Dolph Petris | February 2018

Arts and STEAM in the Gifted and Talented Classroom

Arts and STEAM integration in the Gifted and Talented classroom is, curiously interesting… in a good way.  The teacher can expect a broad spectrum of student output that ranges from bizarrely abstract to acutely sterile.  Both of which can be equally interesting, and here’s why…

Gifted and Talented students usually approach an assignment from a methodical perspective.  This student population is used to a level of Depth and Complexity, Novelty, and Acceleration. Generally, this is not typical among the general education classroom.  These students want to think at a higher level, they want to reach a new height that perhaps they have never reached.

Go Beyond

This population of students will typically experience some level of self-imposed academic discipline each and every day while in the core curriculum classroom.  As their teacher, we must remember that art and STEAM integration is no different.  Approaching a typical art project should also go beyond the realm of our expected possible outcome as these students will likely find, or create, a caveat that extends or tweaks the original project scope.

accelerator membership

When this happens, and it will, the art teacher need not become derailed that their original art project is modified by someone other than themselves.  Instead, we should embrace the sometimes nutty and obscure level of creativity that these students bring to the table.

Gifted and Talented students prefer a formulaic process.  They prefer explicit instructions followed to a tea.  However, there are a handful of students that no matter what you ‘prescribe’ will want to take a unique direction that you possibly did not anticipate.  For this reason, you may want to search for projects that utilize and incorporate their inherent strengths into something that is pleasing and memorable for all.

An Education Closet online workshop titled 6 Strategies to STEAM up the Classroom was the springboard for an amazing lesson that creates a color-coded structure using the numerals of Pi.  By following the structured ‘pattern’, the resulting image titled 3628 Digits of Pi, by Martin Krzywinski resembles the look of a Piet Mondrian painting.

Photo courtesy of

The resulting imagery looks stunning, and the math behind the art was something my GATE students love.  They became hungry for more complex visual intricacy.  Students who never saw themselves as very creative, became creative.  This type of project was a chance to learn about data visualization, widely used in the field of Science.

New Meaning

A typical art project will quickly become atypical and will take on new meaning.  Student-created tangents will surface as a meaningful tangential and show connected relevance to the original concept.

One of the tools I like to have available for my students is an abundance of miscellaneous stuff.  As teachers, we know how easily our collection of ‘junk’ can increase.  But I have found that my students love this kind of stuff!  Kids aren’t allowed to have junk.  So junk in the classroom becomes a novelty.  I keep a bin or two of ‘parts’ and have students organize it all, which they enjoy doing anyway.  When it comes time for any art project, my students will often request to dig into the bins to see if there is anything they could use and incorporate.

Working with the Gifted and Talented student population has been a fresh experience in teaching the arts.  Curiosity exists even within the general education student population.  Inherent curiosity is intrinsic.  It is something we are born with, our driving force behind aesthetic beauty of what could be.  It is that something that marks pivotal moments in time for science, art, and history of all mankind.

About the Author

Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. He has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education and is currently teaching a 5/6 combo in Fullerton, California. He and his wife have several four-legged kids: Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever litter-mates, a street-rescued stray that looks like ‘Benji’ named Noel, Athena the cat, and two American Quarter horses.