Using arts and technology to teach
numeracy and literacy in Grades 1 to 3
By Dwight Klassen
surprised me was how many people were there during
their summer holidays," says Lori McBrien Ralph.
exciting," Olga Kobylansky reports. "It was
a dynamic group of people."
These two were among the
500 elementary teachers from the Greater Toronto Area
who spent time this summer cooped up inside the Art
Gallery of Ontario.
This three-day session
was part of their commitment to a new three-year
project called Kidsmuse. The teachers have all
committed to 10 days of training each year, a
combination of personal and school time. At the end
of the three years, the Grade 1, 2, and 3 students
and teachers in the 94 schools involved in Kidsmuse
will have created a childrens museum on the
The Learning Partnership, the not-for-profit organization
that started Kidsmuse, describes the project as a
"digital exploration of the creative arts for
the purpose of enhancing literacy and numeracy."
The integration of art
in the curriculum and in technology, which is the
basis of the Kidsmuse project, was also the basis of
the summers professional development program.
Fran Marcos, Grade 1 teacher at Norway Public School
in Toronto, remarks that the leaders
"didnt forget about incorporating all the
different strands into all the workshops." They
kept stressing the importance of the arts and linking
the activities the teachers were doing and learning
into all areas of the curriculum.
The most spectacular of
the workshops was the one on visual arts, created by
the Art Gallery of Ontario. In this session,
participants went into the gallery to study Skaters
on the Amstel by Arent Arentsz. They discussed the
painting, then went to the computers, where they saw
it as it would appear in a virtual childrens
Olga Kobylansky, a
Kindergarten teacher at James S. Bell in Etobicoke,
describes it: "You could see this painting
changing on the screen. It was a winter painting, but
children could see it as a spring scene with trees
with blossoms. The river had melted. You could hear
birds singing. Young children would be able to see
seasons change winter into spring, then summer
into fall in front of their eyes."
The on-screen picture
was full of buttons incorporating activities in
language, science, math and art. A participant
described it this way, "The painting showed a
couple skating along a frozen river.
"By clicking on a
cloud, you could go into a science experiment that
talked about wind and the speed of wind. If you
clicked your mouse on light breeze, the
leaves on the tree started to quiver. As you clicked
for the wind to become stronger, the trees started to
bend, the sound of the wind got louder and the hats
started to fly off. If you clicked on the couple
walking, you got into a study of social
Other workshops had the
teachers building a web page and surfing the
Internet, no matter what their previous level of
computer experience. "There was always someone
you could learn from and someone you could
teach," remarked Kobylansky, whose computer
knowledge is basic.
Besides adding to their
computer skills, the teachers expanded their
knowledge of music, dance and drama.
Judy Lewis, Grade 1
teacher at James S. Bell, also praises the dance and
drama class. "We learned to become more aware of
space and of our bodies and to work in groups to
create different patterns."
Lori McBrien Ralph, who
teaches Grade 2 at Heritage Glen in Oakville, says
the importance of the arts was stressed throughout
the training, that "kids need to be creative
within themselves before they can put it in the
She was impressed by the
focus on music and drama and how all the music and
arts activities related to the curriculum. "With
every little ditty," she says, "with every
little game we played, we were shown how we could
relate this to a child having a problem reading or
patterning or phrasing."
Each of the schools
involved in the project also sent a teacher,
designated the "techie", who spent all
three days in a separate workshop learning about the
projects software and hardware, the Silicon
Graphics O2. This teacher will provide support to
teachers and students of the Kidsmuse project.
At the end of the
Kidsmuse project, anyone with access to the Internet
will be able to visit the childrens museum.
This is virtual reality
without the headset. Virtually, you walk up to the
front doors of the museum and open it up by using the
mouse on your computer. Then you can decide whether
to go left and turn your mouse in that direction.
The scene shifts
as if you were driving a car. Now youre facing
a door and at the top of the door it might say
"Childrens Art." Then you go through
that door and hanging on the wall are pictures that
were produced by children. You can walk up in front
of a picture that takes your fancy and have a closer
look or you can step back from it and take a look,
just as you would in a gallery. And thats only
the start of your journey.
For the children and
teachers in the Kidsmuse project, the journey to
build the museum starts now. The demonstration
created by the Art Gallery of Ontario for the visual
arts workshop was an incomplete example of what a
room in the childrens museum might look like.
Over the next three years, the children and teachers
in Kidsmuse will be creating this type of package.
The Kidsmuse project is
already under way at Heritage Glen Public School in
Oakville, which showed its work-in-progress at the
summer workshop. Its art gallery is a maze, through
which you can fly and click on a childs piece
of art. Behind it you will find activities, perhaps a
story. Although Kidsmuse is designed for children in
Grades 1 to 3, Heritage Glen got older students
involved, too. "The older children have become
technology coaches," reports principal Dorothy
Fowler. "We use the younger childrens art
and the older children for technology."
According to The
Learning Partnership, research shows that young
students in programs that emphasize the arts do
better in reading, math and science than their
counterparts enrolled in the normal curriculum and
that this advantage lasts. This principle underlies
the Kidsmuse project, just as it underlies the
The involvement of Silicon
made this project possible. Silicon Graphics supplies
high-performance, interactive systems and software to
government and the manufacturing, science,
telecommunications and entertainment industries.
As a result of its
relationship with The Learning Partnership, Silicon
Graphics is donating 102 workstations, software and
technical resources, amounting to an in-kind donation
of $16 million.
Silicon Graphics wants
to produce more programs for the elementary level.
With Kidsmuse, the company will be able to see
whether their machine can be used by teachers and
students and what kinds of programs would benefit
The workstations for
Kidsmuse are being installed in 94 schools throughout
the Greater Toronto Area. The schools will be linked
together by an intranet, which will allow them to
communicate with each other and collaborate on
building the virtual childrens museum. Once the
museum is up and running, it will be accessible
through the Internet.
The 17 school boards
taking part in the project have agreed to provide
support, including wiring the schools to connect the
Silicon Graphics machines to other terminals within
the school. This will allow children to create their
art or scan it at a Macintosh or IBM machine and transfer it through
the schools link to the Silicon Graphics
The Technology Incentive
Partnership Program of the Ministry of Education and
allocated $2 million to the project.
Teachers know they can
use the arts to improve numeracy and literacy and do
it without technology. But the technology makes
sharing among students, teachers and schools easy.
The technology allows collaboration by both teachers
participating in Kidsmuse are clearly very
enthusiastic about the program. They were excited at
the idea of collaborating with colleagues from so
many schools and at the possibilities for creating
interesting ways of using the arts to teach reading,
writing and arithmetic.
Dorothy Fowler is only
one of the teachers who finds the ongoing nature of
the project exciting. "Theres no standing
still with technology," she says.
The Learning Partnership is a not-for-profit
organization whose mandate is nurturing the growth of
partnerships among schools, businesses and
communities devoted to constantly strengthening
publicly-funded school systems. Dwight Klassen is a
computer resources teacher with the Etobicoke
boards Technology Across the Curriculum
Department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org