As children, young children, everything meant playing and art. We saw the world as a playground and a canvass. It didn’t matter whether or not we could actually draw. What mattered was the thrill of creating something beautiful.
We were all artists. We still are.
So reminding students that inspiration matters, that art lives and breathes inside every segment of education also means tweaking your lessons a bit. Switching your perspective to what’s really important at the core of any lesson may mean the difference between losing your students’ attention and actually getting your point across.
Albert Einstein wrote: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. So the unknown, the mysterious, is where art and science meet.”
Keeping his words in mind, educators everywhere are beginning to work art into education. Because we live in the 21st century, we have all the tools right at our fingertips, quite literally. The Internet hosts site after site devoted to integrating art into education. Right here, you’ll find some of the best websites and some interesting ideas that are easily altered to fit various lessons. Explore 50 ways to add artistic elements to the simplest and most complex lessons.
1. Lego Engineers
Besides LegoLand embodying a living, breathing demonstration of how Legos inspire children, Lego is making a fortune off the coolest kits around. Lego building requires everything from patience to vision. To achieve that vision, the builder needs good strategy. Strategy relies on mathematical skills. Everything from basic addition and subtraction to engineering skills blossoms when Lego’s pop into the picture. So, have students use Legos to demonstrate mathematical skills at each and every level. From robotics to engineering, Legos inspire learners.
2. Marshmallow Math
Stack them. Create shapes with them. Add, subtract, multiply and divide them.
Then eat them. If you take a bag of marshmallows and you tell a child, “I’ll let you eat these if you get all the answers correct,” then you let the child use the marshmallows to find the answer, that child will get all the answers correct.
That’s the art of teaching math. I used to think that the older kids got, the less they cared about silly rewards like those marshmallows, but I was so wrong. They care even more. Life becomes a series of “pointless” classwork and homework assignments with quizzes and tests to follow if teachers don’t force fun.
3. Design Parks
Mathematicians, whether they’re engineers or architects or otherwise, know the importance of technology so teachers need to utilize it when helping students understand the value of every lesson. At mathbydesign you can find interactive games where students can design a park in the center of town.
4. I Hart Math Doodles
Take note of a girl and a math mission. She blows the concept that math means repetition and rudimentary mechanics right out of the water. Her site provides plenty of innovative “techniques” for seeing math in a different light. In one very amusing video, she shows how the typical factoring lesson turns into doodling stars, which she turns into a lesson on factoring itself. Check her doodles.
5. Khan Academy
If doodling isn’t quite enough, try the Khan Academy for more of Vi Hart and the basics as well as anything else your heart desires. Math, Science, Economics, Humanities, and even test prep fill the website. It’s different because it doesn’t condescend. It doesn’t condescend because the site and it’s master creator, Sal Khan, offer visuals on how to understand the basics of math and other educational subjects without the assumption that it’s impossible to communicate. Start with the link on how to use it in the classroom. It will make all the difference.
6. MArTH Tools
At Math Munch, they’ve even conjured up a witty name for their merging of art and math called MArTH Tools. Teachers can find resources for inspiration, but more importantly, there are links to interactive tools that teach difficult concepts as well as practical skills.
7. Colors Multiplied
Multiplication can be taught with simple yet beautiful colors and shapes. Check out some beautiful images at mathlesstraveled.com. Even teach prime numbers using some manipulation.
8. Math Journals
Teachers can vary assignments and difficulty levels by creating a math journal, which is ultimately a math adventure in the same vein as Indiana Jones. It gives importance and application to mathsquad.
Basic word problems require students to draw or write out how they came to their conclusion. So why shouldn’t more complicated math be seen in the same way?
According to the Bridges Organization, math needs art and vice versa. This organization plans an annual conference focusing on the connection between art and math. At their website, you can find a wealth of information on mathematics and art.
Cinderella.2 software offers users geometry, virtual laboratories, and university-level mathematics with analytical functions. Students will learn while creating.
GeoGebra gives students insight into planetary motion, exterior angles of polygons, rotating triangles, and more. The site also offers loads of information and worksheets.
Mosaics are a great way to introduce shapes to young minds so why not communicate the same way with older students. You can create them the traditional way, out of glass, or use cellophane paper or even just regular paper. Review basic shapes then piece them together and have students create patterns.
Tessellations, infinite patterns with varying shapes, can help you teach about the polygon, plane, vertex, and adjacent. Students can put patterns together on paper or use basic computer programs to tile images. Just taking the time to show students something so simple gives them the basis they need to move on to more difficult problem solving lessons.
14. Origami Art
Origami art will add dimension with texture and movement. While giving young students a fun way to see shapes come together and create all sorts of animals or three-dimensional geometric shapes to marvel at, the origami art can evolve into a sophisticated tool for using math and engineering skills. Robert Lang explains the transformation at the following video:
15. Three-Dimensional shapes
With some compass points, scissors, glue, construction paper and bobby pins, students can create Polyhedra. Learn more about that at ldlewis.
16. Wheel of Theodorus
Students calculate, draw and create new images while learning the Pythagorean Theorem. Find details at ldlewis.
