Art of Problem Solving

Art of Problem Solving

In 2006, Learning Through Art was awarded an AEMDD grant from the United States Department of Education to study the links between participation in LTA and the development of problem-solving skills among fifth-grade students. The study was conducted in partnership with Randi Korn and Associates in 2006–10. The primary goals for the study were to identify skills associated with problem solving in the arts, to identify the habits and practices of teaching artists that encourage the development of problem-solving abilities in their students, and to measure the extent to which LTA enhanced students’ problem-solving abilities.

The skills of the students and habits of the teaching artists were identified by an advisory team of education, psychology, and arts specialists over the course of a year spent examining research from the field, observing LTA residencies, and testing out preliminary rubrics of the skills.

The study focused on a sample size of approximately 400 fifth-grade students in six New York City public schools. Nine classrooms in three schools served as a control group and did not receive LTA, and nine classrooms in three schools served as a treatment group and did receive LTA.

Students were measured through observations, interviews, and a culminating activity in which they “designed a chair” using a variety of materials. Students were scored on a rubric based on six problem-solving areas: imagining, experimentation, flexibility, resource recognition, connection of ends and aims, and self-reflection.

Teaching artists were measured through observations and were scored based on the degree to which they exhibited teaching practices that supported four areas: using multiple approaches, seeing mistakes as opportunities, following curiosity, and making deliberate choices.

The study found that students who participated in LTA exhibited more sophisticated problem-solving abilities in three out of the six areas measured:

  • Flexibility
  • Resource recognition
  • Connection of ends and aims

The study also found that overall, teaching artists incorporated practices that cultivate problem solving in most of the lessons, the most prevalent being that teaching artists taught students to make deliberate choices and use multiple approaches when working with art.

For more details on the study and findings, please reference the APS Executive Summary and Final Report. Other resources can be found via the right sidebar of this page.