MAT Blog

5 Five-Minute Activities to Improve Vocabulary Building & Description

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 8, 2013 9:36:00 AM

In addition to the longer lessons that make up the main body of our curriculum, we like to add supplementary activities. Sometimes these are quick warm-ups intended to loosen up our students and get them into the right frame of mind. Other activities help us with vocabulary building, or simply act as intellectual “filler” to give students a respite from a class full of heavier, harder-to-digest content. We recently picked up a copy of Penny Ur’s and Andrew Wright’s book, Five-Minute Activities and thought we’d share a few of our favorite 5-minute activities with you.

5 Five-Minute Activities to Improve Vocabulary Building & Description

vocabulary buildingThe Abstract Picture
Draw a big rectangle on the board; inside of it add a variety of lines, squiggles, dots and shapes. Now take a step back and ask the class what they see. What do they think the picture represents? You will get more interaction if you assure students that there is no right or wrong answer. This activity works particularly well for English teachers who are teaching descriptive or creative writing and vocabulary.


vocabulary buildingAdjectives and Nouns
This activity asks students to suggest adjective-noun phrases. For example, an abstract painting, or a drowsy truck driver. As your students make suggestions, write the adjectives on one side of the board and the nouns on the other.

Now students have to create different adjective-noun combinations. When a suggestion is made, draw a line to connect one word to another. If your students suggest something unusual—a drowsy painting, for example—ask them to explain their word combination. Can a painting be drowsy? How so?

The Ambiguous Picture
This is another fun activity for teaching description. vocabulary building
Begin by drawing a small part of a picture. Now ask your students to guess what it’s going to be. The more opinions the better—and be sure not to reject ideas. Now build up your picture in stages, each time asking your students to guess what it is. If students guess, we like to throw them for a loop by changing the original idea.

Word Associations
We use this activity to review vocabulary and practice imaginative association. The teacher begins the activity by saying a word—tyrant, for example. Now the teacher randomly points to a student who must come up with a word association. The student might associate tyrant with merciless. Now that student points to another student who continues the process. If you want to quicken the pace of the game or make it more challenging, set a time limit or limit students to using only the vocabulary words they are studying.

Brainstorming ‘Round a Word
Start by writing a recently learned vocabulary word on the board and then ask your students to suggest all the words they associate with it. Write these down and draw spokes from each association to the root word.

If you want to make the game more challenging, impose restrictions. For example, tell students that they can only use adjectives that apply to the central noun. Or invite verbs that apply to the noun.

For advanced classes, try beginning with a root word—“part,” for example. This might lead to words like depart, impart, partner, part-time, and so on.

These are only five of over 130 activities you’ll find in Five-Minute Activities. Should you need more, check out our most recent guide, Breaking the Ice: 15 Ways to Kick Start the First Day of School.



Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: vocabulary, vocabulary enrichment, arts integration, multisensory learning

Stressed? Check out our newest guide, Zen Teaching and Teaching Zen

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Mar 28, 2013 2:58:00 PM

mindfulnessIt’s a rewarding profession, but let’s face it, being an educator is a huge responsibility. That said, it’s easy to forget that we’re not the only ones who are trying to negotiate pressure in our daily lives—our students are, too. This is exactly why we put together our most recent guide, Zen Teaching and Teaching Zen: Mindfulness in the Classroom.

When teachers are fully present (that is, when they are mindful) in their classrooms, they can’t help but be more effective. The same goes for students. You know what it looks like when students are in the moment. You can visualize it right now. You also know what it looks like when students are tired, disengaged, and discouraged.

But have you stopped what you were doing to be fully mindful of these experiences?

To be mindful, all you and your students need to have is a willingness to take notice of where you are, what you are doing and how you are responding to it.

Inside our guide, you’ll find short exercises and engaging classroom activities that will help you and your students do just this!

We hope that you and your students enjoy it! Click here or on the icon below to download the guide.


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Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, arts integration, mindfulness exercises

What do Lady Gaga, a Medical Student and Flocabulary Have in Common?

