Integrating the arts into every subject and whole school activities (1)

Integrating the Arts into Every Subject

The graphic, performing, and theater arts are powerful allies for math, writing, and every subject you teach. As 2007 State Teacher of the Year in Rhode Island, Catherine Davis-Hayes is passionate about helping every teacher use the arts in their classroom. Today she shares techniques for teaching geometry and writing – but also a remarkable school-wide project.

Today’s Sponsor: Edpuzzle is my new favorite flipped classroom tool. You can take your videos or those from YouTube and:

  • Clip the video
  • Record your own voice over
  • Pause the video and add your voice just in certain spots
  • Add comments, multiple choice or open ended questions.

And if you click, Edpuzzle will give your school access to the 50,000 best lessons from Edpuzzle, organized in folders and ready to be used by teachers. Once click and you have everything you need for the year!

Steve Jobs said in his final Apple keynote introducing the iPad 2,

“It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”

This past week, I had students modeling processors, hardware, and software using play-dough. Something so simple ignited their excitement and learning. Catherine’s lesson for us today is worth sharing with curriculum directors, superintendents, principals, and teachers who are serious about improving learning.

Former secretary of education, William Bennett, says,

“An elementary school that treats the arts as the province of a few gifted children, or views them only as recreation and entertainment, is a school that needs an infusion of soul. That arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

 We all need arts in every classroom, in every subject, in what we do as educators. Not only is it fun but it


Retention and makes



Work to integrate arts into your lesson this week. (And I especially love the whole school “star trek” episodes they filmed. That project is FANTASTIC! Some of you will love doing it!)

Listen Now

Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

Arts in Every Subject: How to Make It Happen

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Introducing Catherine Davis-Hayes and her philosophy of arts in education

Vicki: So we’re here at the NNSTOY conference ( and we’re talking with Catherine Davis-Hayes @cdhayes13, 2007 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.

Now Catherine, you’re really passionate about having the arts in everything in a school. What’s your philosophy of that?

Catherine: Well, I think that any content area is more accessible to students and helps them to really understand that content if it’s used in real-world situations. And so, although I do see the benefit and also obviously the importance of teaching skills and processes and materials in my art room, I feel like the students are going to benefit in a greater way by applying it and actually using it to maybe demonstrate their understanding in other content areas.

So, for example, if there’s a math concept and you can bring in geometry shapes, creating artwork that uses the concepts, fractions, all the time observing proportions, and point out how much math they’re using in art, just by making the art. Not just necessarily make the project about math, but just point out, “Look at all the math you’re using as you’re creating your art.”

Or, exploring areas of social studies with the arts is a very, very easy way. And also, even though I’m a visual art teacher, I have become amazingly aware of the power of the performing arts. So I am not a dancer, and I am not a theater actor at all, but I have seen incredible connections made — through movement art and theater specifically – that have helped kids make connections to other content areas.

How does her school use the arts in everything?

Vicki: So does your school follow this whole philosophy of art in everything?

Catherine: We try. Things come and go over time. Funding comes and goes over time. We have had many of our teachers trained in arts integration. We had an amazing opportunity, going back ten years, to have professional development during the summer for as many of our teachers who were able.

Through a program called SmART Schools (, teachers were able to come in and learn how to they could use the arts inside their classrooms. So, it’s not always about the professional arts educator going in to a classroom. We taught really accessible tools that everyday classroom teachers could use in their classroom, and so that would be one level of arts integration and using the arts as a part of their toolkit to teach in the class.

And then, at sort of a deeper, larger scale level you could also team up with an art specialist – a music teacher, art teacher, and in our case we were super lucky to bring in a theater artist in residence – and then really put things on fire.

What is the common mistake people make integrating arts?

Vicki: Do you think there’s a common mistake that many educators have when they think about the arts in schools?

Catherine: I do. I sometimes think that when you mention, “Oh, let’s integrate the arts,” there’s always this vision of the movie or that TV show Fame where…

Vicki: (laughs)

Catherine: … suddenly everyone’s going to, like everything has to be a big huge production, that it means putting on a play or putting on a big production. And I think they get intimidated.

I also think that a lot of teachers don’t understand their own creativity. They assume, “Oh, I can’t draw a straight line, even with a ruler,” you know, that famous saying.

Vicki: (laughs)

Catherine: But they miss how creative they are every day in their classroom, and they miss that even the little things just doodling on a piece of paper, having kids sketch an idea first, getting kids up and moving to demonstrate a math concept.

“Let’s line up by height,” or you know, it doesn’t have to be smaller visual, music, auditory tools that help students connect.

Some easy ways to start with the arts in any classroom

Vicki: So if you could give us an “easy win” or two. You know, you’re talking to teachers of all kinds. “OK, here’s an easy way to integrate arts into your classroom.” What would you give us as an idea?

Catherine: I was reading the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni.

To have the kids really understand the concept of you can be a little piece and change the world… we had the kids get up and move around and act like that collection of little fish that formed the big fish.

Vicki: Oh…

Catherine: So, you know, just getting up out of your seat and mirroring an activity or solving a problem. You can do that in any classroom.

In the visual arts, having students illustrate the pictures of a story before they write it… Sometimes the pictures to tell the story come easier than the words. There are a lot of reluctant writers. If you have younger kids, just say “OK, here are five (places for) pictures. You have to have the beginning, the end, and then three pictures in between that bring you from that beginning to the end.” I don’t know of a kid who couldn’t sketch out a simple story.

