— Sept. 2, 2016



Throughout the year, many Indianapolis Public Schools
students receive healthy doses of arts education through our programs at Edison School of the Arts School 47 and Broad
Magnet High School for the Arts and Humanities, as well
as from district partners offering everything from dance to music to visual
art.Micah Nelson


While known to help students in various nonacademic ways
— building confidence, time management skills and improved discipline
— the arts can also successfully be integrated into content-area classes.


As a social studies teacher, I try to give my students
multiple opportunities throughout the year to express their understanding in
creative ways using art. 


I began trying out this idea while working at the Key
Learning Community, a multiple intelligence magnet school (which closed in
2016). The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, founded by Howard Gardner out of
Harvard University in 1983, states that we all have eight specific
intelligences, which manifest in varying degrees. 


Most of my typical social studies classes were allowing
students to build and display their linguistic and interpersonal intelligences,
but I felt that I could do more. I started to seek ways to allow students to
demonstrate their understanding through their spatial (artistic) intelligence.  


While my class does focus heavily on literacy and writing
skills, I often give students an additional component of their assessment,
which includes a way to be creative. For example, if a student chooses to
create a painting that expresses an aspect of an historical event, then he or
she must also write a paper explaining how the painting relates to the event
and the artistic choices he or she made. This allows the student to express
their understanding in a unique way, while also focusing on content-area


In another example, I’m teaching a unit right now about
Native American history. My 8th graders are doing some pretty hefty
research about Native American culture, focusing on documentation and
presentation skills. But one portion of their project asks them to explore a
folktale from their chosen tribe. Once they do that, they will create an “artifact”
that somehow relates to their folktale. I love using the term “artifact” with
my students because it feels so historical.TOY Assignment with Art


Here are some tips, if you’d like to try incorporating
more opportunities for your students to express their understanding in creative


1.    Make
friends with the art teacher. He or she will be able to give you a lot of
support when you are trying out new ideas. For example, I decided to have my
classes make papier-mâché globes one year, but I had no idea how to
papier-mâché. I went to the art teacher, who gave me supplies and a crash
course, and the whole thing was a total success.


2.    Don’t be
afraid if you are not artistic. I am not artistic or creative at all, but I don’t
need to be! The students will run with the opportunity to create. Most of the
time, they blow me away. They typically exceed any expectations my unartistic
mind can create.


3.    Think of
how you will assess their work. I don’t assess their artistic ability, but
rather how well their artistic choices reflect what we’ve learned in class. I
also always have them write or record their understanding of content in
addition to their artifacts.


4.    Show it off!
In the upper grades, sometimes it’s hard to find good student work to display.
It is not exciting to hang research papers in the hallway. If you choose to let
students incorporate art into your class, you have instant hallway material.