Warhol’s fractions: Teaching through the arts

A Maryland middle school integrates arts with the standard curricula, reports Edutopia on Bates Middle School in Annapolis.

For example, in a science classroom you might see students choreographing a dance using locomotor and nonlocomotor movements to demonstrate their understanding of rotation versus revolution of the planets (PDF). In a math class, you might see students learning fractions by examining composition in Warhol’s Campbell’s soup paintings. (See more arts-integrated lesson plans from Bates.)

“Engagement can also be leveraged to boost academic growth and improve discipline,” Edutopia argues.

Why kids should specialize

Kids suffer long-term from schoolwork that doesn’t interest them argues career advice blogger Penelope Trunk, who’s started homeschooling her children.

When people ask me why my kids aren’t learning math, I ask them why their kids aren’t learning an instrument. Or why they aren’t learning a language. Because math, music, and language all develop the brain in similar ways. They are all good for a similar type of learning. But the question that assumes that math is the one right way to develop that part of the brain betrays the assumption that traditional school knows best.

Traditional schools want students to learn a little bit of everything, Trunk writes. But the world rewards specialists.

For ten years I have been writing about how important specializing is for your career. Specialization is essential, really, to to staying employable throughout your adult life. But I have recently been blown away by how clear the research is that kids should specialize as well.

Which means that you either need to make your kid great at the test-taking game, or you need to find something else for the kid to be great at.

What if your children are good at various things but not really great at anything? What if your five-year-old wants to specialize in TV watching or dolls or dinosaurs and no interest in math or music or language?

Art, music haven’t vanished

Music and art haven’t disappeared from schools, despite the pressures of test-based accountability and fears of curriculum narrowing, according to a federal report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Music and visual arts instruction is widely available and has changed little over the past decade, the report concluded.

Music and visual-arts instruction are more widely available at high-poverty elementary schools, but less available at high-poverty secondary schools, notes Ed Week.

“When I look at the big picture, … I see a good-news, bad-news story,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in prepared remarks for the report’s release . . .

“The good news is that the last decade has not generally produced a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum in the arts,” he said. “But there is considerable bad news in today’s report, too—and especially for disadvantaged students.”

“Generally, what we really found is there is no consistent trend of decline in arts education in public schools,” said Jared Coopersmith, a project officer at the NCES.

“At-risk” students involved in the arts – in or out of school – do better in school, go farther in college and are more civics minded, according to a National Endowment for the Arts report.  “Access to the arts” included “coursework in music, dance, theater, or the visual arts; out-of-school arts lessons; or membership, participation, and leadership in arts organizations and activities, such as band or theater.”

However, the report didn’t answer the chicken/egg question:  Do the arts create achievers or attract them?

Teach music for music’s sake

Teach music because it’s a universal language and “the arts are our most potent means of human expression,” not because it might help kids learn fractions or raise test scores or develop teamwork, writes Nancy Flanagan, a music teacher.

Yesterday, the Learning First Alliance asked Can Arts Education Help Close the Achievement Gap? I appreciate the perspectives and data assembled by Anne O’Brien–who points out that students from high-poverty schools who study the arts are more likely to graduate HS, attend and finish college, and register to vote. But I believe the real question is:  What do the arts teach children that other subjects can’t?

Teachers defend music, art, dance and drama by arguing they help teach something considered more important, such as “enhanced brain development, spatial/visual/temporal processing, improving memory and attention, physical coordination, personal discipline and teamwork,” Flanagan writes.

But where did we get the idea that artistic expression is less useful or important than the sciences? How did music, art, dance and drama get pushed aside in our American school curriculum? I’m not surprised that studying or listening to music has beneficial effects on learning fractions or other academic skills, but those are side effects.

Kids should study music because it’s central to every human society on earth and has a vitally important role in every aspect of culture, from history to literature to media and communication studies. Music is part of what it means to be a human being.

Discuss.

I’ve got rhythm, I’ve got fractions …

Children are clapping, drumming and chanting to learn fractions at a California elementary school. It seems to be working, concludes a study which will be published in Educational Studies in Mathematics.

 “If students don’t understand fractions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling,” said Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University.

Students in Academic Music scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test than students in the regular math class. Lower-performing students narrowed the gap with high achievers.

Fourth-grade math scores have soared since a San Bruno school adopted Academic Music, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

On Tuesday, 29 children at Allen Elementary School tapped out a rhythm with drumsticks as (Endre) Balogh stepped and clapped in 4/4 time at the front of the class. He stepped four times per beat. One clap equaled a whole note, two claps indicated two half notes, and so on.

“Which is larger, the whole note or the half note?” he asked.

