Can teaching chemistry be paired with art instruction to boost student performance in chemistry?
Rationale for Study
I have been teaching at Flushing High School since September 2001. Starting with my first Regent’s examination in June 2002, the school has seen a drastic drop in the percentage of students passing the Regents examination. My study focused on one possible reason for the decline: Teachers may need new connections with their students regarding the curriculum.
Flushing High School is a 2800-student public high school located in Flushing, Queens. The student body is extremely diverse with the majority of students classified as Hispanic and a growing number of Asian students predominating. Approximately 200 students are enrolled in seven Chemistry classes. Last year, about 23.7 percent of the 169 Chemistry students who took the Regents examination passed the test; this figure was up from 17 percent of the 343 Chemistry students who passed the Regents in the previous year.
Flushing High School also offers 10 classes in art instruction for the general student body. Art is considered an elective and is not assessed with a statewide Regents examination.
“Art in Chemistry; Chemistry in Art,” by Barbara Greenberg and Diane Patterson, formed the main inspiration for this project. Much of the year’s planned curriculum was based on lesson plans and suggestions provided by Greenberg and Patterson.
Dr. Sasan Karimi, associate professor of Chemistry at Queensborough Community College, helped with curriculum ideas towards presenting the class.
I relied mainly on personal insights and journaling to gather information on my progress during the course. l also asked the students to respond to questionnaires at different times. I also worked with my assistant principal, Luis Amaya, who observed several experiments and offered insight on my concept. I made general observations of grade and attendance figures from last year to this school year. These observations were for general insights about teaching and learning, not statistical evidence.
I could not gain the active support from the school’s art department. While they supported me with supplies and ideas, the three teachers declined to work on lesson planning.
I planned an ambitious curriculum consisting of 20 experiments and projects covering eight state standards topics in Chemistry. The curriculum also included a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a display of artwork in the school library. However, due to schedules and my inexperience in art instruction, I was only able to cover about 50 percent of my original planned lessons. We did go on the field trip to the museum and arranged a “museum” display of work in the classroom near the end of the school year.
My most important insight was that the curriculum took much longer to teach than I had planned. From the beginning I missed planned dates on the calendar and fell behind trying to cover the topics that are required to be covered for the Regents examinations. I had fallen so far behind by March that I had to decide whether to keep to the curriculum or close down the art connection. I chose to concentrate solely on covering the remaining material in the traditional manner.
The students generally liked the art projects and their connections with the science. Motivation remained high throughout the year. The art projects kept many students coming to class. I noted a general decrease in the number of cuts and absences as compared to a year ago.
In reviewing the year, I formulated four points for teachers attempting an integrated curriculum:
- Simply tying chemistry experiments with art instruction is not enough. Teachers must incorporate a variety of lessons based on the connections between art and chemistry.
- Teachers integrating different subjects into one curriculum must stress this question, “Where are we going with all this?” Unless they establish a clear goal at the beginning, teachers may emphasize the wrong learning points during the course of a year.
- Teachers cannot teach an integrated curriculum unless they clearly make strong connections between the two subjects to the students. If not, students will not understand the connections and the integration will stymie learning.
- To make integrated subjects work, teachers must have the confidence to continue it throughout the year despite pressure to cover topics for the Regents examination.
These points essentially address what I learned and tie in with the Greenberg and Patterson work in these ways . . .
- Integrated curriculum should not be carried out by a single teacher. Team teaching may be required to truly integrate subjects into a single curriculum.
- Connecting different subjects does not cover all topics equally well. Teachers must maintain an awareness of which topic fits their need and which don’t fit when they attempt to integrate subjects.
- The payoff for connecting different subjects can be greater motivation for students. This can mean better attendance and hopefully better grades.