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Mar 19, 2013 12:42:00 PM


flocabularyEven if you didn’t want to like that Lady Gaga song, there’s a good chance you can faithfully parrot the sugary chorus of it. Be honest now, you know it: Can't read my/ Can't read my/ No he can't read my poker face.” Some hooks are unforgettable, even after a single listen, and though you may not be able to glean anything particularly academic from “Poker Face,” we think a case can be made for using the pop-song formula as a teaching and studying tool. 

It may sound ridiculous (and we suppose it is to some extent), but students have long been putting information to music and using it as learning tool. In fact, we know of one medical student who starting writing anatomy and physiology songs so that he could pass his exams. Included in his oeuvre are crowd-pleasers like “Integumentary System, How Do You Do It?” and “If I were a Skeletal Muscle Tissue.” Let’s get to the point though:

We’d like to introduce Flocabulary, an online learning platform that delivers educational hip-hop songs and videos to students in grades K-12. Flocabulary has been around for a little over a decade and boasts a weekly audience of 5 million students. Their mission: “To motivate kids and help them reach their full academic potential, not only by raising test scores but by fostering a love of learning in every child.”

Flocabulary’s database of songs covers anything from the discovery of America and the Bill of Rights to the scientific method, grammar and Mark Twain.

You’re free to try Flocabulary at no cost for 14 days. Thereafter, you can choose from three plans:

  • Flocabulary: ($5/month) Access to hundreds of original songs & videos in all major K-12 Subject Areas and standards-aligned lessons for each song
  • Week in Rap: ($5/month) Every Friday you’ll receive the week’s biggest stories in a rap music video
  • Flocabulary + The Week in Rap: ($7/month)

Here’s a sample of what they have to offer:

If your students are anything like ours, they love it when technology is integrated into the classroom. To help you do this, we’ve put together a resource that offers 50 of our favorite teacher-friendly websites and apps. Our descriptions of each resource are brief and lighthearted—and hopefully, substantive enough to give you a sense for whether or not they will fit your students’ and your needs. Check it out and share it with your friends and colleagues!

Download our FREE guide: 50 Apps for Teachers!

Tags: apps for educators, vocabulary, vocabulary enrichment, arts integration, multisensory learning, apps for teachers

Zen Teaching and Teaching Zen: 2 Mindfulness Exercises for Students

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Dec 11, 2012 9:21:00 AM

Teaching MindfulnessDid you ever stop to consider that living a hectic lifestyle—one in which we squeeze every last drop of marrow out of our day—has become something of an American cultural virtue. Think about it: When our friends and acquaintances say, “You’re amazing…I really don’t know how you do it. I would be so exhausted,” we smile as they applaud our industriousness—despite the fact that we secretly want to scream!

This sort of hanging-by-a-thread existence not only impacts our lives, but the lives of our students as well. The more stressed out we are, the more likely it is that our students will absorb that stress themselves. That’s why we’d like to talk a bit about mindfulness in the classroom. A few weeks ago, we offered a few mindfulness exercises for teachers—now it’s time to offer 2 simple mindfulness exercises for students.

Zen Teaching and Teaching Zen: 2 Mindfulness Exercises for Students

Despite the fact that mindfulness exercises have roots in Eastern religion, we’re not asking you or your students to get into the lotus position and say “OHM…” Nope, mindfulness asks very little of you. It doesn’t cost anything, you don’t have to adopt or give up a belief system and you don’t have to be a guru to do it. All you and your students need to have is a willingness to stop and take notice of where you are, what you are doing and how you are responding to it.

Mindfulness Exercise #1: Know Your Orange*

  • At the front of the classroom or in the center of a circle, place a bowl of clementine oranges on a desk. Ask your students if they can tell the oranges apart.
  • Now pick up the bowl and walk by each student and allow the student to select a clementine.
  • Once everyone has an orange, write these questions on the board: Look closely at your orange; how many colors does it have? What shape is it? Where did it come from? How many hands have touched this orange before you selected it? What does it feel like when you squeeze it? What does it smell like? Are there any distinct aromas? How does it look when you hold it at arm’s length? How about when it is a couple of inches from your eye?
  • Have your students write down their answers—tell them not to worry about spelling/punctuation/complete sentences.
  • Now pick up the empty bowl, walk around the room and have each student drop his or her orange into the bowl.
  • Now put it back on the table and have your students come up one at a time to find their orange.
  • Have your students share how they found their orange.
  • Eat and enjoy the fruits of your labor! J

