Using the Arts to Promote Critical Thinking
Lesson Objective: Promote thinking, problem solving and expression using art
Grades K-5 / Arts / Expression

Thought starters

  1. How does Ms. Wielopolski help students 'plan their moves' on works of art?
  2. What role does exploration and experimentation play in student learning?
  3. How does art prepare students for critical thinking, expressing written ideas or other traditionally academic ideas?
Love this!!! Yes, artists think. Such a great message to have at the heart at the learning.
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I would rewind this video constantly to write down some of the gems these two teachers shared with us. As an English teacher, I have started down the art-based pathway. I wish I could find more professional development to help me find my way. Thank you so much for making this available to us.
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  • Arts Engine, Inc.
    Teaching Channel
    Arts Essentials C0201_006002

    00:00:16 - Narrator: At PS499 in Queens New York, our teacher, Kaya

    Arts Engine, Inc.
    Teaching Channel
    Arts Essentials C0201_006002

    00:00:16 - Narrator: At PS499 in Queens New York, our teacher, Kaya Wielopolski challenges her students to think hard of about their artistic choices, and to pay close attention to the artistic process.

    00:00:28 - Kaya Wielopolski - Interview: Everybody can enter this world, you just have to slow yourself down and learn how to think in art terms. You already know the thinking process, you’re just putting it into visual forms instead of written form.

    00:00:41 - Narrator: At PS310, also in Queens, teacher Sue Castellano emphasizes experimentation as she guides her students toward making better art.

    00:00:49 - Sue Castellano - Interview: I basically think about what I’m hoping they might accomplish and than teaching them some skills that they could plug into that, and letting them be free to experiment.

    00:01:01 - Narrator: Although there methods are different, both teachers demonstrate commitment to teaching art as a way to reflect their students personal lives, and the students respond in making elaborate works of art.

    00:01:15 - Kaya in Class: What I’ve done here, we’ve looked at our Carl, we kinda talked about his work, how he put paint down, how he changed the paint or manipulated the paint with different kinda of brush strokes or splattering back. So what I wanted to show you, because some of view were starting to paint pictures. We don’t want to paint pictures, we want to get away from that, and we want to paint just our painted paper. This is the size of your paper. So if you had one little patch of blue here, you’re gonna make one little paint of blue bird, ok.

    00:01:50 - Kaya – Interview: What I try from K – 8, is you know as mean as it might sound, is I take fun out of the occasion.

    Kaya in Class: You guys can kind of see how I lay down my crafts.

    00:01:58 - Kaya – Interview: As soon as you say fun, brains our fun, I’m just doing this for the sake of doing it. And you know, they’re always surprised why it’s hard. Well I’m like what made you think it would be easy? What I try to do, k – 8, is to let them know that you have to think about this, artists make conscious choices and you as a five year old have to choose red or blue, and you need to know why it’s red or blue.

    00:02:23 - Kaya in Class: Now if you’re gonna be making crafts or something, see if you can make it your own green by cleaning your brush first, and then adding in maybe yellow or blue, depending on what color you want your grass. And now when you put it on, it’s thick....see through? Alright, so you really want to put your paint on there.

    00:02:45 - Kaya – Interview: They trust themselves more, along the way. I think they’re also kind of surprise themselves along the way, because you really realize you start with nothing, blank piece of paper, and at the end there is always something. It’s a lump of clay and at the end it’s something, and they’ve done that from scratch. I try to give them the pieces and they make them move.

    00:03:11 - Sue Castellano in Class: This is our piece of paper, you’re gonna have nice papers. And you know that you might want to add some foreground, maybe some background, whichever way you want. But you know what’s a lot of fun, how things feel, adds (Adam’s) artwork. And you really do see different things that feel different ways. Do you remember what word you used for how things feel?

    Girl: Texture.

    Sue: Texture, excellent, excellent. So when you play with your brushes, you might want to play and explore and experiment with different brushstrokes, creating different textures.

    00:04:08 - Sue – Interview: They know about Picasso, they know about Marc Chagall, they know about how to abstract a self-portrait. Could we do that in third grade. I couldn’t.

