How do we make learning fun?

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By Chanel Traboldt, Third Grade Teacher at Harford Heights Elementary and Young Audiences Public Programs Summer Intern

Two middle school girls sit in the back of the classroom. One of them is sneaking a look at her cell phone under her desk; the other is braiding her hair. They are in a morning class during the first week of the Young Audiences and Baltimore City Public Schools 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp, and neither girl is looking at the front of the room or listening as the teacher, Ms. Moss, begins a math lesson on integers.

For a school teacher, like me, this can be the scene of many early mornings. The question you ask yourself each time is: “How do I better engage my students in their learning?” This often can seem like an impossible task. We know that if you make learning fun, students will want to learn. As an educator, there is an urgency to fight the achievement gap and prepare your students with the skills needed to be college and career ready. But now the tricky part: how do we make learning fun?

Young Audiences again partnered with Baltimore City Public Schools to solve this dilemma in July. In addition to providing arts enrichment activities at seven summer learning sites in Baltimore City, Young Audiences and City Schools created the first-ever completely arts-integrated summer learning site at Edmondson Westside High School. All eight sites were a part of the 22nd Century Pioneers Summer Camp, which is a free program for Baltimore City Public School middle school students.

Back in the classroom at the Young Audiences arts-integrated camp site something surprising happens. Ms. Moss continues her math lesson by projecting photographs students took the previous day while working with Young Audiences photographer Christina Delgado. The two girls stop what they were doing and look up. Ms. Moss asks the group what elements of photography are being used in each image and how these elements relate to what they are learning about integers. The girls raise their hands to join the conversation.

See more photos from the Young Audiences arts-integrated summer learning site!

During my time at Young Audiences’ site, I saw that teachers and artists had found a solution to many teachers’ student engagement woes. Integrating the arts into daily lesson plans allowed students to create, explore, express, have fun, and most importantly, to learn.

At the Young Audiences camp, nearly 150 students explored math and science concepts through the arts in classes and arts enrichment activities led by Baltimore City teachers and Young Audiences artists during the five-week program. Students chose the art form they would focus on during afternoon enrichment sessions, with choices including dance, photography, illustration and mural painting, theatre, Hip Hop, steel drums, and VEX robotics.

In another class, I saw a group of chatty sixth-graders sitting in the corner go completely silent to listen to steel drum musician Kevin Martin play musical phrases the class had created using what they had learned about ratios.

An unenthused student turned frustration into joy while drawing blueprints for a cage to carry a wild boar across a lake of alligators in visual artist Danyett Tucker’s eighth-grade math class.

Students, who were at first more focused on their weekend, turned that energy into an intricate dance routine about pollution in dancer Valerie Branch’s class.

As a teacher witnessing these moments of transformation, I am amazed at how easy it is to engage students in learning. The key is to understand that learning and the arts are not separate entities. By combining the two elements and creating arts-integrated educational lessons, students are truly able to learn while having fun.

Read more about the Young Audiences 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp site and see photos here.

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