• Learning Through the Arts: The Story of DigitalWorks Arts Integration Program


    Arts-integrated education is a method of teaching students about topics in subjects like math, science, social studies or language arts by using the arts. Students may create an animated video about an event in history or choreograph and perform a dance that shows the movements of the planets in our solar system. With arts integration, students learn by doing and creating, and this active participation keeps them interested and engaged.

    Over the last three school years, the Office of Teaching and Learning’s Arts Department has brought together technology, art and other subjects through a program called DigitalWorks. Now in the fourth and final year of grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the DigitalWorks staff continues to champion education through arts integration.

    The DigitalWorks program focuses largely on media arts like animation, mixed media and audio recording. Teachers use iPads and other technology to make their lessons exciting and relevant to today’s students, who are very talented at using technology. The program’s main objectives are to improve student achievement and teachers’ ability to teach through the arts. Many teachers enter the program feeling uncomfortable teaching with the arts, iPads or both. By the second or third year of participation, however, teachers say they feel more confident teaching these lessons and using technology with their students.

    During this time, the DigitalWorks team and teachers has developed many lesson plans for elementary and middle school students, which are posted on their website for teachers to use. In one lesson made by a group of fourth grade teachers at Maxfield Elementary, students learn about lines and shapes as they learn about narrative story writing. The students first discover how lines form shapes, and then they use those shapes to develop characters and plot for a stop-motion animation they create on their iPads.

    In another lesson, students learn about the relationship between math and music. They explore how songs are broken down into measures, and measures into beats. Teachers use these musical ideas to teach about multiplication and division, and the students combine math and music to compose songs using GarageBand, a popular iPad app.

    These lessons allow students to learn through direct experience. Many students who struggle with traditional methods have responded well to lessons that encourage artistic expression. English Language Learners and other students in the early stages of the English curriculum have made strong gains in literacy thanks to the DigitalWorks Language Arts lessons.

    The DigitalWorks staff are sharing what they have learned over the past three years of the grant while creating a plan to strengthen arts integration in future school years. They are offering several training opportunities for teachers, and are also holding a series of workshops. The DigitalWorks Arts for All Institutes will bring together Saint Paul Public School teachers in grades 3-8, teaching artists, arts organization representatives and the community. Each of the day-long institutes will feature media arts, arts-based and arts-integrated sessions. The institutes are scheduled for February 25, 2017; May 20, 2017 and June 13, 2017. SPPS educators may register on PDexpress for these Institutes.