Teaching with the Arts

EdLF master’s student Karie Cooper is helping transform classroom learning with art

A bright yellow shirt matches the excitement of Karie Cooper, a current master’s student in the Educational Leadership and Foundations Department in the McKay School, as she explains the education principles behind her art lessons. Cooper is helping transform classroom learning by incorporating art lessons with Utah Core Standards. As part of the EDLF LPP program, she has been working as an administrative intern at Greenwood Elementary. She completed an internship project by writing and preparing k-6 lessons, which blend math, language arts, and science core standards with the arts.

Example of an arts lesson Cooper created
Example of an arts lesson Cooper created
Photo Credit: Karie Cooper

"Students should feel that school is a place that pushes them to think, develop creative ideas, and solve problems with their own innovations,” shared Cooper. “School ought to engage students and move their progress along in fun and exciting ways, helping them discover ability they hadn’t realized.”

The art lessons Cooper creates come from picture books she selects. From each picture book, she is able to pull out lessons on math, English, science, and more.

“We don’t remember what we memorize for a test,” Cooper said, “The arts help knowledge to become something more internalized that students can apply in cross-curricular ways.”

When coming up with a lesson plan, Cooper explained that she starts off with a hunt for a picture book. However, it can’t be just any picture book. A picture book needs to tie back to the Utah Core Standards for each grade level.

“I’d go to Barnes and Noble, then I’d go to the library, then I’d go to somebody else’s library until I found a book where a lightbulb would go off,” Cooper explained. “I’d think, ‘Hey! This is beautiful figurative language,’ or ‘The plot structure of this story is a great way to illustrate characterization. Kids would connect to that story.’”

Cooper’s art lessons aren’t just fun, creative ways to teach students about core standards; they’ve helped to create an inviting classroom culture.

“The culture in my classroom is warm and inviting, and I think my kids really want to be there because the arts help me create that. If my approach is creative, you just never know what can happen,” said Cooper. “We might sing that math idea I just taught or we’re all going to sing our own song, but it’s still math. The kids really want to be there and I have a lot fewer absences.”

Incorporating art into her lessons has allowed Cooper to learn more about how students learn and create.

Design process from STEAM
Design process of arts integration 
Photo Credit: Karie Cooper

“Something that I’ve seen very clearly is [that] the engineering process and the creative process in the arts are the same,” explained Cooper. “It’s asking a question, coming up with an idea, trying the idea, evaluating what you’ve created, improving it and getting input, and reworking it. There’s a lot of collaboration and creativity involved. Some of my most beautiful art has come from a science lesson.”

When Cooper graduated from BYU, she went right into teaching third grade. Once she started having children, she took a 15-year break from classroom teaching and served as a volunteer in her children’s schools instead. She started her way back to the classroom, by first working as an art mentor with Utah Festival Opera with her sister-in-law.

“It was very validating to start the EdLF program last April. The very first class with Dr. Boren required so much reading on theory and research in education. I had never been exposed to that before and I loved it,” shared Cooper.

Education research and theory validate Cooper’s belief that creative engagement works. Students, who are more highly engaged in their learning through artistic expression and movement, gain deeper understanding, which allows them to apply and use new knowledge. Integrating the arts into instruction and offering autonomy in how students demonstrate mastery deepens knowledge, teaches skills, and provides opportunities to practice essential dispositions.

Writer: Janine Swart

Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1922