Mindfulness Exercise #2: What the Nose Knows*

  • Gather objects with strong odors. The sky is the limit with this, but if you’re stuck, you might try cinnamon sticks, cloves, grass clippings, pine combs, an old book, a dryer sheet, etc. You’ll need one object for every student.
  • Distribute the items as the students sit quietly.
  • Ask your students to hold the object in their hand, breathe out, lift the object to their nose and breathe in deeply. Have them do this several times.
  • Write the following questions on the board as they do this: What person or place does this smell make you think of? What feelings emerge when you smell the object? What does the scent do to your nose? Your tongue? Your stomach? When was the last time you smelled this scent? How would you describe the scent using at least 5 adjectives?
  • Have your students take time to write down their answers.
  • Now have your students share their experience with the object. If you want to take the project a step further, you could also have them draw or paint their reflections.

These two mindfulness exercises are only the tip of the iceberg—and what’s great about them is that they help couple the act of mindfulness with expository and descriptive writing. Not only that, they also help them students engage in collaborative conversations, swap ideas and learn from a diverse group of people!

*For more on mindfulness, we recommend Christopher Willard’s book, Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm and Relaxed.


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Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, arts integration, mindfulness exercises

Let music do the talking: Using music as a classroom management tool

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 22, 2012 8:00:00 AM

Music in the ClassroomThe holiday season is here, but many of our students have already been dining on Thanksgiving turkey, unwrapping holiday gifts and ringing in the New Year for the last week—at least mentally! We’re all getting a little stir crazy, but save your voice for making toasts and catching up with family. When your students get rowdy, don’t yell, let music do the talking for you! Here are a few simple steps you can take to use music as a classroom management tool.

Let music do the talking: Using music as a classroom management tool

What’s the system? How does it work?
The classroom is, generally speaking, a voice-dominated environment—which is why music is such a powerful tool for cutting through student chatter and sending out a resounding message.

The idea is to use specific songs (not your voice) to cue behaviors and classroom activities.

We gleaned the idea from Ian Byrd, a teacher who blogs about differentiated instruction for high-level learners. When he wants chattering students to return to their seats, for example, he doesn’t say anything; instead, he simply walks over to his computer, plays the Andy Griffith theme song and watches his students wrap up and relocate to their desks. 

What you need
All you’ll need is a computer (or an mp3 player), a pair of speakers and a music-streaming service like iTunes or Spotify.  

The upside to using iTunes is that you don’t need an Internet connection to play songs and create a playlist. You will, however, have to pay for music.

If you go with Spotify, you can create your own playlist and stream any song you want for free, but you’ll need an Internet connection to do so—and you’ll have to tolerate the occasional commercial interruption.  

What makes music a fun classroom management tool is that your students will eventually start to sing (or whistle) along—and you probably will too!

If you purchase a cheap USB microphone and download Audacity or Garageband, you can even record your own theme songs like Byrd has done. Or better yet, why not have your students record their own theme songs?

Things to keep in mind when using this system:

  • Be consistent (so that you don’t confuse your students—or yourself—rename songs with the behavior you want each song to correspond to
  • Don’t overplay music. You don’t want the novelty of it to wear off
  • Use music as a timer. For example, if students take too long to line up for something, play a short, 30-second theme song and make lining up a competition to see if they can do so before the song finishes playing
  • Let them sing along, dance and wiggle along to the music!

    *Photo courtesy of Charles Kremenak.

    ten common technology challenges for teachers

Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, arts integration, mindfulness exercises

4 Last-Minute Thanksgiving Lesson Plans for Elementary Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 19, 2012 4:13:00 PM

Thanksgiving is as exciting as it is hectic—especially when you’re a teacher. Not only do you have to plan out Thanksgiving for your family, you’ve got a classroom (or classrooms) full of kids to think about! If you’re running behind this year, or simply looking for a few new Thanksgiving lesson plans to supplement the tried and true, look no further: Here are a few of our favorite Thanksgiving activities that you can easily tie into your math, English, art and social studies curriculum.   

