Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Arts Integration: Using Art and Technology to EnhancetheUnderstandingof Common Core Concepts

Illustration courtesy the Kennedy Center for the Arts

Notice how similar the artistic design process above is to the engineering design process pictured below:

This article is about how all teachers can integrate the arts into the subject matter they teach and how the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) can inspire the creative and academic growth of all students in all subjects.

Creating art brings children joy and a sense of accomplishment. Studio art time in school allows children to tap into their creativity. Learning drawing skill increases a child's power of observation. It also gives students the power to express their ideas visually by giving them new tools for creative problem solving. Discussing artwork increases a child's vocabulary and expressive language ability. Through the arts children learn to create and tell stories. 

There is great value in learning how to draw, paint, sculpt and create films. The performing arts; dance, music and theater teach students confidence and public speaking skills. They also give students the tools to be able to tell stories and make their message heard. Studying music increases students IQ and mathematical skills.

 By carefully aligning Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies lessons with art standards all teachers can reach and inspire more students. The arts can reinforce learning in every core subject taught in school. Conversely, arts teachers can reinforce knowledge in other core disciplines by finding and reinforcing the naturally existing connections between all areas of study.

Teachers and students in all content disciplines can benefit from using arts integration.


Myth #1: The arts and subject areas such as math, social studies, science and language arts are completely separate subject areas and should remain so.

Fact: Throughout history the arts have been an integral part of all disciplines. The separation is artificial. Teachers in all disciplines have reinforced learning through the arts for generations and we need to get back to doing interdisciplinary projects because it worked! Kids loved doing interdisciplinary projects and because they were having fun they learned more and retained more of what they learned. 

Myth #2: Integrating the arts into a common core lesson will waste a lot of time and decrease the rigor of the lesson.

Fact: By involving students in art production teachers are encouraging whole brain learning, higher order thinking skills, creative problem solving, teamwork, active learning and student engagement. Kids learn best when they are having fun. Teachers who use project based learning report that students retain more information and engage in more higher order problem solving. Greater student engagement means fewer discipline problems.

Myth #3: Incorporating the common core standards into my art room will mean my students are stuck writing about art instead of creating art.

Fact: State and national art standards still place an emphasis on art production as a key element in whole brain learning. Any art teacher that doesn't spend a significant amount of time on studio production is likely not following these required standards. Incorporating the common core into your classroom does not mean your students will be doing less art. It is possible to incorporate language, math, science and social studies skills into studio art production.

Myth #4: Incorporating common core standards into my art classes will mean that reading and writing assignments will replace studio art production time. Instead of grading artwork, I'll be stuck correcting papers.

Fact: Reading and writing are tools students should be naturally employing in all classes, just as adults employ these tools every day without even realizing it. When you ask a student to take notes, read directions or learn art terminology you are reinforcing language arts skills. Galleries require professional artists to write artist statements explaining their body of work. Art schools require that students submit an essay along with their portfolios. To graduate from college with an art degree, all students must complete art history courses,which involve extensive analysis and writing. In short, any integration of language arts into a fine arts curriculum that is taught by an art teacher should compliment studio art production. It should never replace it. Furthermore, it is not necessary to require students to write in order to reinforce language skill. Having students present and discuss art will reinforce both language and public speaking skills.

Myth #5: Incorporating common core concepts in art class will interfere with a choice based curriculum (one in which students are creating art projects based on personal interest).

Fact: You can continue to have a choice based curriculum and art centers in your classroom while reinforcing core literacy skills. Older students can present written art proposals to their teachers. Younger students can present and describe their artwork. Centers in the art room are ideal for reinforcing student literacy since the use of centers usually incorporates independent reading of directions and the use of written resources.

Myth #6: I don't understand why art can't just be purely for art's sake? Why is it necessary to integrate it with other subjects at all?

When people ask why the arts can't just stand alone apart from other subjects it is useful to note that, historically, the arts didn't stand alone and weren't apart from other subjects. Art is an integral part of whole brain learning and an art specialist can help classroom teachers to incorporate art production into just about any unit of study. One need only to look to the history of any culture to see examples of arts integration. For example, De humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) written by Belgian physician Andreas Vesalius and published in 1543, is one of the most influential books in medical history and also an incredibly beautiful work of art.

Myth #7: That's all very well and good for kids who are already doing well academically. My students are struggling and need to focus on repetitive drilling in the basic skills. 

Fact: Students involved in the arts score an average of 100 points higher on the SATs than students who do not have access to arts education. Denying students access to the creative and performing arts means actually denying them access to opportunities to develop basic skills necessary to succeed in the modern world: 

Low income students who are highly engaged in the arts are statistically far more likely to graduate high school and college than their peers:

Giving struggling students access to  positive outlets for creative expression will also lead to greater student engagement and motivation. If a student feels self confident in one academic discipline, that confidence will inspire them to work harder in other content areas. 

Myth #8: It's too overwhelming and I have so much on my plate already. I wouldn't even know where to get started.

