Big Sky High School 9th grade students experienced a unique arts learning opportunity this spring. A collaboration between the ninth grade cohort teaching team and SPARK! developed into an interdisciplinary project spanning five art forms and four school subject areas.
The Big Sky 9th grade interdisciplinary project grew out of the teaching team’s goals to create a positive school climate, connect all students to Big Sky High School, partner with parents and community, and promote interdisciplinary learning. SPARK! Director, Jackalynn Snow, partnered with the teachers and principal, Natalie Jaeger, to explore ways to reach those goals through an interactive, interdisciplinary project that would engage all students in the cohort.
The process began with establishing a common theme. All of the ninth grade teachers could connect their curriculum standards to themes of Identity and Belonging, and those themes could also weave through the goals of creating a positive school climate and connecting all students to Big Sky High School. Identity and Belonging became the umbrella under which the rest of the project would reside.
During the continued conversations with the teacher cohort, connections were made between identity and belonging and the subject areas of Science, English Language Arts, Physical Education, and Health. Teachers began to weave the themes into classroom lessons. In an English class, for example, students compared and contrasted the impacts of the the social environment on Elie Wiesel in Night with the ways that the current social environment impacts their own sense of identity and belonging. In Health Enhancement class, the themes addressed the curriculum overview stating that, “Students study important, current ideas and concepts related to improving personal and community health.”
The next step in the process involved learning about arts integration as a method of instruction. The teaching team explored ways that art skills and practices could directly correlate with skills and practices in Science, English, Health, and P.E.. For example, students learning about rock layers and geographical formations could create art mosaics or paintings representing the layers of rocks and minerals and the process by which they were formed. This idea could extend to address the theme by having them create art in the same medium exploring the layers of their personalities and the environmental impacts that shape their identities.
SPARK! created slideshows and documents for introducing the themes, ideas, and projects to the students. Each student also received an art journal for creating throughout the project, and supply boxes with multi-media art supplies were filled with paints, papers, adhesives, and other tools for artistic construction.
Students were polled to discover which art forms they would like to explore, and SPARK! artists were brought in to provide focused arts experiences connected to the themes of Identity and Belonging. Big Sky High School carved time into the schedule for the art days by designing two half-day in-school field trips, wherein students would experience six hours of arts learning and making with a SPARK! artist along with their classroom teachers. Kate Crouch taught art journaling, Teresa Waldorf directed theatre, Janaina Vierra-Marques taught sculptural art, Naomi Moon Siegel led music composition, and Arts and Above dancers Bruno Augusto and Kate Jordan taught creative movement.
Following the two days of arts learning and exploration with SPARK! artists, the students contributed their newly created works to an evening performance and gallery to which parents were invited.
Communicating personal experiences, writing a song, bonding with classmates, painting, and meeting new friends were some of the highlights listed by students in their reflections of the arts experiences. Teachers said that the best parts of the experience for them were seeing skills and strengths in students that they may not otherwise have witnessed, and observing as students collaborated with peers that they they hadn’t interacted with prior to the project. It was inspiring seeing students from different social groups collaborating together toward a common goal.
Big Sky High School’s Interdisciplinary Project this Spring was a wonderful opportunity for teaching artists, classroom teachers and high school students to collaborate, connect and foster a positive school and community climate. The Freshman class of Spring 2019 will also be participating in this project! We look forward to new facets of interdisciplinary learning and additional arts experiences in the future.