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Land of pure integration: Perham seventh graders mix life, art, history, literature and more

Submitted photo. Prairie Wind Middle School student Nate Coleman creates computer generated art work.1 / 2
Student paintings hung up to dry. Submitted photo.2 / 2

There may be no formal visual arts education at Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham, but that hasn't stopped the creative process for teachers and students.

At the end of February, seventh graders completed a Perpich Arts Integration Project, funded by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

The project incorporated visual art, language arts, computer technology and social studies.

Students were first introduced to the life and artwork of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. They then created paintings, digital art, poetry and a history project stemmed from both their research and their lives.

The project, facilitated by teachers Tricia Irvine, Sue Jones, Laura Moe and Darren Glynn, began with a session on Internet research and reliable sources.

From there, social studies teacher Irvine took over. She had the students create a timeline of Kandinsky's life and what was going on in the world at that time. Then, the students did the same for their own life.

Then, high school teacher Laura Moe took over. She showed the students YouTube videos of Kandinsky's artwork and animation.

Following that, the students were able to use the lines, shapes and colors that Kandinsky used to create an original nonobjective abstract work. The students listened to 1920s jazz music while they painted with acrylics.

The students went a step further with technology instructor Jones. In the computer lab, they used Microsoft drawing tools to create those same shapes and colors to create digital artwork.

"This work was based on their own lives," Irvine said. "They had three shapes that represented three things in their personal timeline in a particular memory."

And it didn't stop there.

The students also worked with language arts teacher Glynn to use their life timelines to create a bio poem. They were also required to write an artist statement, explaining the meaning and symbolism behind their Kandinsky-inspired work.

The idea for the project came from meetings in the fall with other area teachers. The goal was to integrate art with as many other disciplines as possible, Irvine explained.

The project was completed in a two-and-a-half week period ending Feb. 24. The students' work was then highlighted at parent-teacher conferences.

There is no art for students in the elementary or middle school level, so the project was particularly important as it gave many students their first opportunity to learn about art and create their own in the classroom, Glynn said.

A challenge of the project was that only Irvine and Glynn are full-time seventh grade teachers, so shuffling students and finding subs were an issue, Irvine said.

The teachers said working with each other was a highlight of the project.

"It's fun to collaborate," Moe said. "And I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of work."

Jones agreed.

"This was better than I thought it was going to be," she said. "The kids did such a great job and they really got into it."

The students' and teachers' work was recently highlighted to the Legacy Advisory Committee.

"The committee is made up of very knowledgeable education folks and I want you to know how impressed they were," committee member and Annandale teacher Zane Schaefer wrote in an e-mail to PWMS Principal Scott Bjerke. "They were especially excited about how well the assessments worked together in an integrated way."

This wasn't the first arts integration project that Perham participated in. In August, a three-day workshop was held in New York Mills called Forging Bonds across Disciplines through the Arts.

Teachers worked with artist and metalworker Marcia McEachron, using ancient blacksmithing techniques updated with space age technology.

"The idea was to put us in the position of a student to look at things through a student's point of view," Jones said. "And it worked."

The teachers also studied collaborative learning, team building and learning techniques to boost student achievement through the arts.

The 10-county Lakes Country Region was selected as the first region to benefit from the project.