplines
How can an integrated studies project evolve?

During Year One of McCarthey Dressman funding, students looked into the changes in the past 150 years to the Wasatch front, and the impact of mining on local eco-systems.

In Year Two of the project, the students looked into the water and the impact of expanding development in the 20th century, the Central Utah Project and reliance on the Colorado River system.

In Year Three the issues and costs of future expansion, green building guidelines, alternative energy sources and conservation were studied.

What is the impact of integrated studies?

Jeni and Jason

In closing, this is an excellent example of how education should work, now and in the future. Instead of learning in discreet, separate subjects, the disciplines are taught in a more integrated manner. Students are studying real problems, understanding the content at a deep level, working in teams and producing products they can be proud of and that are shared with a larger audience.

Next Month’s Topic

BOOM Magazine – an after school program that helps kids of all abilities, from extremely talented to inexperienced writers, express themselves, improve writing abilities, and gain confidence and life skills.