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Mosaic learning: arts used in integrative lesson

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Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 2:00 am | Updated: 12:48 pm, Thu May 1, 2014.

Small pieces of stone, glass and tile arranged in a pattern—students at Uniontown Area High School have been introduced to mosaics and how art can enhance learning.

The art department recently hosted a visiting artist, Rachel Sager, who helped more than 200 students create mosaics. In addition to art students, mosaics were made by students in English, Spanish, social studies, math and earth science classes, and then integrated into those subjects of study.

“This was an opportunity for an enriching learning experience for all involved. The latest brain research proves that the arts make our brains work better. When we can create art that naturally utilizes what we are learning in math, science, and social studies, etc. the knowledge becomes much more meaningful,” said Rebecca Gartley, art teacher

Geometry students used lines and shapes in creating their mosaics, while language arts students wrote about the process of using tools of the trade to make their mosaics. Spanish students who have been studying the history of mosaics, created art to accommodate their research; social studies students used the mosaic to demonstrate the effects of Marcellus Shale drilling; and earth science students made mosaics representing an aquifer as they continue to study the earth’s crust.

“The greatest part was for teachers as well as students to see how art is a great integration tool with other subjects,” Gartley said.

Sager took students just outside the high school to gather stones and glass to add to their mosaics. Then, using a hardy and hammer, the tools of her trade, Sager demonstrated how to break the stone into small pieces.

“This was all part of the student being able to have an authentic experience,” said Gartley.

Sager, a world-renowned mosaic artist, in collaboration with Touchstone Center for Crafts, has ventured into teaching.

“To my delighted surprise, I have found teaching to be a rewarding and energizing act. Sharing knowledge, philosophy, and creating new relationships with my passionate students has fed me in ways I never expected,” Sager expresses on her website.

The project at UAHS is sponsored by Touchstone through a grant from the Grable Foundation of Pittsburgh. The project is about arts integration as primary pathways to learning.

Adam Kenney, Touchstone’s executive director, said the grant has a three-fold purpose for his organization.

The first year involved research into developing an integrated curriculum. The second (and current) year of the grant meant implementing a pilot program. The final year of the grant will be creating and publishing deliverable material to share with schools across the state Kenney said.

“It’s another way to make arts education more relevant in public schools where art education is under budgetary attack,” Kenney said.

He continued, “So if you’re an art educator in Lancaster this is a way to get a deeper relationship with colleagues in a non arts content area and it’s a way for you to have your students access content in an effective way.”

The most memorable educational experiences Kenney said, are not hearing a monologue from a teacher but through visual and tactile experiences.

“We are taking content that seems one dimensional like a history lesson and instead of handing information to the student, we are having them engage with the subject using all the senses to get a deeper understanding, because more of their brain is being used,” Kenney said.

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