4 Last-Minute Thanksgiving Lesson Plans for Elementary Teachers

thanksgiving circularMath
This is a fun activity for your elementary mathematicians, one that applies real-world math skills, but with a Thanksgiving twist. Here’s what you do: 

Gather ads from a few of your local grocery stores. Divide the class into groups of three or four and assign each group a budget; you’ll also want to let them know how many guests they’ll be inviting to their hypothetical Thanksgiving dinner. Their task will be to stick to their budget and create a Thanksgiving dinner from the items listed in the advertisements.

Not only does this help your students hone their math skills—especially multiplication, where the prices of turkey are given per lb.—it also forces them to use their critical thinking skills by comparing items from several grocery stores to find the best price!

We originally got this idea from Vallye Blanton, a fifth grade teacher at Lake Park Elementary School in Georgia. Here’s what you do:

Compile a list of objects and then write them on slips of paper. For example, you might write down a few historical figures from the unit your students are currently studying, a pop star your students like, President Obama, an oven mitten, whatever—the objects can be inanimate, animate, and fictional, whatever you want, just get creative. Next, throw them into a hat and have each student pick one slip of paper.

Your students’ task will be to write a paragraph (maybe even a six-word story like we suggested in an earlier blog) describing what that person or object has to be thankful for. This activity sparks engaging (and often hilarious) classroom discussions. We’ve tried this and had great success with it!

Famous CharactersHistory/Art
The folks over at Hazel Avenue School in West Orange, New Jersey came up with an activity they call Famous Faces. The activity is an excellent way to integrate reading, research and art. Once students have written a summary report about a famous historical figure, they take it a step further by making poster-board cutouts of the person to help bring him or her to life.

Since you’re putting the activity together a bit late in the game, you may want to simplify it. Instead of having your students write up a report, you might present and discuss some of the historical myths surrounding popular versions of the Thanksgiving story and have your students create poster board illustrations of what they’ve learned. For example, when many of our students think of “Pilgrims,” they automatically see strange folks in black hats. The same goes for the Wampanoag, the Native Americans who lived near Plymouth when it was first founded: Many of us envision the Wampanoag riding horses, sleeping in teepees and donning elaborate feather headdresses at the Thanksgiving dinner table. None of this, however, is accurate.

There’s an excellent site put together by LEARN NC—a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education—that will help you place the Thanksgiving story back into its original context and discuss it with your students.

Oreo Turkey TreatsEating! (Who could forget this?!)
If there’s one thing every Thanksgiving activity needs, it’s good food. How about having your students make some Oreo Turkey Treats. We got this idea from Kimi C. over at Flickr.

Here’s what you’ll need:

7 Candy Corn
2 Double Stuffed Oreo Cookies
1 Whopper
1 Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
1 Tube of black piping gel
1 tube of white icing
1 Yellow and red food coloring
1 Yellow and red food coloring
1 Plastic Ziplock bag
1 sharp knife
1 pair of scissors
1 bowl

Here’s how you make them:
Put your Peanut Butter Cups in the fridge to cool. If you have cold hard chocolate to work with it makes it a lot easier.

Squeeze some of the white icing into a bowl. This will be your orange. Mix red and yellow food coloring with the icing to create your desired orange. Then put that into a plastic bag and set it aside for later.

First you will be creating the tail using 1 Oreo cookie and 6 Candy Corns. Gently, with one candy corn pull apart just one side of the Oreo. Don't break apart the entire thing. Put a good amount of icing in between the two sides. This will help the Candy Corn stay. Place 6 Candy Corn (white side down) in between the cookie. See picture.

Take your white icing and squeeze a generous amount onto the top back of an Oreo cookie. Take the other Oreo and put the bottom into the icing to have it stand up. If it doesn't stand, add more icing! Once you have it standing, put it up against something so it doesn't fall until the icing is dry. I use a thick book.

Remove your Peanut Butter Cup from the fridge. Take your knife and cut off the very bottom so you have a flat surface. Put icing on the bottom and prop it up against the bottom and back of your Oreo cookies. See picture.

Next take your Whopper and squeeze more icing on one side. Place the Whopper on top of the Peanut Butter Cup to make your head.

