the arts

A Data Point Supporting Arts in Education

My husband spilled the beans. And before I knew it I was involved in our High School musical production of the Sound of Music.

Dusting off my violin, I joined students in the pit to help provide the sound for the musical. The early rehearsals were rough and my admiration for my colleagues in the music/theater department increased exponentially as they guided, counseled, encouraged, and coached students through learning the music, songs, lines, choreography, and the staging. As with all productions, there was definitely that thought, “Will this ever come together?” But the students and my amazing colleagues never gave up, adding hours to their rehearsals and working together through difficult spots and troublesome glitches. Over time more notes were being played (in tune even!), beautiful songs were sung, lines were remembered, and a story was coming to life.

I love observing students immerse themselves in the creative process. Any student involved in acting, singing, playing, technical crew, or stage crew is positively affected. For those new to the process the growth is most remarkable. They gain new skills and confidence. Most importantly, they are filled with love and appreciation for music. In the hallways they hum or sing the songs from the musical all day long. In the classroom they share the latest triumphs from rehearsal or the challenges to be overcome before show time. And they exude happiness.  Indeed, there is scientific evidence that art and happiness are “inevitably intertwined” in that “people invariably report that art making is a source of joy for them” even when using art to facilitate the grieving process of a loss (Malchiodi).

photo courtesy of Roslyn Dotterweich

Finally, we’re running the show. Of course, it isn’t without flaws but to the audience it’s seamless. For all involved there is a thrill with the completed product and a true sense of accomplishment. I am impressed with how far the students have come and how wonderful the final product is. Of course, the benefits of such a production are not limited to those involved.

Students who attend the show are astounded. And those who came grudgingly with the claim “I don’t really like that kind of stuff” approached me in the pit absolutely gleeful. They reported “This is amazing” or “The music is so good” or “I’m so glad I came”.

Though shocked I was at the diminishment of some of my own skills since my symphony days, there was great gratification in playing again. I have been reminded of the soul filling joy that music (and dance and art) has provided me in my own personal life. It was the balancing thread that carried me through college and graduate school. I am determined that my resurrected violin will no longer remain silent.

There are scientific studies to support that participation in the arts lowers stress levels and improves overall well-being of individuals (Hopper). Using fMRI, scientists have even demonstrated that the creative process of art making actually enhances functional connectivity in the brain (Bolwerk). Who doesn’t want a better functioning brain?

My Sound of Music experience is another small piece of evidence as to why I, as a science teacher, advocated the “A” for arts in the development of our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program, making it STEAM.

This is my plea that whenever the chance arises in your community, please support art programs, funding of the arts and encourage student participation in these programs.


  • Bolwerk, Anne, Jessica Mack-Andrick, Frieder Lang, Arnd Dörfler, and Christian1 Maihöfner. "How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity." PLOS ONE:. PLOS, 1 July 2014. Web. 07 June 2016.
  • Hopper, Elizabeth. The Link Between Creativity and Happiness | HealthyPsych. HealthyPsychcom Site Wide Activity RSS. N.p., 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 June 2016.Ho
  • Malchiodi, Cathy. Art and Happiness. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 07 June 2016.

MS Drama Festival: A Science Teacher’s Perspective

“Would you be a leader for one of the groups during the drama festival?”

It seemed like an innocuous request. After checking my class and curriculum schedules, I agreed. Before I knew it, I was carried away in a 3-day adventure of guiding students through the artistic process of modifying a fairy tale into their own creation of a playlet.

There we sat on Day 1 with the fairy tale in hand, reading through the story my group had selected. In observing this little assembly of 6-8th graders struggle to just read and comprehend the 2-page fairy tale, it was unclear to me how they would eventually generate an original script of their own. However, trusting the guidelines of our amazing drama teacher, I embarked on the coaching process of encouraging the students to brainstorm about themes, characters, plot, and setting. Ere long they were engaged and their story began to unfold! What a thrill to take a step back and let them share ideas and create.

At one point students were given the task to take what they had and just start acting it out. They stood there looking at me like, “Seriously? What are we supposed to say?” However, shortly their improvisation skills took hold and slowly a script began to emerge!

Indeed the classic story of Rumplestiltskin was evolving into a modern tale of an evil mother, a cash-generating printer, a daughter, homeless children, and a new Rumplestilitskin.

Throughout Day 2 the students continued to develop characters and refine their script. It was amazing to see how far they’d come since 8:30 the morning before! Then they began to think about props and staging. One of them had a great idea for making a jail.  To work we went and it turned out perfectly!

