PUBLISHED: 4:18 PM on Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Expression connection
Gastineau teacher uses art concepts in instruction

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  The Gastineau Community School student's art is on display in the classroom.
Art in the classroom is not limited to finger painting and stick drawings, and Becky Engstrom knows this quite well. The fourth-grade teacher at Gastineau Community School is using art techniques to teach traditional elements such as math, social studies and science.

Last summer Engstrom traveled to Fairbanks to participate in Project ARTiculate, a partnership between the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and the Alaska Arts Education Consortium using a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of the program is to use proven visual art curriculum and resource kits in target Alaskan classrooms to increase student achievement and arts knowledge and appreciation. It also is aimed to determine and disseminate effective practices in visual arts education that increase student academic performance as well as their knowledge and appreciation of the arts, according to the program Web site.

"The goal was to improve meaningful art instruction in the classroom," said Engstrom, who came to Juneau in 1996 and also teaches dance at University of Alaska Southeast.

Art projects this year include making math quilts for symmetry, constructing Aleut hats for social studies and using pastels and 3-D art for making plants in science.

"Hopefully it will show as a test in using creativity in problem solving," Engstrom said. "My hope for this grant is that it shows the importance of art and how it connects humanity. Without it children can't build uniqueness."

Engstrom's fourth-graders said they have enjoyed the extra art elements in the classroom.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Fourth-graders in Becky Engstrom's class strike a shocked pose with practice props for "Beauty and the Beast."
"It's like fun, and it teaches us how to do stuff on creativity," said Michael Dale.

Hanna Kim added, "I'm feeling like I lean more because when we do an activity it sticks in my brain."

Bruce Jones said that the curriculum has enhanced his art.

"It helps because I think my art was really bad, but one of my pieces was chosen for the art show in the mall," Jones said. "I've gotten better."

Brad Hendrickson said his favorite project was making African wall art.

"You get to make shapes and little animals for it," Hendrickson said. "It looks 3-D and realistic."

Nathan Klein enjoyed a project where students painted from the color wheel.

"We got to paint and cut them out and almost everyone's was different," Klein said.

Other favorite projects students mentioned include Native Alaskan beading and masks.

Using her background in dance, Engstrom incorporated her students in Juneau Lyric Opera's "Beauty and the Beast." Students willing to participate served as flatware and tea cups for "Be Our Guest."

Boys also participated in the wolf chase scene of the show.

"Beauty and the Beast is a good movie. I asked my mom if I could do it, and I was afraid she'd say no, but she said yes, and I got to be in it," Grace Lim said. "I like to try new things."

Boys act as flatware and girls as tea cups, and students' props are highlighted with black lights while their bodies are hidden by wearing black.

"I've never acted in front of a lot of people," Morgan Spargo said. "If you make a mistake no one can see you though."

Engstrom said she is proud of her students for their willingness in participating in the show, which takes much courage for fourth-graders.

She said dancing is only one of the many art elements implemented this year. She said her favorite project is instructing the students in art instruction.

"I believe it teaches children to think like they're playing chess," Engstrom said. "You've got to see what they want. The processing that goes on is amazing because they're faced with very vague questions. It's also a way for me to see if they understand what I'm saying."

It seems that no matter the art form, students are enjoying the new approach to instruction.

"I like the dancing. I like the flexibility a lot," Annie Roa said. "It helps me express my feelings."