By Kayla Chamberlain
As a student, I never truly understood history when it was taught to me. I was able to memorize enough content to do well on exams, but I was never able to make the connections from one historical event to another. This changed when I took an art history class in high school. Learning about the artwork from an era helped me make connections – allowing me to understand cause and effect, cultural influence, and other people’s’ perspectives who live in a different context than I do.
As an art teacher, I seek to be able to provide these types of learning opportunities for my students. This is not saying that all students understand history through the lense of art – but it does mean that interdisciplinary learning is important in education. So when my colleague – Kirstin Lick – asked if I was interested in partnering with her for this year’s history fair to make it an “Art History Museum Exhibit” for the fifth and sixth graders, I was all in!
After selecting crucial historical time periods, we gave our students a brief history lesson that included examples of how artwork developed during these periods – including where Biblical events fit in. Students were then able to select an era (or groupings of eras) that they would be researching. They then researched the general key points of the era, cultural aspects, and the different types of artwork that was created. Then – using art class as an independent study – they created their own artifact that was inspired by the era and had personal significance to themselves. All of this work culminated the night of the history fair when they acted as museum curators to present their research and personal artifact to their family and friends.
Our students loved it. Kirstin and I were utterly blown away by how our students went above and beyond our expectations: we had artists painting, sculpting, printmaking, building, and 3D printing! On a reflection survey, some students responded that their favorite part of the fair this year was: “That is wasn’t just history, it was ART history” and “that I presented my artifact”. It was so encouraging to see that there was a true understanding and transfer of knowledge, as one student wrote that their favorite part of the fair was, “That we could teach other people about art history”. We are looking forward to all the collaborative work that we have coming up!