17. Alice & Algebra
Teach multiplication of fractions using the story of Alice in Wonderland. Melanie Bayley, an Oxford scholar, wrote a dissertation on this very subject. Just the manipulation of size from small to large and back again becomes a starting point for calculations to begin. Find out more on the practical implementation in the classroom at
18. Triangle to Square
So many sites and blogs have great animation to teach all kinds of theories. Matt Henderson teaches signal processing with rotating circles and a digital square wave. He also creates some cool doodle animation showing how drawing lines starting with a simple triangle can turn into a square.
19. Art in Labs
Students take a concept and turn it into art or even use the materials for art. Many artists do this anyway so why shouldn’t this be a part of coursework? Visit here. Working in labs themselves, students then create art out of bacteria and fungi.
20. The Art of Biology
Students create beautiful works of art with imaging technologies. Use that to introduce various lessons or a concept and the brain’s eye will attach itself to the particulars much better than simply assigning homework and moving on to an exam. Visit Cmu to learn more.
21. Toothbrush Robots
If your goal hinges on recruiting girls into the scientific field then art helps. Try coolgirls-scienceart.org They gather the girls to shoot rockets, create art shows, and play with bugs. Just knowing that science is NOT a man in a white lab coat ready to slice open a dead animal might mean the difference between a career in fashion and a career in chemical engineering. You’ll also find information on unique activities such as making toothbrush robots.
Through the Art Institute of Chicago, teachers can access lectures and lesson plans on the value of art in teaching chemistry and the chemistry of physics and light plus art and astronomy.
23. Fresco Chemistry
Check out issuu.com’s newsletter on various activities from green chemistry to music in chemistry. Several activities fill the newsletter with step-by-step processes followed by an explanation of how the chemistry works. One of those is making a fresco.
24. The Golden Dream
Return to the beginnings of chemistry and art with alchemy at Pbs. Follow the guide to turn metal into gold. The fascination with the process sparks curiosity if nothing else.
25. Unique Perspectives
Try www.cosmosmagazine.com for ideas and articles on the mixture of science and art. Article upon article covers current topics in relation to the importance of science past, present and future. Ready for students to read, bring reality into science fiction with articles such as “Earth-like Planets May Be Closer than Thought.”
Alice teaches students how to program through dragging and dropping graphics. They’re taking 3-D objects inside a virtual world and animating them. They ultimately learn to build stories, create interactive games or video’s for sharing.
Dr. Bahman Kalantari, professor of computer science at Rutgers University, introduced the idea of polynomiography. It literally means the visualization of polynomials. “Polynomials are so important that all students need to know about them no matter what scientific field they would want to follow.
But because the foundation of solving equations can be identified with points in the plane, visually it is very appealing to all ages,” Dr. Kalantari explains.
Scratch is a site hailing from MIT. Students gain access to software that teaches them to create and share interactive stories, games, music, and art.
Movies used across curricula
There is nothing that BrainPop can’t teach. The films are silly yet humorous and by far, they’re educational. The mini movies run the gamut from Language Arts to Math to Science to Social Studies. Kids like it because it’s not in a textbook. Adults like it because it’s not in a textbook.
In the same vein as BrainPop, Bitesize delivers the basics in short movies or sound bites. Teachers can use this to help students practice or even begin their journey into standardized essays and Spanish basics. The visuals and set up make it a great place to return to in order to build upon different lessons within any subject.
31. Sheppard Software
Like Brainpop and Bitesize, Sheppard has mini movies and games. Choosing one over the other depends on the difficulty of the lesson and the extent of the film.
If you can’t actually demonstrate in the lab, the next best thing is video. At video.sciencemag.org teachers can show short videos to begin a lesson, transition from one to another, or just explain the facts and information with the necessary visuals.
Writing & Grammar
33. Art in a Word
Inspired by Doodle for Google, the annual competition giving students a chance to draw a new Google theme, the idea of Art in a Word challenges students to take the vocabulary word and turn each letter into the representation of its meaning. On the back of the page, teachers should have students use the word within context, writing it in a sentence, identifying the part of speech, then defining it.
Have students create a full-page ad for their favorite product. Make up the criteria for them so that they have to use sentences with adjectives and strong verbs. Then have them edit their work. Meanwhile, teach them all types of grammar lessons in the process.
35. Bare Books
A book of their own means more to students than an ipod. They just don’t know it until they’ve created it. Depending on the assignment, teachers can buy books in bulk for as little as a dollar each. These books can be used for poetry or stories, leaving the rest of the blank space for art. If your students are more electronically inclined check out a new site that’s making it even easier to create e-books.
36. Paint the Strawberry
For writing teachers who need to emphasize the idea of “show don’t tell,” have students describe the strawberry or another type of food commonly eaten. They need to reconstruct the image including taste and sensations in the reader’s mind.
This means they have to come up with 10 to 20 descriptive words (depends on difficulty level) and use them in a paragraph describing the strawberry. The strawberry should be on display on a stool as the subject of their work of art. It sometimes draws a comedic response for an even better lesson.
Some students thrive in any reading environment. Others crumble. Over the years, I’ve noticed the basic difference between an engaged reader and one who struggles is the ability to visualize.
