Schools focus on integrating arts into the classroom

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  • Kalispell Middle School art teacher Buck Measure demonstrates a project to his science, technology, engineering, art and math class at the school on Wednesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

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    A Kalispell Middle School eighth-grader works on a STEAM project at the school on Wednesday.

  • Kalispell Middle School art teacher Buck Measure demonstrates a project to his science, technology, engineering, art and math class at the school on Wednesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    A Kalispell Middle School eighth-grader works on a STEAM project at the school on Wednesday.

Schools are picking up STEAM in the valley.

Art is an addition to education’s spotlight on science, technology, engineering and math curriculum commonly known as the abbreviation STEM.

With a push to turn out future scientists and engineers, art is seen by some as the missing link in engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math.

Educators have taken notice that art cultivates problem solvers who think creatively, can design and adapt to change.

The idea of infusing arts — fine arts, media arts, music, theater, dance — into the science, technology, engineering and math collective is to equip students with skills for future jobs “that we can’t even imagine what will be,” said Eliza Sorte-Thomas, director of the Northwest Montana Educational Cooperative.

“The changing workforce has helped change what we do in education,” Sorte-Thomas said.

More than buzzwords, whether STEAM or STEM, it’s what the acronyms signify.

“The biggest shift is getting kids and teachers to integrate all of those subjects so kids can use a way of thinking about solving problems looking through the lens of different content areas and solving real-world problems,” Sorte-Thomas said.

The idea is to emphasize the interconnectedness and transfer of knowledge between the five subjects.

“We’ve seen it in education, but now it’s about creating a mindset of learning,” Sorte-Thomas said. “We’re recognizing our brains don’t function on one thing.”

The International Baccalaureate program at Flathead High School is an example of a longstanding program where interdisciplinary learning is a big focus.

Ever hear someone say “I’m not a math person,” or “I’m not an art person?”

“Now we know you can be all those kinds of kids,” Sorte-Thomas said. “It’s what makes learning fun and meaningful.”

Kalispell Middle School art teacher Buck Measure is currently teaching students about color theory. On Thursday, students were using compasses to draw circles and intersecting lines.

In the weeks prior students made jewelry using metals. These projects lend themselves to learning in other areas such as science, geometry, history and psychology.

“It’s not necessarily a new thing,” Measure said about the transfer of learning from one subject to another. “It’s just a little more emphasis on making that connection.”

Engagement is always something teachers strive for and with art Sorte-Thomas said, “The research is pretty clear that kids engaged in arts activate the whole brain. Learning and retention are more likely to increase and engagement more likely to be present.”

Wes Hines, who is a retired art teacher and currently works for Kalispell Public School’s information technology department agrees.

“If you remember high school it was like part of it was just, ‘something that was done to me. I just took this class to graduate,’” Hines said, “and they’re not engaged, they’re not excited about it and they don’t see themselves in the future using it.”

Hines is an example of a person who is both interested in the arts and technology. During his teaching career he earned a master’s in computers and education and used that knowledge to bring technology into art.

Media arts may be the bridge that educators are looking for between subjects. Hines was recently part of an Office of Public Instruction committee to establish content standards for media arts, which will be introduced in July he said.

“I got really interested [in media arts] because I saw them as a cross disciplinary thing,” Hines said.“It’s part of the palette. It’s another tool to use.”

Media arts covers film, video, audio, print and electronics, among other technology and gives students multiple ways to document or show learning in other classes.

While many schools at the elementary level don’t have dedicated art teachers Hines thinks this level is a perfect place to incorporate science, technology, engineering, art and math curriculum.

“I think the biggest potential is in the elementary because the only way to get those different subjects [done in a day] is by integration because they don’t have time to add another subject,” Hines said.

In March, he will be training Kalispell elementary teachers on using iPads to do things such as animation or photography. Also picking up the reigns of training teachers in Kalispell Public Schools is Glacier High School art teacher Josh Lancaster. Both Hines and Lancaster have been involved with the statewide initiative, “Montana Teacher Leader in the Arts” through the state and the Montana Arts Council to help teachers integrate art into the classroom.

Art is about personal development Hines said.

“We play music or perform and get some satisfaction. We learn to work with other people. You become more aware of yourself,” Hines said.

Hilary Matheson is a reporter for The Daily Inter Lake. She may be reached at 758-4431 or

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