Find a piece of Candy Corn that has a nice big white end. Using your sharp knife cut the color off leaving you with the white end. Place some icing on it and stick it on your Whopper as the beak to your Oreo Turkey. Hold for a moment.

Take your icing and place two white dots as eyes. Get your tube of black piping gel and place a black dot on each eye to make them come alive.

Grab your bag of already created orange. Cut a very small hole in the corner of the bag. Now, pipe feet.

Now you are done! It’s that simple!!


ten common technology challenges for teachers

Tags: Thanksgiving Lesson Plan Ideas, writing strategies, Writing, arts integration, math literacy, Math, math teachers

Using the Blues to Teach Standards-Based Curriculum

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 16, 2012 2:15:37 PM

standards based curriculumWhen Jon Schwartz broke out his guitar and started plucking old blues tunes in front of his first-grade class, he never imagined that he’d eventually be forming a band with them. Nor did he imagine that this random jam session would be the impetus for a standards-based curriculum—one that would use the blues to uphold reading, writing, speech, social studies, math and technology standards.

Impossible, you say. Not in the least. 

In Schwartz’ class, students engage in sing-alongs to help them build their vocabulary and sound out multi-syllable words with fluency and correct intonation. Geography and social studies lessons trace Greyhound bus tours along with the lives and culture of those who rode them. Then, when it’s math time, Schwartz has students draw their own tour bus to illustrate the illusion of depth, placement and size.

Once they’re done with this, each student scans his or her art into the classroom computer, edits it in Photoshop and uploads it to their own personal blog where parents can read and comment. Inspiring, isn’t it?

To learn more about Schwartz’ methodology, check out his website, Kids Like Blues.






Our students love technology, but educators often wonder how mat_technology_webinar_nov2012they can:

  • Keep up with technology when it changes so rapidly?
  • Know what tools they should use?
  • Work around Internet filtering? 
  • Use technology to nurture relationships with parents?

If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, we are inviting you to attend Ten Common Challenges, a FREE webinar presented by award-winning teacher and technologist Richard Byrne.  As a secondary educator and Google Certified Teacher, Byrne is a presenter who speaks from an “in the trenches” perspective, offering practical, easily-implemented solutions any teacher can use right away.

Join us on November 27th at 3:30 pm for our FREE webinar. Register Now!

Tags: the blues, arts integration, standards-based outcomes

Arts Integration in the Elementary Math Classroom

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 24, 2012 2:57:00 PM

arts integration classroomIt’s curious that math and art have traditionally been placed on opposite sides of the spectrum, especially when you consider that they share many common features. Artists, like mathematicians, are problem solvers; they know how to improvise with raw materials, and look at their environment and their world in new and innovative ways. Both must be able to communicate, collaborate, think critically and approach their palate from perspectives other than their own. That’s why we are so stuck on arts integration—that is, bringing math into the art classroom and art into the math classroom.

Last week, we shared two of our favorite arts integration activities from Caren Holtzman and Lynn Susholtz’ book Object Lessons: Teaching Math through Visual Arts. Readers were enthusiastic about it, so we’re sharing one more lesson plan with you:

Arts Integration in the Elementary Math Classroom: Venn Sihlouettes
This activity is called Venn Silhouettes and, as you may have guessed from the title, it asks students to work with a Venn diagram and a silhouette. This could work for older students, but it is most appropriate for grades 3-5.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started: An overhead projector, markers, colored pencils or crayons, large white paper and tape.

Before you begin the activity, your students should be familiar with the following vocabulary words: Venn diagram, silhouette, overlap, same, different, compare, contrast, survey, graph, certain, equally likely, unlikely, impossible, profile.

Once you’ve familiarized your students with these vocabulary words, pair them up in groupsVenn silhouettes of two. Have them tape their piece of paper to the wall opposite the projector; then have them take turns tracing each other’s silhouette on the same sheet of paper. If you look at the picture to the right, you’ll see that the silhouettes overlap but are facing opposite directions.

Next, have your students discuss things they have in common and things that make them unique from each other. Their task is to use colored pencils to either draw or use words to illustrate what makes them unique in the sections of their faces that do not overlap. After this, they should use the markers to write or illustrate those things they share in common.