Whether students are struggling with basic reading awareness or writing skills, this site helps teachers use art as an inspiration to bridge the gap in communication. For comprehension, an image opens on the screen and asks the question, “In what ways does this picture connect to others?”
38. Graphic Novels
Greek Myths can confuse even the most interested reader, but turn it into a graphic novel or a booklet with illustrations and you’ve got an active, engaged reader. There’s a reason why there’s a comic culture out there in which people become obsessed with superheroes.
39. Comic Creator
When reading Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe with students, I rely on an amazing website full of free lesson plans and links to everything you need. For this one, I read the story in a scary voice, the room dark, only the words projected while the students predict the next twist. Then they have the option of creating a comic strip about it. They can use the comic creator if they don’t want to draw it themselves.
40. Poetry Café
This can be used as monthly or even weekly motivation for students to work on poetry. Decorate the room with poems and artwork inspired by those poems. Then let the students enjoy readings from other students. At the end of a lesson or as a reward for long, tough assignments, students can organize a coffee and cake session where they read their works or the works of poets around the world.
41. Map Art
Old maps hanging on a wall build an atmosphere of art and history combined with adventure. But, understanding them can be a difficult task. So having students create maps ignites the learning process and forces them to work through those difficulties. Visit historymatters.gmu.edu for simple explanations on the creation process.
42. Divide and Conquer
Teaching about different cultures means making them come alive. The Inuit people should live on a canvass, dancing, singing, hunting, and building. So, have students make a brochure from a poster cut in half. Bend it into threes. Divide into sections such as origins, tradition, geography, food and accomplishments.
43. Forget-Me-Not Dioramas
I haven’t met a history teacher who hasn’t had a diorama project quick on hand. However, requiring an artistic approach changes the dynamics of the criteria with which the student learns. Give the students an assignment they will never forget. Isn’t that the idea?
For example, war isn’t about guns and death as much as it’s about lost love. If World War I must be represented, let it be told with love. Start with the love letters of Harriet Johnson to her boyfriend and continue from there. This not only teaches the emotional loss at Wartime but adds value and meaning to a lesson.
44. Folk Art
It’s as simple as having students recreate folk art from a certain time period and a culture and presenting it with facts and information. The inspiration matches the assignment giving each student a firm grasp of the value of an individual within a larger segment of society. Visit www.folkartmuseum.org or MexicanFolkArtGuide.com for more ideas and information.
Change the entire classroom into a diorama. It’s been done many times in my own classroom. Entire walls become pyramids. Others become waterfalls. And, the great part isn’t even the fact that students will work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to build a pyramid, but they will learn everything about that time period while they’re doing it. It takes a lot of patience, planning, and very considerate faculty, but it’s worth it because of the pride and energy students earn from this lesson.
46. Film Recreations
Students, especially older ones, love filming anything. So have them recreate a historical event, film it, and present it to the class. Sure you could have them act it out but using video and technology will allow them to edit and start over if necessary.
In order to get students’ attention, tell them they need to mimic documentaries. Show them several types and then let them choose one to duplicate or even come up with a current event of their own to document. The student presentations not only reteach the subject matter to each other but give them control over their learning.
48. Write History
Have students recreate a time in history and include themselves. They can take on characteristics of certain people who lived at that time or they can create their own person from pieces of different types of people during that time period.
49. Hero History
Twist the concept of a hero into the ordinary citizen as a leader, innovator, and survivor of that time. Students can choose an actual “hero” or famous character to dress as and give a speech about or they can piece together a hero from the famous leaders of the time.
50. Twisted Timeline
There’s nothing better than a timeline to teach important dates in history. But, no one ever teaches that stories, which are what history is about, never quite move in a straight line. The timeline still flows in the same direction, students just twist it a little, take side routes and learn about details they might never have paid attention to when cramming for a test.
For example, if the time period focuses on the American Revolution then use the dates to carry students through to the next date but wind around to the left or right, take a detour, find out some interesting cultural facts within those two dates and add that to the timeline.
Visit timelines.com for detailed timelines with great images that students can add to their own.
As a final note, if the art warrants it, always make sure there’s a wall or a table for display. Displaying finished pieces gives artists a sense of satisfaction. Children who don’t see their work rewarded lose motivation, the same is true of young adults, and even more so of adults.
If yours is a virtual classroom, build a blog around your students’ creations. Creating one is simple enough nowadays. You don’t even have to know how to code. It doesn’t matter if the entire world knows about it. All that matters is that they know about it, that they can say they’re work “hangs” there.
Lastly, introducing art into any classroom means thoughtful planning but also a very real understanding that there will be loss of control. Knowing this can be very liberating for a teacher, but it can also be uncomfortable. However, once you allow yourself to be comfortable with it, students will master the lesson and, more often than not, surpass it.
Previously posted on informED
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Lisa Chesser is a former Publications Specialist at Florida International University where she also received a bachelor’s degree in English, Lisa Chesser left the publishing field to pursue a career in education. In her first three years of teaching Language Arts, she won an Excellence in Teaching Award for helping students achieve 50 percent learning gains.