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Education

Can art help students learn science and other subjects? A look at an unusual teaching method



Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
The sixth graders at Eagle Rock Elementary School made their own costumes to prepare for the play.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Eagle Rock Elementary sixth grader Jack Spiewak, left, who plays Macbeth, waits backstage before the school play, a zombie rendition of Macbeth, begins on Tuesday, May 13.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Sixth graders at Eagle Rock Elementary School take a bow after performing a zombie version of Shakespeare's Macbeth on Tuesday, May 13.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Katarina Galambos, left, does makeup for Simone Midby, who plays Lady Macbeth, before their sixth grade play starts on Tuesday, May 13 at Eagle Rock Elementary School.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Sixth grader Jack Spiewak's Macbeth costume was made from a plaid dress found at Goodwill.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Sixth grader Simone Midby plays Lady Macbeth during a school play at Eagle Rock Elementary on Tuesday, May 13.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Carol Tanzman of LAUSD's elementary drama program decided to incorporate zombies into Shakespeare's Macbeth so she could incorporate more students into the production. As a traveling teacher, she says she teachers 2,500 students a year.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Sixth grade classroom teacher Marvilla Bonilla, left, hugs Simone Midby after her performance as Lady Macbeth. Bonilla partnered with a drama teacher on this arts integration project — students learned art alongside subjects like science and literature as they prepared for the production.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Sixth grader Katarina Galambos plays a gentlewoman and packs lighting equipment after Tuesday's performance. Galambos works the lights and costume changes.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Carol Tanzman of LAUSD's elementary drama program leads a question and answer session for students at Eagle Rock Elementary School.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Stage crew members follow the script as their performance starts at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The Macbeth spin-off production was co-directed by their drama teacher and classroom teacher using a teaching method known as arts integration.
Sixth grader Jessica Perez and the other zombie actors wear make-up and hand-made costumes.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Los Angeles Unified School District is looking to expand a teaching method called "arts integration," which mixes arts instruction with teaching in other subjects and is often used as a way to make the most of arts instruction time with students.

District administrators have outlined a plan that will invest nearly $9 million in arts integration in the next three years.

The method, which has been around for decades but has yet to become mainstream, teaches students multiple subjects at once: a history lesson centered around a famous composer, for example, as students study a piece of music.

In some ways, the plan is a bit of a gamble. Many critics fear the strategy signals a move away from dedicated arts instruction in which students can master an instrument or discover their love for singing in a choir.

District administrators said they want to maintain strong arts efforts in both areas, but struggled to implement that strategy during the first year of a new arts plan that sought to vastly increase arts instruction for the district's 650,000 students — many of whom currently get no arts instruction at all. 

New educator will oversee arts efforts

A new hire from Washington — well-known arts educator Rory Pullens — will oversee the district's arts branch next school year. 

One proponent of arts integration instruction is teacher Carol Tanzman, who said she teaches 2,500 students per year as a traveling drama teacher for the district.

She juggles her time among 10 different elementary schools — teaching so many students she can't remember all of their names and doesn't always get informed when students with disabilities need more individualized instruction time. 

"The classroom teacher is key," Tanzman said, describing the partnership she forms to help guide her limited time at each school site. 

Recently, Tanzman's group of sixth graders at Eagle Rock Elementary learned a science lesson mixing vinegar and water to create fog for a spin-off production of "Macbeth." 

Classroom teacher Marvilla Bonilla led that experiment. She said she loved working with Tanzman to give her students the experience of putting on a play — she said it was something she couldn't have done on her own.

"I can't dance, I can't sing, I can't act, I can't play an instrument, but I can definitely back up what the experts can do," she said, adding that the process did require a big time commitment. "It does take a lot of extra work because that's not something that's in our teacher's guides."

As for arts integration, some researchers say further study is needed to know more about its effectiveness at teaching multiple subjects. But according to Lynn Tuttle, the director of arts education at Arizona's Department of Education, one area that's well established is its ability to get students interested in learning and encourage school attendance. 

"Students are more highly engaged in their learning environment when arts integration is present," she said. 

To learn more about arts integration:

What do you think about this teaching strategy? How important is dedicated arts time for elementary students?

Let us know and share your experiences in the comments below.