    00:04:19 - Sue in Class: What are you looking it? Sherry?

    Sherry: The water is shiny.

    Sue: The water is shiny. How can you tell the water is shiny?

    Sherry: Because like the water there, when like it’s like a little white it makes it shine.

    Sue: So this stuff here you are saying here, is to shine the water, and you’re noticing the light value of white. Beautiful.

    00:04:40 - Sue – Interview: I’m just so impressed, with how they can evolve on the next level, and just accomplish really amazing things.

    00:04:49 - Sue in Class: Watch what I’m doing boys and girls, when I want the world, the length of the world to shine in my eyes, I’m going to paint my eyes, but I’m going to leave a little bit of white. Let’s think about our brushstrokes. Should I paint my hair like a black tire on a car.

    Kids: No

    Sue: Right. Brushstrokes are really gonna help us out here. We can do all kinds of things but definitely we want to think that hair is not like the tire of a car. You have to use your brushstrokes to tell more.

    00:05:22 - Sue Castellano – Interview: If only they could see how children so joyfully, so enthusiastically respond through the arts, and if they could get that kind of enthusiasm and creativity to happen in other areas, isn’t that what they want? They want to create life long learners. They want to create thinkers. How do you do that? How do you do that if you want them to spit back the answer that’s gonna be on a prep test? How sad, they’re young children, this is the time they should be nurtured to become thinkers. And there’s no other way to go about that, no better way that I could imagine, than through the arts.

    00:06:04 - Sue in Class: How come some people, some artists might use just one color? And you know what, what do I tell you, you are the boss of your artwork? So when people create their art, they might make that choice. They might say I want to only paint with only blue. Or only black. Brown. Whatever colors you want...A little red.

    Kids shouting colors.

    00:06:37 - Sue: So when do you we know that it’s time to stop? How do we know when we’re done? Who knows?

    Girl: Umm. When all the white is gone.

    Sue: When all the white is gone. Yeah. We can leave a little white here and there, but pretty much when most of the white is gone, it’s time to stop. Beep.

    00:07:04 - Sue – Interview: Every year we do a self portrait, and each year it builds on the knowledge of the previous of course, and I love Frida Kahlo, because it’s exactly what I’m hoping they’ll notice. I want them to see from the shoulders up, the bust. I want them to realize that many artists paint paintings of themselves. And then their job was to go back and include in their self-portraits, what they really love.
    It’s a lot of fun for me to just keep layering it with the little bit more sophisticated projects and knowing that no matter what I toss at them, they always get it.

    00:08:00 - Sue in Class: CJ, I love this border. Could you just do something really jazzy around the border where it’s white? Maybe a color that you don’t have?

    00:08:08 - Sue – Interview: It’s just really exciting to me that they always get it. Nobody says I can’t do this. Nobody says I don’t know what you mean, I don’t know how. They just jump in and do it. A wonderful trade.

    00:08:24 - Michelle Contratti Principal - Interview: In the arts program, or even having had arts experiences in classes, learning along side one of another, they’re learning from one another, every one in the classroom can be like an artists’ mentor. At times the teacher is the mentor, and at times the student might be a mentor for one another. So that sense of having discussion with others around the art work in a very none threatening, safe environment.

    00:08:57 - Kaya in Class: That’s another thing, make sure you guys go to your edges, ok? Kalil is bringing it down really nice to the edge; make sure you go all the way to the edge, more paint don’t be shy.

    00:09:09 - Kaya – Interview: They start to bring in more of their experiences, because that’s the other thing I tell them, that arts not in this bubble, you know, what you do downstairs relates to what you do up here. Art is about how artists respond to the world. So this might be our theme and I might be directing you, but how you respond to that, from your associations, for your history, and how you bring that in is, up to you.

    00:09:45 - Kaya in Class: This entire page, so before you do the dots, which do look great by the way, ok we can do more of them, I really like how you are paying attention to the layers, but what we need to do is get this first layer of yellow greenish all the way down the page. This entire page is gonna be a huge (octopus) ok, and then if we need more, we’ll do the back or another page, but before you start making all this little detail, I want you to cover the whole page, and then do the brown dots...