Once they are finished, it’s up to you to decide where you want to take the activity. If it is still early in the school year, this is a great ice-breaker; it’s also a great way to spruce up your walls and create a student gallery.

Should you choose to create a student gallery, you can build on the activity by having your students conduct a “gallery walk” where they garner ideas and think about new things they could add to their own silhouettes. This activity is useful for triggering what Holtzman and Susholtz call “I wonder” questions: “Does John have a younger sister like I do? How long did Kelly live in Germany and why?” This will prompt students to interact and communicate with one another to find answers to their questions.

If you want to take the activity further, ask your students to collect data from the entire class; they can convert their findings to percentages and create graphs.


If you are like most educators, you’re on the prowl for new ways to engage your students. That's why Marygrove's Master in the Art of Teaching program continues to add  free downloadable guides to our website. If you find our resources to be helpful, you should know that this is only a small portion of the forward-thinking career and professional development ideas you’ll encounter at Marygrove College.

Download Our FREE Math Literacy Guide

Tags: arts integration, math literacy, Math, math teachers, mathematical concepts

Fac(e)ing Mathematics through arts integration

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 11, 2012 9:29:00 AM

Mathematics is a high-stakes subject, especially in light of recent educational initiatives like "Race to the Top" and "Educate to Innovate.” High stakes, however, doesn’t mean that math can’t be fun—or creative, for the matter. In fact, we might even argue that if math students aren’t taught to be creative, they may be unprepared to meet 21st century challenges.

Think about it: Your students’ future isn’t static. Regardless of their future profession, life will demand that they have a diverse skill set. The math-savvy artist, for example, is (most likely) going to have more opportunities than someone whose knowledge stops with their own palette. A rapidly-changing, global economy needs not only solution-oriented, but creative thinkers with a range of experiences and interests.

That’s why we’d like to talk about math and arts integration and offer 2 creative lesson plan ideas that will help you (and your elementary students) take two seemingly disparate subjects (math and art) and fuse them together without having to compromise rigor for good times.

lincoln art projectFac(e)ing Mathematics through arts integration
The human face is a perfect place to begin. Why? For Caren Holtzman and Lynn Susholtz—authors of Object Lessons: Teaching Math through Visual Arts—it’s simply because the face has it all: number, measurement, size, shape, symmetry, ratio and proportion. When you apply these concepts to the body, you not only give your students a new lens through which to view themselves, but you help them to also approach math in a new and exciting way.

Activity 1: Lessons in Symmetry
This activity teaches students to create two-dimensional symmetrical images by giving them a portrait that only has one side of the face and asking them to complete the other half. You can either find a picture online or, if you are tech-savvy, scan and edit a photo of the student. If you have Photoshop, you can simply erase one side of the face, print it out and make photocopies for each student. If you don’t have access to photo editing software, print out the photo, cut in half vertically, place on a blank piece of paper, and make as many photocopies as you need.

Lesson Objectives
The goal of this activity is to help students analyze the geometric attributes and congruence of the face. An added bonus is that it also forces them to use their spatial sense to identify and recreate the symmetrically-balanced features that are missing. Once they are finished, you’ll find another teachable moment by asking students to consider issues of symmetry, proportion, measurement and perspective.

Symmetrical, congruent, balance, bilateral  

teaching picassoActivity 2: Polygon Portraits
This is another activity that uses the human face. This time, however, students will use geometry to compare the attributes of two-dimensional shapes; they will also have to see how those shapes can be taken apart and realigned to create new shapes.

Curved, straight, edge, polygon, regular, irregular, congruent, vertex, vertices, angle, plane

Here’s what you do:

  • Define and compile a list of polygon shapes by drawing them out on the board. As you do this, have your students describe the attributes of each shape.
    drawings of shapes
  • To supplement this activity, you might show your students pictures of Pablo Picasso’s cubist portraits. Compare his work to more conventional portraits and have your students talk about the similarities and differences between the two. Ask them what the like/dislike about Picasso’s work and why.

  • Next, hand out mirrors to each student and have them draw self-portraits in either black charcoal or pencil using only polygons.
  • Once they’ve done this, have your students describe their portraits using their newly acquired vocabulary.

