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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Independent Study Shows Benefit of Incorporating the Arts into a Math Lesson

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Gateway to the Arts
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Early childhood learners outperform their peers when they are taught with an arts-integrated background, according to an independent study of a model used in 11 Pittsburgh area schools.

Gateway to the Arts of Western Pennsylvania facilitates an early childhood program that brings teaching artists into classrooms for seven-week residencies to help integrate drama, music and movement into science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, concept learning. Gateway is one of 17 sites using the Wolf Trap Model and the only in Pennsylvania.

Gateway had been using the model in early education classrooms for two years when the main office in Vienna, Virginia contracted a four-year study in 2010 through a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Education to assess and examine the model and its results.

The American Institutes for Research controlled 22 randomly selected elementary schools in a large suburban Virginia school district.  

The study found students in the STEM through Arts program demonstrated better math achievement than the control groups.

Sarah Greenbaum, Gateway to the Arts’ program coordinator for early childhood, says this is because students are engaged in a different way than they would be in a more traditional math lesson.  

“Our approach is using the arts that really support, even from really where the Wolf Trap started, the arts is a great way to teach social and emotional skills, cognitive skills, behavioral skills, in early childhood,” she said. “And so using the arts integrating into science or math really allows children of all learners to grasp those concepts.”

She said the arts are a way for every type of learner to use his or her innate desire to learn and discover new concepts. Sometimes the model is used during problem solving or counting, but for some students it’s a more exciting way to learn.

“We hear a lot of, lot of great stories about children that have started in the classroom and haven’t said anything, they are usually the shy ones sitting in the corner not really participating, and at the end of the residency they’re the ones leading the class in a chant or a song and leading them through imaginary travel.”

The program’s arts integration is not only for the students to learn, but for the professional teaching artists to integrate their work into a new setting.

“We have performing artists in dance, music, drama, puppetry; and they go through extensive training to really understand the standards, the content and the curriculum of early childhood classrooms. And so they’re able to use their art form to go into the classroom, to work with the teachers.”