Fact: The first place to look is in your lesson plan book. You are probably already doing arts integration without even knowing it. If you are a New Jersey classroom teacher, arts integration can be as simple as finding a way to include these four Core Curriculum Content Standards into your lesson plans:

Content Area​Visual and Performing Arts- NJ  Core Curriculum Content Standards

Standard​1.1 The Creative Process All students will demonstrate an understanding of the elements and principles that govern the creation of works of art in dance, music,
theater,and visual art.

Standard​1.2 History of the Arts and Culture All students will understand the role, development, and influence of the arts throughout history and across cultures.
Standard​1.3 Performance All students will synthesize those skills, media, methods, and technologies appropriate to creating, performing, and/or presenting works of art in dance, music, theatre, and visual art.
Standard​1.4 Aesthetic Responses & Critique Methodologies All students will demonstrate and apply an understanding of arts philosophies, judgment, and analysis to works of art in dance, music, theater, and visual art.
Every state has standards similar to the ones listed above. They may be found on your state department of education website, using the same links you use to access the standards in your own content areas. Here is the link for New Jersey educators:

New Jersey, like many states, is in the process of aligning it's arts standards with the new National Arts Standards. If you are curious, the new National  Arts standards may be viewed here: http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/

 For the 2014-2015 school year, New Jersey educators should continue to follow the state standards. If you are not in New Jersey, consult your building's art specialist or administrators to find out whether to use state or national standards in your lesson plans.

For more myths vs. facts and for information and ideas for how to inspire creative thinking in your students please visit the website Classroom Choreography


Below is a list of links on the subject of arts integration. This blog post is a work in progress. I will be adding more arts integration links and resources to this article throughout the school year.

Harvard’s Project Zero researchers have identified eight Studio Habits of Mind that the arts help students develop. Check them out here:


Project Zero

The da Vinci Science Center has also identified the traits that need to be taught in the classroom in order to help students develop into creative thinkers:

Susan Riley of education closet has gathered 50 resources to help teachers of all subjects start integrating the arts into her classroom. Check out her latest article here:

50 ways to integrate art into any lesson:

More resources:

Smithsonian: Online research tool for students

How learning art can make you smarter:

The maker movement in classrooms:

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) resources for children:

High resolution art images (public domain ):

STEAM art lessons:

Article on how art is crucial to understanding the human mind: 

STEM vs. STEAM a look at half brain teaching. 

Another article on how creating art makes you smarter:

Presidential remarks on the arts

How art can help you analyze information:

Stem to Steam, what is STEAM?

How to turn your school into a maker haven:

How to make kids smarter ( #1 on the list is music lessons):

More links to STEAM art lesson:

Free online arts integration resources and lesson plans from the Kennedy Center:

More arts integration research:

Arts advocacy: 

Longitudinal study on arts integration in Missouri schools:

Art Ed Guru arts advocacy page:

Master's thesis on STEAM:

Bates Middle school on Maryland arts integration lesson plans and ideas:

Walters Art Museum Lesson plans:

NEA Middle school integration ideas all subjects:

What is creativity and can it be taught? How do geniuses approach problem solving? How can we help our students become creative problem solvers?  

Design thinking deconstructed. How one school teaches students to apply design thinking to every subject area:

Integrating art and science:
Now students, with a few keystrokes on their computer can try their own hand at mixing science with art by controlling small telescopes that take pictures of planets, stars, galaxies, asteroids, nebulas and other astronomical objects. They can then use those images to create their own artistic renditions of the cosmos through the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network, a group of five automated telescopes controlled online.

Article about the Harvard Micro Observatory Robotic Telescope Network and how this project integrates visual art and science:

Math Art Tools:

Page of links linking math to the arts

The math and Magic of origami

Math by design educator resources

Social Studies

World History Project:

Map Making:

Language Arts:
Integrating music into academic subjects such as English can help students think more critically and creatively, educators say. This article has music integration ideas for Language arts teachers:

Studying music helps students understand grammar:

Comic Creator:

Technology and Media websites: 
Teachers can reach students by incorporating both technology and art into their lessons. Here are some links to powerful tools to help you get started incorporating both technology and art into your classrooms:


  1. I think this is a great start! Love seeing more resources like this pop up - part of my job is being an Arts Integration Specialist working with teachers so it's always wonderful seeing the spread of information and society catching on. Looking through your listed resources, some of these fall into the realm of enhancement rather than integration. Enhancement is still good! But enhancement is simply adding art components to make a lesson fun and interesting and integration is the idea that the arts standards become part of the lesson being learned. That's why I LOVE that you've highlighted the Creative Process!!! I mean, what better way to really make the point that being creative is essentially the same in all areas and is the glue that holds us together?! But, it's important to really make the differences between Enhancement and Integration clear for staff unfamiliar with Arts Integration, speaking from experience, or you'll get a lot of marshmallow stacking in math or pictures drawn of a culture they saw straight out of a book.

  2. Wonderful insightful comment. Thank you. Of course arts enhancement is good too because at least it is a start but true integration is certainly the long term goal. If you have any links that help teachers to understand the distinction I will be sure to incorporate them into the article. Once again, thank you for your insightful comments and kind words.

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