And then have them write. And the writing goes deeper, because they’re not writing a story, they’re describing their art. And they can talk about art forever. They can tell you all about their art. Just one picture. But now they have maybe five simple pictures, and their story is going to be rich and descriptive and have all the detail that classroom teachers are hoping that their little writers could have.

Your proudest moments

Vicki: Catherine, describe on of your proudest moments at your school where you’re like, “OK. We’re ‘getting’ this!”

Catherine: (laughs)

So even though I just talked about doing little projects that are accessible, we’ve also done some pretty crazy big things, too.

One year, we did a project that was complete arts integration for grades 3, 4, 5, and 6. The grade level classrooms took on a concept. The whole idea was to support what classroom teachers were doing in their classroom, and the bigger standards and the bigger content areas. Also, (we wanted to) teach about art and design.

asking the classroom teachers, “What is it that you want us to support you?” They might come up with a language arts content area, or a math concept, or a science concept. In this case, we asked teachers to specifically choose math or science because we wanted to do a STEM-to-STEAM arts integration.

So each grade level, each classroom at each grade level, picked a content area. Our theater artist in residence went in and created a planet – a fictional planet based on their concepts.

So for example, we had a third grade class with a Planet of the Shapes, because they were learning shapes in geometry. Another third grade class was Food Chain in the Ocean, and so they created an entire planet that was an ocean-based planet, and all of the interactions between all of the species were based on, “Eat or Be Eaten!” These are third graders.

We had a fourth grade planet that was based on magnetism. They were studying magnets in science.

And all the way up. And meanwhile the sixth graders had a health unit where they had to learn about body systems, how a disease or an issue could attack the body, and what you could do – either medically or the body would do to defeat that health system.

So they wrote episodes for Star Trek, and those sixth graders had to use the other planets on “away missions” to solve their problems.

At the end of the year, we actually filmed three Star Trek episodes where the sixth graders were the Star Fleet. And every piece of their learning could be seen in these episodes.

Vicki: Wow.

Catherine: They’re very low tech, but…

Vicki: Where did you air them? Did you air them on YouTube, or..?

Catherine: I have a blog on Wordpress

Vicki: Ohhhhh… so you’ll give us a link? So we can share them! How exciting!

Catherine: They are there. Yeah!

And so the crowning achievement – You asked, “What was the proud moment?”

The proud moment was when I was driving in my car the summer after this had happened, and I was listening to NPR, and they had a physicist from Harvard talking about – a roboticist, I think.

Anyway, so he was talking about designing these little robots that were about the size of a quarter, and how they were designed.

Because when you go to Mars, you can’t bring all the tools that you might need. And they were talking about designing these little robots that – when they’re moving around they look like little spiders, and they can actually interconnect and become larger tools.

In one of our episodes, the Planet of the Shapes, the third graders’… That was what their shapes could do.

Their shapes were these cute little shapes that liked to dance. And then they would “freeze dance,” so when they froze, they would come together and make tools.

And so the Starship went to the Planet of the Shapes because they needed tools to fix their Starship.

Vicki: Wow.

Catherine: And… I’m driving, three months later, hearing that they made robots like this.

You know, they don’t go to Mars yet, but the idea was, “How are you going to solve the problem of bringing more tools than we have the ability to carry on a space mission?”

And my third graders were thinking in terms of, “What can geometric shapes do? They can be put together to make bigger shapes.”

Vicki: Wow. What happened when they found out? Did you tell them?

Catherine: I did. I showed them the podcast when we got back in the fall.

And they were… they were really excited about that, just to think… “You know, the whole idea is that we don’t know what’s going to exist twenty years from now. But you kids actually thought of an idea that Harvard robotics scientists are thinking about now.”

Vicki: And that is what happens when we pull art into everything.

Catherine: And it was student driven. That was the cool thing, was that the students chose the content. They didn’t need a teacher telling them, “You will make a planet about this concept.” They chose the concepts.

Vicki: Awesome.

So we’ve had a Wonderful Classroom Wednesday with Catherine Davis-Hayes. Check the Shownotes for links to these Star Trek episodes. I’m very fascinated to see what those look like.

And just remember, the power of the arts is really that the arts are everywhere.

  • You can read about this project and watch the episodes on Catherine’s Blog: STEAM Trek
  • I've embedded videos below.

Catherine: Thank you, Vicki.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Biography as Submitted

Cathy Davis Hayes is an elementary art teacher at Oakland Beach Elementary School in Warwick. When she was recognized as Rhode Island Teacher of the Year, she had been teaching in her position for 11 years. Cathy originally started as a commercial artist, but was motivated to become a teacher after volunteering at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf.

Cathy believes in the power of the arts to help students make connections between ideas from throughout all their areas of study, and she is passionate about enriching her students’ lives every day.

She was central to Oakland Beach Elementary’s classification as a SmART School, where arts are given a heavy focus in the curriculum. Cathy earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She was Rhode Island’s 2007 State Teacher of the Year.

Twitter: @cdhayes13

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.)

Never miss an episode

Get the 10-minute Teacher Show delivered to your inbox.

Powered by ConvertKit
Picture of Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

All Posts »

1 comment

Kelsey September 20, 2017 - 5:13 pm

Love this! I feel integration is so important especially with art! Great blog post and information!


Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Cool Cat Teacher Blog
Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere