Tiina smiling at the camera Our new faculty member Dr. Tiina Kukkonen joins us to talk about why every teacher should integrate art into their classrooms - and how to make that happen.

Arts Integration

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Podcast Transcript

Intro Music: Talking about innovation in teaching and education, popular Podagogy, discussions that are topical and sometimes philosophical. Popular Podagogy. Popular Podagogy.

CC: Hi there. Thanks for joining us, and welcome to another episode of Popular Podagogy, where we try to bring big ideas in teaching and education to life. I'm your host, Chris Carlton, and this podcast is being brought to you by the Faculty of Education at Queen's University. Welcome to our podcast. In this episode, I am excited to be speaking with Queen's University faculty member Dr. Tiina Kukkonen, who blends her passions for teaching, research and art while giving back to local arts communities. We will be discussing some of the many different ways to encourage cross-curricular learning with and through art. Educator, researcher and lifelong artist, Tiina Kukkonen has a passion for supporting arts education programs in rural and remote communities, along with a deep desire to make visual arts education accessible, relevant and inspiring for all. Now, the scope of her impact is growing, as her alma mater welcomes her to the Queen's Faculty of Education as Assistant Professors, visual arts. Tiina, welcome to our podcast.

TK: Thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here.

CC: Tiina, you and I have had many conversations in your classroom about the advantages of incorporating art into all subject areas and our discussions focused specifically on my teaching specialty, which is science. And as an elementary teacher, I have personally witnessed the power of integrating art into my science program and many of my other teaching subjects. And arts integration is one of your research interests, which is the focus of our conversation today? So, let's start right off the bat with the important question why should we integrate art into the classroom Tiina?

TK: Yeah. I mean, it's a big question to answer, but first and foremost, I think it just brings this really special energy into the classroom and engagement among students. I mean, I know I'm a little bit biased as an artist, but, you know, I know that hands on component of the art making and the way that it makes you think differently about things and view things in different ways, I find that really exciting. But you also see it in the students and how it excites them. And I think that that for me as a teacher, is one of the biggest reasons why I love bringing it into the classroom and why I encourage other teachers to and, you know, speaking to teachers who've done it, they also find it really energizing, you know, when they when they see the reaction from their students and how the students can be engaged in the activity in different ways through art. So I don't know if that's something that you've experienced, that just that energy, that excitement from students that you get when you integrate arts into science.

CC: I just see it every single time. We do a lot of Stem activities, and as soon as you add that arts component, you're activating that creative side and you're providing an opportunity for people to join in that might have that aversion to science and math, and the excitement that they have that I see in them just gets me excited as well. So you're exactly right, Tiina. This is one of those win-win situations. You mentioned hands on. You mentioned engagement and exciting. Those are all things that teachers want to try to promote in their classroom. So what an amazing way to do it through art.

TK: Yeah for sure. And you know, you mentioned that creative aspect. You know, I find that by integrating arts into all different subject areas and across the curriculum in different ways, you know, you're infusing that creative process that's inherent to art making into everything that students do. And you can make comparisons, you know, in the in science, for instance, you're a science teacher, here's the scientific process where you come up with an idea or a question, and then you think of ways of how you might experiment or answer that question. Well, the creative process is very similar. You know, it starts with envisioning an idea for your art piece to experimenting with materials, to creating something, then reflecting on it and revising, and just going through that cycle over and over again. So I think that that process is something that doesn't need to be unique to just an art class, right? And by taking the arts and integrating them into other subject areas, you're infusing that creative process. And that way of thinking almost, you know, we call it thinking like an artist or thinking like artistic behavior, that sort of thing. So taking that and infusing it across subject areas, it just allows students to think differently about those different processes that they encounter in different subjects.

CC: Right. It totally expands the results of your lessons as well. I've heard it say that the students start to use both sides of their brain. So the analytical and the creative side to develop best thinkers of tomorrow. Yeah. And that's what I love about it. And the fact that in many ways, it's very easy to look for ways to integrate arts. You just have to have that mindset and be creative.

TK: Yeah, I don't think I mean, I usually just encourage teachers to just, you know, take a chance, look online, see what kind of art projects speak to you. And then often when you find a project, even if it is just about art and you don't necessarily have it detailed on the website, like how it can be integrated into other subjects, when you think about it, you know, there are always ways to integrate other subject areas into an art project and vice versa, right? Because whether you're looking at an artist, there might be themes that that artist looks at that connect to different subject areas or you know, you might be encouraging students to do something outdoors, like some kind of outdoor art that connects to a science project. Like all, there's just so many different ways to do it and I think it's just that taking that step of just, you know, okay, maybe I want to try something a little bit different. So let's integrate an art project, let's see what's out there. But yeah, it just it doesn't require a little bit of imagination to see the possibilities and the connections that you can make.

CC: And I also really feel that it brings in that real life application where they see art not just as an art form, but as part of a purpose of what we're doing. So it's in the math, it's in the science, and most of the Stem steam projects that I do, art is a just a natural component of it, so I can't see not including it into it.

TK: Well, it's all holistic. I think also like a holistic view, because we've what we've done in education is we've separated all these subject areas right into their own little silos. Whereas when you think about real life, like you said, like those real-life connections, like, that's not how we operate, that's not how we think, right? That's so it doesn't make sense to keep everything separated like that. Like because, you know, science does connect to literacy, it does connect to math, it does connect to art and all these different ways. So why would we do that in schools when in real life that's not the way that we think. That's not the way we see things and art is everywhere. Right. And it's such an important part of every culture all over the world. Like, you know, it's an important part of participating in society. So I don't see why we would keep it separate. Like why not take that bigger picture view.

CC: One of my favorite cross curricular field trips is going to a grocery store with my class, with permission from the grocer, of course and art is everywhere. Like you say in real life, art is throughout the grocery store and so is the math, so is the science, so is the geography, so is the history and the kids see that, like we were talking about that real life application. Now I love art and I love doing art, but I'm not trained in that area. So I have reached out and during my teaching career, I've had the privilege of having teaching artists as guests in my classroom. And they have done some incredible art collaborations with my students that are just mind blowing. And the learning opportunities are endless. So from your experience and research, why should we look towards or bring in artists into the classroom?

TK: Yeah, I mean, I am a teaching artist myself too, you know, and I've had the experience of being both the classroom teacher and the artist going into the classroom. So I can kind of see both perspectives. But from the teacher perspective, you know, first and foremost, as you probably know too, Chris, like when you bring any sort of guest into the classroom, you know, it just shakes things up. It makes it more interesting and exciting just to hear somebody else speaking rather than just your regular teacher all the time. So even just that fact, like bringing any guest into the classroom I think is a great idea. It forms like community connections and those real-world connections, as we just spoke about. But in terms of artists specifically, I think one of the major things I've heard through my research and through conversations is that, first of all, you know, they just bring a new way of thinking into the classroom, a new way of working that students might not be accustomed to necessarily, because, again, of the way curriculum is structured, because of the way their day is structured and their assignments are structured. So artists come in with this like completely different way of working and this completely different lens that's often really refreshing. It can be a little terrifying for teachers sometimes, but really refreshing for students to see that different way of working in those new ideas that they bring into the classroom. And I think as well, for teachers to be able to, you know, be a little bit more flexible, like artists really model flexibility. And like I said, that creative process, like they're not afraid to fail because failing is part of the creative process. You try something out, it doesn't work, you try it again in a different way. That's creative problem solving, right? So artists typically aren't afraid to do this, and they model that for teachers and they model that for students. So again, it's really encouraging students to see their work and their work habits in a different way that I think is really exciting and really motivating for them.

CC: And I love that, that it's a failure is part of the creative process. And many of us are afraid of failure. And so to show it in a creative process like that is so enlightening for my students. And when you talk about excitement, I've had the artist come into my classroom and explain what they were going to do with my class, and I'm looking at it from my teacher perspective, my narrow teacher perspective, and saying, oh my goodness., I don't think that's going to work with my kids. And then all of a sudden they take control of the classroom, and it's this brilliant orchestra of movement and sound and art, and the kids are so involved in it, and they're so proud of the final product that it just makes me sing in terms of how wonderful that whole system is.

TK: Yeah. And again, like for teachers, it's a matter of like just being open to the unknown a little bit, because artists do work often in a different way than teachers. They don't come with that teacher lens necessarily. So I hear that a lot that teachers like, oh, I don't know at first. Like, is this going to work? Like, what's the plan? What's the outcome like, what is it going to look like? How can I integrate this into my assessment? So that can be very uncertain and challenging for teachers to overcome that initial hurdle of working with artists. But like you said, once they do and they see how engaging it is for students and how proud students can be from that process, you know, it tends to shift their mindsets a little bit. And also from I think because like you mentioned, you know, you're not trained in art, but you love bringing artists into the classroom. I think it's really also a form of professional development for teachers as well, because again, you learn a different way of thinking about things. But, you know, from that hands-on participation, if you get involved in the activity with your students, then you're also learning. You're learning about the art form, you're learning the techniques, and maybe you can connect with the artists and talk about potential extensions that you can do afterwards, even when the artist isn't there anymore and you can continue to build on that. But I think, again, it's just that initial just getting over that little bit of fear, that little bit of letting go of that control in the classroom to get that going with the artist.

CC: It's so true. And you mentioned the new voice perspective from the artist. And with the teaching artists that I've worked with, it's not just the art project, it's the showing the relevance of the math that we've already talked about, the science that we've already talked about, the language that we've already talked about, and it's all built into that final product or whatever performance we are doing. So it's so cross-curricular and they do it so seamlessly and it's just a wonderful, wonderful event to watch.

TK: Yeah, and sometimes like the artists, you know, they might just be bringing in their art form, but you as a teacher can then see, oh, there's connections that we can make to science and math and literacy and all these other areas. And that's the beautiful part of that partnership between the teacher and the artist, because the artist is bringing that art expertise, whereas the teacher is bringing that pedagogical expertise. Right. And that ability to see across the different subject areas. So when you bring those two things together, often it's a wonderful combination. And you can come up with wonderful things with your students.

CC: Okay, so you've convinced us on the why we should bring artists into the classroom. So that naturally leads us to the question, how can teachers get artists into the classroom?

TK: Yeah, this is a question I get asked a lot because, you know, again, it's not always something that's necessarily really obvious to teachers. Even if you want to bring an artist into the classroom. So I would suggest just starting very locally, often if you're working within a school board, school boards have art liaisons sometimes. They might even have artist partnership programs in place already. So, you know, speaking in the context of Ontario. Toronto District School Board has this TDSB creates program in place for that school board. So teachers and schools can apply to be part of this program and then they will pair an artist with you for your purposes. So again, if you look within your school board, wherever you are, you might already have an arts program like that that's dedicated to bringing artists into schools. Or you again, might have an art liaison who you can talk to who might be able to suggest some ways that you can get funding or ways that you can find artists to bring into the classroom. Also locally, no matter where you are, if you have an Arts council of any kind in your town. So in Kingston, we have the Kingston Arts Council, for instance. That's a good way to connect with different artists within your local community. They often, you know, know artists from different community events that they host. So you might be able to find some artists who have some experience giving workshops in schools that way as well. And then there are organizations actually around Ontario and in different provinces that actually this is what they do, their whole purpose is to bring teaching artists into classrooms and to bridge that connection between the arts community and the school environment. So in Ontario, MASC, which is in the Ottawa area.