    00:10:18 - Kaya – Interview: I’m teaching it so they learn how to explore new materials, how to make decisions, how to solve problems, how to set up problems of their own as they’re working in the different stages of the their pieces, how to think things through from beginning to end, how to kinda start to visualize and say well I want this and what does this mean, what does it look like. And it means that I might have to do these things first or this thing second, or that thing... and have to come back, and also learning that it’s not linear, so to understand how you are moving around, because art is beyond not linear, you’re always coming back, so that this reflection process.

    00:10:54 - Girl in Class: What I was doing was I was trying to make the marks on the leg, I was trying to try to make the marks on the leg and on the feathers. I was trying to make the marks.

    Another girl in class: And then I definitely took just a little bit of purple

    Kaya: Just a little bit, just like a touch?

    Girl: Just like one touch, just one small bit.

    00:11:20 - Kaya – Interview: What I’m asking them to do is to think. I think the most I learned about life and how to function was like, in art school because I had to figure out how everything worked, I had to figure out how to take my own slides or how to do this. And those are like everyday things, like you do this because I was taught how think.

    00:11:38 - Kaya in Class: So if you only did a little bit of purple, that’s fine. But you see how paint there now, and it’s not like the water that you can see the tray. Makes it so when you put it down it’s thick. This is starting to be thick, I can’t scratch through this, because that means there’s paint on the paper.

    00:11:53 - Kaya – Interview: There is no testing here. I think it’s a place where they don’t have to worry about, I mean if I could do a way without art grades, I’d be even happier. But I think it’s a place where they could do away with that kind of rigidness, and they are allowed to explore a little bit. I tell the students, sometimes I just kinda let them struggle a bit, but I’m like get in there, they’re like – if’s a drawing, what do you mean? And I’m like get in there, make it messy, take it out. So it’s then that reflecting process which I think is important for all the arts, you have to be able to then see what you’ve done.

    00:12:27 - Sue – Interview: By the time they reach middle school, where they are so self conscious and so inhibited about so many other factors of their life. Or high school, where they start to say I cant draw, or I can’t create or I can’t do this, that whole I can’t mentality sets in, this is the time to capture them. This is the time to really reinforce that you have an imagination. That’s it, that’s the key element. How can we get our kids to imagine. If we could do that, then the sky is the limit in what they can accomplish, and they can take that and use it in all walks of life, and in all stages of their life. And if I can have a little part to play in that, I’m very blessed to be able to do it.

    00:13:18 - Michelle Interview: Mrs. Castellano and all of the teachers really try to drive home the idea that arts is a venue for expression, that we are all artists, just like we are all readers and writers, scientists and mathematicians, we’re all artists. There’s no right, there’s no wrong, um someone’s work is not better than someone else’s, it’ just different and we celebrate those differences.

    00:13:42 - Kaya in Class: Make sure you scoop the paint, you want paint on your papers, painted paper, not watercolor paper. Alright, so really get some paint on there.

    00:13:52 - Kaya – Interview: I think it’s essential, I think, it’s funny you know when I go these different professional developments and we discuss like the common course standards for math or for English, and they are coming up with these now, or they’re rewriting them in new ways, and arts been doing this since it’s started. And yet we’re supposedly not even the on the train, when we’re kinda leading the train, I feel like. When students miss art, or I’ve had over the years where assemblies happen, and in some classes they happen to be on a certain day where a lot of things get changed or holidays, and they’re bummed. So I guess that’s a good side. K – 8 they’re like, what do you mean we are missing all these days.

    00:14:30 - Sue – Interview: If they could speak about art, they could express their ideas about poetry or literature as well, they could articulate what’s going through their mind, and I think art gives them that voice to really be able to say what’s personally theirs. Art gives them that unique way of expressing just what’s in themselves.

School Details

P.S. 130
200-01 42nd Avenue
Queens NY 11361
Population: 376

Data Provided By:



Sue Castellano
Kaya Wielopolski


Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Collaboration

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Planning

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Engagement

Lesson Idea

Grades 9-12 / ELA / Tch DIY