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Local research project exploring the arts as a tool to teach science



Fourth-graders at West Orange Elementary warm up with teaching artist Dawn Dyson-Platero before an arts and sciences dance lesson on weathering and erosion. The lesson is part of a new project funded by the National Science Foundation.
Fourth-graders at West Orange Elementary warm up with teaching artist Dawn Dyson-Platero before an arts and sciences dance lesson on weathering and erosion. The lesson is part of a new project funded by the National Science Foundation.
Alex Ray/ESCAPE

University of California, Irvine, researchers are in the midst of a five-year project to develop and study the effectiveness of a new curriculum designed to help students better learn science through the arts. 

The effort, backed by $6.4 million from the National Science Foundation, is targeting eight school districts in Orange County: Irvine Unified, Anaheim City, Capistrano Unified, Orange Unified, Ocean View, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified, Tustin Unified and Westminster. 

“This is on a very broad scale," said Brad Hughes, the project's executive director. Hughes also directs science education and media for UC Irvine's school of biological sciences. "It has not been funded at this level before."

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Over the five-year life of the project, which launched in 2013, researchers hope to reach about 21,000 students, many of whom are learning English.

Teaching artists are visiting schools and partnering with classroom teachers to instruct 3rd to 5th-graders on the new curriculum developed by Hughes' team. Hughes is testing, among other approaches, whether students learn science concepts better when arts education methods like creative movement and visual arts are incorporated into the instruction.

The curriculum aligns with the new Next Generation Science Standards, which California's state board of education officially adopted in 2013.

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts is providing teaching artists for the project and the Orange County Department of Education is consulting on the project. Findings from the project are a year or two away.