Student Engagement

Integrating Art and Politics to Improve High School Student Engagement

Two teachers at Central York High School in York, PA, share their strategies for creating successful integrated studies projects.

June 22, 2011

Editor's Note: AP government teacher Dayna Laur and art teacher Katlyn Wolfgang collaborated to create a joint project between their classes. After Edutopia produced the video below, Dayna and Katlyn, who teach at Central York High School in York, Pennsylvania, shared their strategies for creating a successful integrated studies project. You can also find free resources and downloads from from Central York High School.

How did you structure the project so that the students gained info from one another but also maintained focus on the curricular goals of your respective classes?

Katlyn Wolfgang (art): The overall assignment was structured for sculpture students to create a sculpture based on the principles presented by the AP government class. With this overarching goal, I created a general outline for the students to follow when they were brainstorming for their political sculpture. They were instructed to perform the following tasks:

1. Research a policy.

2. Determine their stance on the policy.

3. Think of imagery that could reflect the policy and another set of images that could reflect their stance on the policy.

4. Design a blueprint indicating how their structure will be built (wire structures and their measurements).

At the end of their brainstorming, students had to present a project proposal before they could begin construction. Within this proposal, students were responsible for explaining the public policy they'd picked and the sculpture's structure, imagery, and relation to the policy. They were also required to consider the impact they wanted their sculpture to have.

Dayna Laur (AP government): After an introductory lesson on the four major types of public policy (majoritarian, client, interest group, and entrepreneurial) and the categories of public policy (foreign policy, social welfare, economic, and environmental), my AP government students worked in groups to research relevant current-day examples of each. They had to fully understand their assigned topics in order to answer any questions posed to them. They also had to give feedback on whether or not the sculptures were portraying the public policy issues accurately. Additionally, my students had to show their own understanding of the initial categories and types of public policy in choosing their current-day examples. Feedback, reflection, and revision were a part of this process through their AP collaborative groups. Students had to agree that the policies posted in the wiki truly represented the types of public policies being referenced.

How did your students actually collaborate with one another to integrate the concepts they were learning?

KW: The students from my sculpture class were able to collaborate with the AP government class through a variety of means, most involving technology:

1. All students collaborated on a wiki created by the AP government students. AP government and sculpture students were responsible for including specific information that allowed the other students to continue on with the assignment. This information also served as documentation for the entire process.

2. The wiki also functioned as an area for students to share resources; the AP government students provided information concerning public policies, which drove the designs and concepts for the sculpture students. The sculpture students submitted their brainstorming ideas to the wiki and gained insightful feedback for their future creations.

3. The wiki discussion tab also provided a forum for online collaboration. Students held conversations about topics and gained important information through this activity.

DL: My AP government students collaborated to create a wiki to house the information for use by the sculpture students. Next, I taught a mini-lesson to the sculpture students on how to use the wiki and what the role of my students would be in the project. The sculpture students then used the discussion feature in the wiki to post questions to my students regarding the policies they researched. After my students posted their responses, the sculpture students posted their ideas for possible sculptures and elicited feedback from my AP student groups.

Were there any challenges in getting your students to move beyond their curricular comfort zones and into the curriculum of the other class?

KW: Generally speaking, no. However the most challenging aspect for students is the brainstorming process. My students often like to settle on the first idea that comes to mind, which is generally clichéd and not metacognitively challenging. I find that developing abstract thought among my students is an area of constant focus no matter the topic that surrounds the assignment.

DL: My students were concerned that the sculpture students "wouldn't get" the concept of public policy or accurately represent the policies they researched. However, we had a discussion on how there are different political positions regarding each public policy and how it was enacted, and it was the prerogative of the sculpture students to take a viewpoint that might be different from my students' viewpoints.

What are some of the ways that you used technology to enhance the integrated concepts and student collaboration?


1. AP government students compiled their findings onto the wiki, where they discussed various policies and each policy's purpose, support, impact, and history.

2. Sculpture students were able to explore the topics developed by the AP government class, and utilized this information to drive the creation of their sculptures.

3. The discussion feature was activated so that students could gain further clarification concerning policies and seek feedback on their ideas.

4. Sculpture students posted their brainstorming process on the wiki and used it to gain insight on the direction of their ideas from their classmates and AP government students.

5. Finally, end products were posted to the wiki allowing the entire collaborative process -- the fusion of government topics and the arts -- to be viewed together.

DL: Wikispaces was the main collaborative tool between the two groups. However, the AP students first created their collaborative documents using Google Docs. Additionally, the use of Flickr was invaluable for my students to see the sculptures and the progress being made by the sculpture students. Each tool was necessary to complete the project because the classes did not meet during a common class period.

Do you have any tips you would give to other educators who would like to plan integrated studies projects?

KW: Make sure that you structure your lessons with final goals and supporting tasks. However, don't forget to let the students experience the learning; sometimes the best experiences occur unplanned or unscripted.

When working with another class, make sure you have daily updates with the other educator(s) concerning your students' progress on specific tasks. Do your best to keep up with deadlines but embrace the fact that not all learning can be, or should be, restricted to a time line. With that in mind, always have an activity on the back burner in the event that tasks do not align with the predetermined time line.

Finally, be flexible and embrace the collaborative experience.

DL: Integrated studies projects create a connectedness between disciplines that otherwise might seem unrelated to many students. Deliberately searching for ways in which you can mingle standards and content is imperative if you want to create truly authentic experiences because, in the world outside of the classroom, content is not stand-alone. Teachers need to identify areas in which social studies, math, science, reading, writing, art, music, and even physical education cross paths. Once the content and standards have been decided, the planning part falls into place. However, in order to have a truly successful project, it needs to be one that meets all of the elements of project-based learning and not turn into just another project. Teachers also need to leverage the opportunities presented to them by collaborative technology tools and not be dissuaded if the two classes involved do not meet during the same class period.

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  • Student Engagement
  • Arts Integration
  • Professional Learning
  • Arts
  • Social Studies/History
  • 9-12 High School

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