TK: So MASC is a great example of that type of organization. So that's all they do is that they have a roster of artists that they vet for working in schools and communities, and then schools can apply to their program, and they will pair an artist with the school for whatever purpose it is that you want them to come in for. So, I mean, I have a whole list that we can share afterwards, but yeah, so every province typically has some sort of artist in schools, organization or program that is dedicated to that purpose. And definitely in terms of funding, if you look at the provincial or territory level in Canada, you can find many, many different grants that exist for this purpose. So Ontario Arts Council has an engaging schools and communities through art grants that they offer. Saskatchewan, British Columbia Quebec has culture in the schools. It's same idea again, schools can propose a project and apply to this grant, and then they receive money to pay for the artist to pay the materials and everything like that. So these granting programs, they don't facilitate that partnership necessarily. So I'm talking about the granting programs that exist at this provincial level. The schools will have to find an artist typically, and then apply themselves, but they will provide the funding which is often a very, very big barrier for a lot of schools that they can't or they don't know where to find funding for this type of thing. So it does exist. It just is a matter a little bit of doing the legwork. Looking at locally again through arts councils or looking provincially for a granting program that exists to bring artists into schools.

CC: Well, I started making a list of all the things and finally ran out of space. So I gathered from all of that information that there really is no excuse not to get an artist into the classroom. And you can understand that funding is obviously one of those things that all teachers struggle with. But we are going to put on our website the list of different resources that you mentioned there as well. I actually learned about artists in the community through a colleague as well. Just watching another classroom get so excited about what they were doing and the way we funded it was through our parent council and through fundraising just because we believed in it so much. So there’s always a way or there's you should be able to find a way to be able to get this incredible rich experience for the kids into the classroom. And I know from experience that for some of these students, it's the first time working with a professional artist. And when we talk about representation and we talk about exposing them to different career paths, to me that part is just as valuable. And getting kids excited about art. So that's incredible. Thank you. We have a tradition on our podcast to have one final exit question. So here it is, and it's a one final tip from you. And I know you've given us tons of them. I can show you my notes right now, but I just want one final tip from you, and I want you to try to answer it in two sentences or less. What advice would you give to a teacher who wants to try to integrate art into some of their current subjects? Just what's their first steps? What would you suggest?

TK: I would suggest being open to possibilities and find something in terms of art that really speaks to you. So if you're somebody who loves to listen to music, or if you're somebody who likes to look at art, you know, start with that. And just find an art form or a technique or something that inspires you and just explore that further, I think. And then, you know, from there you can see all kinds of possibilities. But just that step of just being open, I think is important and to experiment.

CC: I love that and being open is phenomenal, but I love that you said art that speaks to you because if the teacher is excited about it or passionate about it, it doesn't even have to be a passion, but excited about it. They will be able to get their kids excited about it. And that's an amazing first step. Incredible. Tiina, thank you so much for sharing your expertise, experience, and passion with us today. And you can see that it's a passion. It's in every breath that you're taking there it’s such an exciting and important topic, and we need to get more art into our curriculum. We want to get that incorporated. We won't want to teach in those silos anymore. So art is one of those glues that pulls everything together. And I'm sure our listeners will definitely want to look further into it. And that's why we're going to have that page of resources that you're going to provide for us. So, Tiina, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

TK: Yeah. Thank you for having me. It's been great.

CC: That does it for another episode of Popular Podagogy. Again, thank you to our amazing guest, Doctor Tiina Kukkonen. Josh, as always, where can our listeners subscribe to make sure they don't miss any of our popular pedagogy podcasts?

Outro: Yeah, you can find this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the Faculty of Education website, and pretty much any other place you get your podcasts.

CC: Please don't forget to check out our Queen's Faculty of Education website and search for Popular Podagogy for additional resources and information on this important art topic. Well, that's it from myself, Chris Carlton, our incredibly talented and resourceful podcast team of Josh Vine and Erin York. Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay connected and we will see you next time for another episode of Popular Pedagogy.