  • There are innumerable spins you could put on this activity. For instance, you could limit the number of shapes your students can use—or you could require that each shape be a different color of pastel, charcoal or colored pencil. If you prefer, you could also have your students cut these shapes out of construction paper instead of drawing them.

  • If you want to challenge your students, ask them to use a set amount of polygons. For example, tell them that they have to use six triangles, 4 decagons, 5 octagons, 2 quadrilaterals, etc.

If you like these lesson-plan ideas, check out Caren Holtzman and Lynn Susholtz’ book Object Lessons: Teaching Math through Visual Arts; this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Download Our FREE Math Literacy Guide

Tags: arts integration, mathematics literacy, K-12 math, Math, math teachers, mathematical concepts, mathematics

Empowering Teachers and Students with Arts Integration

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Sep 18, 2012 9:15:00 AM

Arts IntegrationIt’s no secret, school budgets are stretched thin these days. Administrators do what they can to fill holes in the operating budget, but inevitably, something is going to experience the old chopping block. It’s a tragedy, but generally speaking, there are two programs that experience it first: art and music.

All is not lost though thanks to something the folks at Harvard are calling Artful Thinking or arts integration. The idea behind Artful Thinking is that art doesn't have to be something that takes place outside the classroom or specifically in an art class. Arts Integration can happen every day, in every classroom, regardless of grade or subject matter. Results of this kind of school-wide curriculum overhaul have been absolutely stunning. Just ask the teachers and students at Wilie H. Bates Middle School.

Arts Integration Empowers Teachers and Students to Make a Positive Shift
Years ago, when new principal Diane Bragdon came to work at Bates Middle School, 1/3 of the teachers had resigned. Student test scores were dismal and suspension rates were abominable. She did what so many of us educators dream of doing—she started a revolution and overhauled the entire school curriculum.

And it worked.

Within three short years, suspension rates were down by 23%, and the school's reading and math scores were higher than state averages.

Making Concepts Musical
So what is it about arts integration that works? Part of the answer to that is as simple as A,B,C. How did you learn the ABCs? If you were born and raised in the U.S., you probably learned them by singing a song set to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." By setting academic information to music, your brain worked with your mouth and your musical sense to memorize the letters more easily. There was melody, there was rhythm, and the message sank right in. That is arts integration at its simplest. Your parents were proud and made you sing your ABCs for friends and relatives. You got excited because your learning process was honored. Learning was fun!

A Change of Perspective
Now take the arts integration perspective and apply it to math. How about learning your fractions by studying the idea of perspective and how it applies to drawing and painting. Work backwards and study a piece of art, using what you've learned about perspective, to figure out approximately how far away the mountain in the horizon is from the viewer.

Apply it to science. Students create a digital photo collage of leaves, rather than gathering their leaves in a dried collection. Or they choreograph a dance to represent the various planets in the solar system and how they revolve around the sun.

Arts integration in Language Arts may take Journal Time and transform it into Art Analysis time as students use works of art to stimulate narrative, creative, or biographical journal entries.

At the end of each day, students will have physically, visually, aurally, and emotionally connected with every subject. Is it a wonder that test scores improve and that classroom discipline (mostly) takes care of itself? That's the result of student engagement. Who has time to get in trouble when they are in the middle of learning a new solar-system-inspired dance routine?

Arts integration helps to even the social playing field

An added bonus to Artful Thinking in classrooms: it helps to level the social playing field. Let's face it, not all of us are artists. But when we all get to bumble through the world of singing, dancing, painting, and creating together, we get to laugh together, play together, and be silly together, which helps to lower our defensive barriers. Cooperative learning is fundamental to arts integration.

Do you use arts integration in your classroom without knowing it? How could you tweak a few existing lesson to incorporate artful thinking? Tell us how arts integration has made a difference in your classroom.

You might be interested in becoming an educational technologist; maybe you want to become a principal and are considering a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership. Perhaps you are interested in professional development and would like to earn a Master’s in the Art of Teaching. Whatever the case may be, Marygrove College has several online masters’ programs tailored to fit your needs—and your schedule!

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