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“Cross-curricular” seems to be the new buzzword for educators. Essentially it means to teach more than one content area at the same time, on purpose. It is powerful because it engages the whole student and their individual learning. Part of this is easy; the overlap of content areas—whether it be math and science, social studies and language, or art and well…everything—is a natural occurrence. We can name connections easily. Our students, though, are discovering connections daily. Why not bring that connection to the art classroom?
The problem, however, is that educators can be set in their ways and very passionate about their particular content. We can stay in our classrooms, teach what we know best, and cross our fingers that students will eventually see the overlap of content on their own. Or we can do better. Cross-curricular connections and planning, when done intentionally and successfully, can be the bridge of truly effective and engaging learning. As art teachers, however, how can we make sure art remains a focus when it comes to cross-curricular planning? We know all too well how art can be pushed to the side unless we advocate for it.
Take a good look at your curriculum as it stands. Chances are there is a wealth of connections you are already making to other subject areas. Do you have a particular shape lesson? An architecture lesson? A color theory lesson? This is great, but are you talking about math and science connections as your students create? These are just a few examples where the relevant opportunities for more content lie. Art teachers are really at an advantage when it comes to connections. Think of art as the umbrella under which everything else can take shelter. Each teacher and their curriculum are unique, and the connections you make should be, too. The first step is defining where you can make those touchpoints possible. By starting with art, you are making sure art remains at the finale of student learning, as well.
Now that you have pinpointed opportunities in your curriculum, what about your colleagues’ content? Do you know that students spend a whole unit talking about sea mammals in science class? What about the awesome unit about holiday celebrations around the world done by the teacher down the hall? What songs are being sung in music class? These are all places to find common ground where art can take a place center stage. Where can you and that teacher connect to increase the learning for everyone? Perhaps a display of clay sea mammals could connect student learning? What about studying artists from various cultures around the world? Could students paint and illustrate the song they are singing in music class?
A common vocabulary is also a place to start with other content. For example, using math vocabulary intentionally while students are learning fractions can show students math is used outside the math classroom. As the art teacher, you have the opportunity to make art the starting point for the connection to lead into the other content.
So, you have the opportunity for a content connection, and you see where it could take place. Now you have to approach the other educator to make it happen. First, make sure you are giving time for a colleague to think about the idea of cross-curricular collaboration. No one appreciates a last-minute lesson or request. Most likely, your colleague will welcome the collaboration and foresight! It is essential, however, to come to your colleague with a possible idea first and then be open to other options and brainstorming. This will keep the focus on art. For instance, for the teacher who focuses on sea mammals, you could approach them by saying, “I noticed how excited the kids are about sea mammals! What if we made clay sea mammals in art class, and we collaborated on a display for parent-teacher conferences?” This way, you have your idea, they have their control of the content, and you are open to brainstorm together. When planning cross-curricular collaboration with colleagues, it is essential to ask questions, be open to suggestions, be passionate, and also grateful.
If you’re interested in learning more about cross-curricular planning and how to implement it in your classroom, there are many great resources out there. Here are three other resources we recommend:
Learn more about cross-curricular connections, specific to the elementary classroom with art teacher and AOEU writer, Jordan DeWilde. In this Learning Pack, you will find the resources you need to begin lessons, identify specific content opportunities, and be ready to connect with your colleagues.
In this article, art teacher and collaborative expert, Sarah Krajewski, gives a step-by-step guide to approach other teachers in your building to get a project and curriculum off the ground.
In this episode of Art Ed Radio, art teacher Natalie Jackson joins Tim to talk about tried-and-true ideas to connect to other content that works. As a teacher who focuses on interdisciplinary learning, Natalie shares how her students are passionate about a variety of subjects and methods in her classroom.
Once the ball of cross-curricular planning gets rolling, it is hard to stop. You might find this wealth of opportunity and connections overwhelming. Never fear, any connection made is a good one. As mentioned, art is the umbrella under which everything else can fall. As art teachers, we are tasked with not only making curriculum connections but also ensuring that art stays in focus when planning. Once in the habit and with a framework, your teaching and your students’ learning will only be stronger.