Teachers gain new perspective by incorporating art into their classes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

KANNAPOLIS — Sherry Elvington began the year a bit intimidated about the idea of incorporating art into her seventh grade social studies classes.

Now, the Kannapolis Middle School teacher wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I have never considered myself to be very artistic, but it’s really just a different mode of expression,” she said. “ We sometimes are so focused on reading and writing that we forget the arts and some students can depict things visually that they may not be able to describe through writing or speaking.”

Elvington said adding art into her teaching her given her unique insight how her students think.

When her class was studying the Byzantine Empire, they looked at different pieces from that time period. Then, students created their own mosaics to represent some aspect of their personal values.

“I had one student whose mosaic was called World Peace or Pieces, I though that said something about how she sees the world and it made me understand her more,” she said of the artwork that features the Earth surrounded by fractured puzzle pieces.

Elvington isn’t the only teacher adding a splash of art to her curriculum, teachers at Kannapolis Middle and Kannapolis Intermediate have also taken the plunge as the district joined forces with the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Through the Art of Collaboration program, teachers have received training about how to incorporate art into their instruction of math, science, English, social studies and visual arts.

“We’ve been kind of learning as we go,” Elvington said. “For me the greatest part of the program has been just learning for myself.

“We have a brand new curriculum this year and it’s given me something to focus on.”

Anthony Romano, the art teacher at Kannapolis Intermediate, is leading the effort by co-teaching lessons with regular classroom teachers.

“(The program) was formed basically to enhance the core curriculum and to give us the ability to plan and collaborate core subject based material with the visual arts.”

The program includes funding for supplies through a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Romano said the best part has been gaining teaching strategies that provide a more hands-on approach to learning.

“Big picture concepts pave the way for more deeper discussions,” he said.

Megan Wease, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, said she used art to explain the difference between the Middle Ages, where paintings were dark and based on religion, and the Renaissance, which included brighter, more individualized pieces.

“The purpose of looking at these different kinds of art was to get students to understand the idea that during the Middle Ages it was all about religion and doing what you were told to do, bowing down to the will of God and not really doing much thinking on your own versus the Renaissance when people understood there’s knowledge out there and we can get it,” she said.

Kasey Flesch, a fifth grade teacher, said her students used old pieces of fabric from a local textile mill to create a class weaving.

“Each student got to pick what fabric they thought represented them best,” she said. “I chose a scarf to go through vertically and horizontally so my piece would touch every one of the child’s pieces and we talked about the symbolism.”

Flesch said the class also used the weaving as an introduction to fractions, asking the students to figure out specific ratios and percentages.

“We refer to this piece all the time,” she said.

More than 400 students from both schools took a free trip to the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh last month.

“The students who usually don’t go out of Kannapolis are actually able to go on a charter bus and that was the biggest deal for them,” Romano said. “It was just so cool to them.”

When students arrived at the museum, they got to tour the facility and create their own artwork to bring back to Kannapolis.

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

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