Kristina Berdan smART Tip_blog header

Communicate ideas through tableau

Kristina Berdan smART Tip_blog header

Our May smART Tip comes from Young Audiences Arts Integration Specialist Kristina Berdan. Press play to learn how you can easily incorporate theatre into your classroom by challenging students to communicate main ideas and supporting story details through tableau.

smART Tips is a monthly video series sharing tips for educators who are interested in new, creative ways to use the arts in their classroom with students. See all smART Tips to date here. Interested in a specific topic? Let us know!

Alden Phelps

Sing it loud!

Alden Phelps

By Alden Phelps, Young Audiences artist and musician

My work as a teaching artist focuses on collaborative songwriting with children. The goal of my recent residency at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School was to teach seven different classes of third and fourth graders how to create parodies of current pop songs that show their knowledge of science and history.

Teaching musical parodies is a great way for students to learn because it’s an opportunity to share their knowledge in a creative way. Students synthesize their knowledge of specific subjects with poetry in a song. There are several layers of learning going on, including using their knowledge of the curriculum, organizing ideas, and employing multiple Language Arts skills.

I worked directly with Triadelphia’s teachers to strategize how to address their needs through music by discussing their most recent units and the related curriculum standards. My customized arts-integrated residency addressed what the teachers wanted to focus on, namely a third grade unit on earth science and a fourth grade unit on Maryland history. The goal is always to reinforce what students have already learned through this new artistic skill.

The advantage to using current pop songs such as “Shake it Off” or “All About that Bass” is that the kids recognize the tunes immediately. I do background work to make sure all the songs will work in this unique collaborative project. Students always express an immense level of enthusiasm whenever I walk in with a list of handpicked songs they could use for their parody. For example, Mrs. Russell’s third grade class chose the hit “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepson for their parody about weather patterns. In the end, their song was titled “Save My Granny,” and it describes several different extreme weather patterns in a clever and funny way.

I began by teaching the children basic elements to songwriting and composing. We did this by counting the number of lyrics, verses, and choruses of their song choice. Through this analysis, we discussed each song’s use of patterns, syllables, rhythms, and accents. I then divided the children up into writing teams so that they could begin building the verses of their songs. This activity is always a great teaching moment because it challenges students to collaborate, share, and compromise with one another while being creative. I spent time with each writing team and coached them through the creative process. While they worked independently, I provided them with rhyming dictionaries and was surprised by how quickly they dug into those books! Rhyming at that level is a fairly difficult skill for children to master in such a short period of time.

Alden Phelps quote

The writing process is always satisfying to me because I get to witness students discover a whole new world of words they may not have even realized existed. I often came across students who struggled to find rhyming options with difficult words. But then, just like that, a kid would blurt out the perfect lyric that would fit. A line would just tumble out of their mouth and I’d shout “Yes! That’s it!” In response, they would light up with excitement knowing that they had the answer within them all along, they just had to let it out.

In one of my classes, there was a child who consistently struggled with behavioral issues. During this residency, he collaborated well with others and even wrote a clever lyric which became the opening line of the parody. Collaborating with the team was a huge step for him.

As final preparation before each group was to perform their parodies for the school, students typed up each song’s verses with the teachers, practiced singing their lyrics, and made final tweaks to the lyrics, changing a word here and there. Before their eyes, songs emerged–there’s always electricity in the air when a class suddenly realizes what they’ve achieved. The Triadelphia students were so proud of their final products and knew that they had created something clever and unique.

Because children spend so much time with their peers in schools, I believe that it’s important for them to interact with many different kinds of people, including artists. Artists are a unique breed–if nothing else we have a different perspective on the world, and through the arts, anyone can see through different eyes. Creativity is a way of seeing life from different directions and a way to find a thread connecting disparate ideas. The way artists go about solving problems and finding meaning is important for children to experience. It gives them opportunities to see through new eyes, and speak with a new language.

