Adding Ballet to the Science Project


Anne Thomson recently spoke about the Art Infusion program at the TED Squamish event.

By Annie Ellison
Published: Dec 22, 2013

While grade four students around the province are learning about the mechanics of storytelling through reading and writing — plot, characters, setting — students at Mamquam Elementary are doing it with charcoal.

Students had to show the most important part of the story with charcoal lines they’d just learned how to draw.

“Is it going to be thick, thin, squiggly,” said Arts Infusion teacher Anne Thomson. 

“It accesses connections in your brain you can’t do through comprehension alone.”

This is the principle behind Art-Starts in Schools: Infusion. Creating new connections in the brain through arts deepens and expands the learning experience.

The program launched this year in B.C. and six schools throughout the province have been chosen to lead the way. More than 150 schools applied.

It makes a more natural, strong and lasting connection, says Thomson.

Three teachers are officially piloting the program at Mamquam: a kindergarten, grade four and grade six class. But Thomson says most teachers in the school are already heading in the direction of integrating the arts into academic subjects.

Thomson presented the idea at Tedx Squamish on Nov 2. When students use more of their brains more of the time, it’s a more powerful learning experience.

Some parents were worried their children would be missing out on core academic subjects because of arts infusion.

However, some chose to keep their kids at Mamquam for arts rather than sending them to Squamish Elementary for French Immersion.

Thomson is teaching the song “North Pole Rock and Roll” to a kindergarten class. Each class, she writes the words on the chalkboard.

“When those students learn to read, they’re going to recognize the word “north” and go ‘oh yeah! North Pole Rock and Roll!’” she said.

“It’s a more powerful learning experience than sitting there reading “N-O-R-T-H,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t access it going through one door, you need two doors,” said Thomson.

By taking arts, Thomson says she’s noticed more students willing to make mistakes.

“If you make a mistake on a dance step in studio, you just keep practicing,” she said. “It makes them braver to fail.”

Bowen Island visual artist Andrea Klaan will visit Mamquam 15 times this school year. She’ll work with both teachers and students, to fully integrate the program over the next three years.

The first year is free, with $3,000 of funding for supplies and Klaan’s time coming from Art-Start. Then, the school will have to appeal to the Parent Advisory Committee for the next two years’ funding. “Everyone’s moving this way,” said Thomson.

When arts infusion piloted in Maryland, USA, students performed 30 per cent better on standardized tests. Thomson says First Nations students are excelling because the program honours the oral tradition.

Thomson hopes when the three years are up, the arts will be integrated into academics and the program will carry on. She says she’ll definitely be around to see it through.

“I’ve taught here for 16 years, they’ll probably bury me in the field when I die,” she said.



  1. Jean says:

    Lets start getting a bit more realistic.. Art a by-product of a successful economy with philanthropy supporting it not tax $… When are we starting to put value on the real essentials, Health care, Engineering, Sustainability, Affordability, Lower cost of essential,s, Home grown economy ( within Canada preferably) Energy cost etc.etc.

  2. Muriel Shephard says:

    Way to go Anne, I look forward to reading more about your approach.

  3. Glenne Campbell says:

    IF you look at the characteristics of leaders of our world who have instigated, researched, developed, stimulated, & produced valuable essentials utilized the world over, throughout history, they have had the ability to look at things with vision, imagination and ‘What If” approaches. That is the mind set that supports the health providers, engineers, environmentalists etc etc etc. to develop to the next phases of development.
    Congratulations to Anne and the school district for supporting expansion of the mind through arts education. IMAGINE !