“Whole note,” one of the third-graders replied.

“Whole note, but why?” the teacher said.

“Because it’s longer,” another student called out.

Toones Academic Music, a nonprofit, is working to expand the program to more schools.

Coach G has tips for teaching “the dreaded f word, fractions.”

Choosing public school

If her daughter doesn’t get into a top-choice public school in San Francisco, Rhiana Maidenberg plans to send her to a not-so-great public school, she writes on Babble.

. . . if every parent with the means and time to improve a school environment takes their children out of the public school system, how do these systems stand a chance at improving?

Maidenberg, a freelance writer, visited dozens of schools to develop a list of 14 favorites that are good or getting good and not too far away. Like all choice systems, public school choice favors savvy parents with time to research the options and develop a strategy.  It’s very unlikely her daughter will lose the entrance lottery at all 14 schools.

However, many San Francisco public elementary schools offer PE, music and art only once a week, she writes.

. . . with the $24,000 we’ll be saving by not enrolling our daughters in private school, I can chauffeur them to a plethora of extracurricular, afterschool activities. As an educated and involved parent, I can make sure that my children receive a fully rounded education.

Has it ever been common for elementary schools to teach music and art more than once a week?

The main thing private schools can’t provide that public schools can is diversity. The experiences my kids will receive in a classroom filled with children of varying backgrounds, native languages, and races will help them grow to be well-rounded world citizens. While I can make up for a lack of music class, if we chose private school, I couldn’t enroll them in diversity training.

Most California private schools enroll many students from immigrant families of varying backgrounds, native languages and races. There’s much less socioeconomic diversity, of course, and it’s less likely seriously disabled students will be mainstreamed. (San Francisco friends moved their child from an excellent public school to private school because the kindergarten teacher wasn’t able to control two violent boys diagnosed with behavioral disabilities.)

Educated, involved parents can do a lot to ensure that their children are well-educated even if their schools isn’t ideal. And they may be able to improve a school, if they can recruit similar parents. It’s much harder for poorly educated parents, especially if they’re working full-time or more.

Placido Domingo: Require music in schools

Opera star Placido Domingo calls for requiring music education in an interview with John Merrow. Learning Matters’ full music education story will air on PBS NewsHour this week. It features Domingo conducting a concert of New York city students from P.S. 129 and 152 as part of the Harmony Program, which offers free after-school music education to mostly low-income students.

( Click here to download the podcast )

 

Reading, math crowd out untested subjects

Language arts and math are crowding out untested subjects, such as art, music, foreign language and sometimes science, say 3rd-to-12th grade public school teachers surveyed by Common Core. The problem is greatest in elementary school.

  • Among those who say crowding out is taking place in their schools, virtually all (93%) believe that this is largely driven by state tests
  • 60% say in recent years there’s been more class time devoted to test-taking skills
  • Almost two out of three teachers (65%) say they’ve “had to skip important topics in [my] subject in order to cover the required curriculum”
  • 80% report that “more and more” of the time they should be spending on teaching students is spent on “paperwork and reporting requirements to meet state standards”

Most teachers say their school is offering more help to students struggling in math and language arts.  However, the strong focus on reading and math affects all students, not just those who need extra help, according to 77% of teachers.

Voc ed vs. music, art, foreign language

Music and art teachers are complaining about a new California law that expands graduation requirements:  Students can take one career or technical education course in place of art, music or a foreign language, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Arts and foreign-language courses are twice as likely as vocational classes to be certified as college-prep courses, so students who choose career tech could be ineligible to go from high school directly to the University of California and California State University systems.

Some urban districts, such as Oakland Unified, San Jose Unified and East Side Union in San Jose, use UC’s college-prep curriculum as their graduation requirement.

The new law will lead to two tiers, of college-prepared and unprepared students, opponents say.

Proponents disagree. “We already have a two-track system,” said Eric Guerra of (Assemblyman Warren) Furutani’s staff. “It’s called college or nothing.” Students who aren’t on a college track leave school without useful skills, he said. California’s class of 2010 graduation rate is a dismal 74.4 percent. “There’s got to be a different way to deliver secondary education,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”

The law’s opponents seem to think that many students will prefer career tech to music, art or foreign language. If so, why force them to take  art or music to earn a diploma?

Nearly all schools teach art, music

Music and visual art are nearly universally available in public schools, writes Robert Morrison, founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, in School Band & Orchestra Magazine.

The data hasn’t changed much since 1994 for music and visual art. Dance and theater instruction has declined in secondary schools and is rare in elementary schools.

Ninety-one percent of elementary schools employ specialist music teachers, according to a federal report.

Via Common Core.