Learn more about Alden and his programs for schools at Read the full lyrics of the parodies Triadelphia Elementary students wrote by visiting

Patterson Park 2015 programs 8

Hands-on learning through arts integration

Patterson Park 2015 programs 8

By Christa Huber, Arts Integration Coach, Patterson Park Public Charter School

I have been with Patterson Park Public Charter School for six years in various teaching positions in Title I, third grade, the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, and am now the school’s arts integration coach. This year has been a learning process, but also such a positive experience working in partnership with Young Audiences and Arts Every Day.

It was a personal goal for me to transition Patterson Park Public Charter School into becoming an arts-integrated school. I wanted to maximize our artist-in-residence programs with outside artists as much as I possibly could this school year. We believe in the strength of the impression that residencies make upon students and teachers. All of the work that comes out of a residency versus a day-long field trip makes such a difference. Residency programs allow students more time to engage with and learn from the artists. This exposure to artists is also important for the teachers because it provides a longer period of professional development so that they can learn skills and strategies that they can carry out in the future.

Patterson Park 2015 programs 2
One student performs a poem for his peers as a part of the residency program with Young Audiences spoken word poet Femi the Drifish.

We had a fantastic variety of Young Audiences artists out to our school this year. These artists included: spoken word poet Femi the Drifish, ceramic visual artist Amanda PellerinBaltimore Improv Group, Flamenco dancer Anna Menendez, and more. These programs were made possible through Access for All grant funding from Young Audiences and funding from Arts Every Day.

We spread the residency experiences across different grade levels of the school. It was very helpful having the Young Audiences artist and program information online because it allowed me to search for artists that matched and linked to the content areas that our teachers were looking for.

There were a variety of stand-out experiences from our residencies, but here are a few:

  • Femi the Drifish worked with our middle school students in Language Arts. A great thing about that residency was the response we received from students who typically are not comfortable with performing in front of people. By their culminating performance, those students in particular were the ones to stand up and share their poetry with strength.
Patterson Park 2015 programs 4
Third-grade student painting a mosaic tile which was added to the final mural depicting what the class had learned about Ancient Egypt.
  • The third grade worked with Amanda Pellerin to create an Ancient Egyptian mosaic. This piece of work related to their study of the ancient civilization. Mr. O’Connell, our third grade science and social studies teacher, was blown away by how Amanda challenged the students to do their best work in a really positive way. We’re very excited to have that piece of artwork as a permanent fixture in our school.
  • Anna Menendez brought some of the Spanish culture into our school. Some of our middle school students had just returned from a trip to Spain during spring break, so this residency was another way to connect with what they learned and saw on their travels. It also provided a relatable experience for the students who didn’t have the chance to travel to Spain.

I have personally seen the impact that residencies have had upon teachers compared to other arts-related experiences. I believe that having artists at Patterson Park helped our teachers develop a great deal. Artists exposed teachers to new art forms that they may not have had any experience with, such as spoken word poetry or improvisation, and gave our teachers opportunities to learn how to tie these art forms to the curriculum.

One of our charter school philosophies is that children learn best through hands-on activities with interdisciplinary and semantic learning models. Arts integration is at the core of our values and it naturally makes sense for Patterson Park.

Uncle Devin

Meet Our Artists: Uncle Devin

Uncle Devin

Young Audiences’ roster of artists continues to grow to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms, from slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters.

We’ll be regularly posting interviews with our artists, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences bringing their Young Audiences programs to schools. 

How did you first hear about Young Audiences?  What made you decide to become a roster artist?

I first heard about Young Audiences at a children’s artist conference in Brooklyn, New York. Someone had mentioned the opportunities that the arts-in-education network provides for teaching artists. What attracted me to Young Audiences was the opportunity to learn how to apply and incorporate my music into educational settings for children. Learning about Young Audiences stood out to me because it brought me back to my own childhood memories. I can still distinctly remember performing artists coming into my elementary school when I was child. If you could believe it, to this day, I can still recite many of the concepts I learned from the artistic educators then.

When you were young and those artistic experiences influenced your educational development, did you know that you would pursue a similar career?

