George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Project-Based Learning as a Context for Arts Integration

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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Project-based learning can provide an intentional and effective opportunity to integrate the arts across disciplines and curriculum. While valuable as a stand-alone discipline, arts education can be given further power and value when used in a PBL project as part of the core curriculum.

When teachers begin designing PBL projects, they often start small, maybe with a recommended idea to internalize the design process and a reflection on how to improve. As teachers become more familiar with PBL, integration is a great next step for taking it up a notch. This is where the arts come in! If you are thinking about your next PBL project, consider using one or more of these intentional moments to integrate art.

The Arts as the Entry Event

When launching a PBL project, it is crucial to have an entry event that engages students and creates excitement for the project. From movies and music to activities and simulations, teachers can launch a project with one or more entry events that relate to the arts. Start the project with an art anchor text, not only to build inquiry, but also to keep the momentum going along the way by revisiting that anchor.

The Arts in Culminating Products or Performances

PBL demands voice and choice in how students spend their time and how they show their learning. Each project culminates in a presentation or product that is presented to a public audience. The best products meet the needs of the audience, which means that creating the project must focus not only on relevance, but also on engagement. Teachers can use this design element to further leverage the arts by providing an arts product as one or more of the choices. We know students can show their learning in a variety of ways and through multiple intelligences. In addition to a persuasive letter, consider a collage or songbook of lyrics.

The Arts as Scaffolding

Students need scaffolding through a variety of instructional activities that will arm them with the skills and content they'll need to be successful on the project. As you consider this scaffolding, include arts-related activities. Use these activities to help students process their content and represent their thinking. For example, have students do a "tableau" activity where they represent the structure of the cell. From this, the teacher helps students metacognitively and transparently connect this individual activity to the larger project. Students learn from this arts-based activity during the project and will apply it to their product. Role-plays, simulations, music comprehension strategies, visual processing, dramatic acting -- all these activities and more can help support and scaffold the many learning targets within a PBL project.

The Arts As Formative Assessment

Similar to assessing their students' culminating products or performances, teachers must formatively assess learning objectives and skills throughout the PBL project. As students participate in scaffolding and activities, use the arts as the method to formatively assess content and 21st century skills. If you are assessing collaboration, use a visual representation as evidence.

While arts integration in the core discipline alone is valuable, doing it within the context of a PBL project can make the integration seamless as well as valuable. PBL projects provide a space to meet multiple learning targets, whether those are core discipline standards or arts standards. Whether or not you are intending to assess arts standards on your PBL project, you can still find intentional instructional moments for using the arts, not only to value them, but also to create engagement for everyone. Your students can learn the arts as well as learning through the arts.

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I am Bullyproof -Lessia Bonn's picture

When I was in school I snored a lot. Placed in all the "smart" classes because I scored high on IQ, I was supposed to be inspired I guess but all I remember is the boredom. In life as an adult I have found that projects are what motivate me and get me wanting to learn and grow. I am guessing this is true also for a lot of young gifted kids. A project looks like fun. Homework...not so much. I love this. Will tweet!

victoria murphy's picture
victoria murphy
The My Hero Art Gallery Curator and Media Arts Educator

The My Hero Project is a free online interactive journal that celebrates the best of humanity. Curricula and teachers resources available online to encourage digital storytelling in
writing, film making and art for students of all ages through the theme of heroism and social responsibility. A great way to organize project based learning in and out of classroom.

Debora Wondercheck's picture
Debora Wondercheck
Executive Director, Founder of Arts & Learning Conservatory

Art based projects are really wonderful they increase your creativity truly and make your sense more virtually strong, student get a chance to increase their visual capabilities make their work more perfect

Michelle's picture

I'm sure this is a dumb question, but what do you mean by art anchor text? What is that exactly?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

There are no dumb questions! :-) I'm not the author, but I'll take a swing at this and hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong. The anchor is the piece of work that you use to trigger the lesson. It's the "hook" that gets students into the ideas or themes you want to explore.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think getting to the bottom of why the kid is not buying in and brainstorming with the kid for solutions is probably the best strategy. Don;t let them get away with "It's dumb"- we know that can mean anything from "I'm bored" to "this is too hard for me" or "I have a personal and emotional reason I am unwilling to share." Is there an alternative you can construct with a resistant child to get them to meet the end goals but give them some independence to avoid whatever the pain point is for them? Not a quick or easy way to go, but a possibility....

Debora Wondercheck's picture
Debora Wondercheck
Executive Director, Founder of Arts & Learning Conservatory

As per present scenario art based study increases the interest of students in their learning , it also include arts-related activities.By the help of these activities students process their content and represent their thinking in better way.

Growing Thinkers's picture

I tried using arts to teach science through simple projects and it worked very well. I taught topics like the body systems, structure of the protein, DNA and cloning, and the effect of smoking for grades six to twelve using different ind of projects. They were some of the best lessons I gave.

Kathleen Fugle's picture
Kathleen Fugle
Technology Specialist for a Washington, DC metro area elementary school

I've been looking for articles on ways to combine PBL and arts integration. Bingo! Your post is an excellent start. Thanks for this well-written overview.

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