One boy requested more lines. As we were developing his character I made a suggestion for him to insert a line about an idea the students were throwing around. He responded, “Why me?” and I reminded, “You asked for more lines.” “Oh yeah,” he replied. The students practiced their play and coached and encouraged each other throughout the process. For me the biggest challenge was to make them to SPEAK OUT!

On Day 3 we faced the tech rehearsal. Two of the students in the group were assigned to the tech role in which they downloaded and assembled sound effects for the play. So, the rest of the group had come up with ideas for the tech boys and we arrived at our rehearsal prepared to try it all out.  However, the tech teacher approached me with the question, “What lighting cues do you have?” This is when the realization hits me that I am totally out of my element. “Well, what are my options?”  After he responds, I attempt to give him some perspective by saying, “This is like me asking you to fill in the blank. Van der Waals, Schroedinger, or Sertoli. You choose. Pick one.” He laughed out loud but still couldn’t fully grasp that I remained clueless.

In any case, we survived the tech rehearsal and the students walked away slightly more confident having tried everything out on the stage.  After a few minor adjustments and last minute preparations, they were ready to perform!

Along with four other groups who had undergone the same transformation over the 3-day period of the drama festival, my students performed their piece late in the afternoon to our parent and student community.  All five performances were entertaining and unique! It was a huge success and each group came off the stage flushed with excitement.

It’s true, the students missed three days of classes but they gained much from the experience including, but not limited to: empowerment from the creative process, benefits of collaboration, joy in helping each other out, satisfaction of accomplishment, challenge in putting together a story, skill of scripting, and the thrill of performing. Yes, as a science teacher I once again advocate for the arts. Students need these adventures as much as they need lessons of math and science.

After their performance, as our group was waiting for the others to finish, one student (who just a week ago claimed he was too nervous to act) said to me, “You know what the best part about this was? Well, all three days and then the moment just before the curtain went up for us to perform" Doesn’t that say it all? Support the arts!





Embrace the Arts

This afternoon we had our IB Art Vernissage, one of my favorite IB traditions.  Initially it feels like something so different from what I do every day with the same students and possibly that’s why it appeals to me so.  It also takes place directly outside of my classroom in the student lounge and I enjoy the anticipation created by observing the students and our IB art teacher prepare for the event.

At our school the IB art program has a reputation of being difficult and being a potential source to bring down one’s GPA.  However, my daughter, along with several other students, decided to embark on the two-year journey of IB art as part of the diploma curriculum.  The students are expected to select a theme early on in their pilgrimage towards becoming artists.  Their artwork, then, over the two years is to relate to their theme. 

I look at the displayed work and I am impressed.  None of these IB art students plans a career in art and would have never experienced painting on a canvas, being inspired by multiple artists (and being able to discuss it), creating a clay sculpture, and working in a host of other mediums without this class.  All of them are articulate about how each piece of art relates to their chosen theme.  I am touched by how each student is clearly personally invested in his/her work.  It is enlightening to speak with the individuals and I so enjoy seeing them in the context of an art exhibition.  Of course, they are engaged in an entirely different way as compared to when they are explaining the role of the light dependent reactions in photosynthesis.  Their effort and hours of toiling away in the art room have paid off!  One teacher exclaims, “Now I know what they do tucked away in the art room!  I‘ve always wondered what goes on for hours and hours in there.”  Appropriate “oohs” and “aahs” and nods of approval exude from the group of spectators circulating through the show.  I sense pride and accomplishment from our students.

My daughter in front of some of her art.

There is plenty of literature to support the value of art in education.  An article I recently read refers to skills attained from participating in the arts.  These skills include the following (1):

  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Problem Solving
  • Perseverance
  • Focus
  • Non-Verbal Communication
  • Ability to receive constructive feedback
  • Collaboration
  • Dedication
  • Accountability

Through taking this IB course, our students have gained an actual skill set that will be valuable to them throughout all aspects of life.  While the students presented, it was clear that these skills have, indeed, been transmitted to the students through their artistic odyssey.

If you know someone deliberating on whether to take an art, music, dance or drama class, encourage them to do so!  Future IB students don’t steer away from the Group VI (The Arts) subjects!

In my own life, balance and those very skills listed above became part of who I am through my participation in the orchestra program in my high school and later by playing with a symphony while in college and graduate school.  Additionally, my world was enlarged through the exposure to music, composers, and different artists.  The weekly rehearsals provided an appropriate diversion from my classes and research, allowing me to return fresh and prepared to progress even further having stepped away for a bit. Plus, it was just plain fun to be part of the creation of beautiful music!  How about you?  What are the benefits that you have experienced from participating in The Arts?  Share below!

Strauss, V. (2013, January 21). Top 10 skills children learn from the arts.Washington Post. Retrieved April 28, 2014, from