I knew that music would be in my future, but I have to admit, I did not think about it from the standpoint of becoming a children’s artist just yet. The idea did not come to me until about 8 or 9 years ago as I told my young nephews and nieces bedtime stories. If you recite the same stories often enough, you have to come up with creative ways to keep children engaged. That’s when I started to recite the storybooks to music and this sparked the idea of recording it. My niece took those recordings into her school so she could share them with friends and classmates. Her friends loved it so much and they began to pick up on the name “Uncle Devin.” Soon enough, people began to refer to me with that title and that’s how the name came about. So really, it was my nieces, nephews, and family who helped me come up with the idea to work with children’s music!

Uncle Devin

You are already a professional artists. What specifically made you choose to join Young Audiences as a roster artist?

I needed professional development in certain areas of my work. I wanted to grasp Young Audiences’ process of curriculum development, arts integration, and I needed to learn how to run a workshop or assembly properly. After hearing other roster artists speak about their experiences with Young Audiences, I began to realize that the organization was a top-notch educational network that not only provides artistic services to schools, but also trains artists to provide these opportunities for the schools. A lot of artists may want to take on this process themselves, but I did not have the desire to establish relationships with schools on my own time when I knew could do it through Young Audiences! It’s a win-win situation for everyone and Young Audiences is the perfect environment for me to learn and share my artistry.

Did you feel like the training you completed with Young Audiences made a big difference in your work?

Absolutely! Without a doubt. It was like I was a little kid back in school again at Young Audiences’ Teaching Artist Institute (TAI). I had to re-learn concepts and the curriculum. Through training at TAI, I walked away having learned that when you give school presentations and assemblies, it’s all about the artist, but when you create a school residency, it’s all about the students. I could not hide behind my artistry when it came to working with children–I had to know the curriculum and the standards as well. It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn how to teach and give back by sharing my passion for music.

What has been the most memorable part of the programs you have brought to students with Young Audiences? Do you have a favorite memory from a program?

I have so many, but I’ll share two great ones. One day as I was packing up my equipment after a great program in a Baltimore school, a little girl came up to me and hugged my leg. She said “Uncle Devin, I don’t want you to leave!” The teacher walked up to us and said “That’s what makes this worth it.” I smiled back and responded, “Yes, it does.”

Another great moment that stands out to me is when I performed at another school in Baltimore. This situation was unique because I didn’t know that my good friend’s daughter attended this school and I didn’t find out until afterward with a surprise. Later that evening, my friend, the young girl’s daughter called me, and over the speaker phone her daughter began to recite some of the concepts she had learned earlier that day during the program. I thought, she’s got it! That was a wonderful moment because I realized I wasn’t just there to perform music, I was there to teach.

How does your art form help connect students to what they are learning in school?

One: Communication. Percussion was one of the first forms of communication that human beings utilized. To be able to show children how to use drums as a communication tool is a very unique way to relate to what they’re learning in school.

Two: Mathematics. I have a song I do called “Count Our Numbers” where we count to five using four different languages. It blends different areas of their studies involving language, mathematics, and music.

Three: Working together. I help children figure out their role in a collaborative team while building musical pieces. It takes a family to build a piece of music together collectively.

Why do you believe percussion specifically is important for every student to have access to?

The heart beat. Everyone has their own beat. It’s about understanding that everyone is unique. Drumming is something that you do every day and many don’t even realize it. It’s in the pace of our walk, the number of times we blink our eyes, or the way we tap our fingers on a table. People naturally make rhythms everyday and it’s an ongoing process. I believe that percussion is so important to society because it is directly connected to our natural rhythms of life. Once we understand it, drumming can enhance our quality of life individually and with one another. I have a new book coming out called ABCs of Percussion,that describes one percussion instrument per letter of the alphabet and includes a music CD that will allow the reader to hear each instrument.

How do the lessons and skills you teach students about or through your art form apply to and affect their everyday life outside of the classroom? 

Outside of the classroom, music helps connects people to culture. Music enriches children’s lives. If we never spoke a word, we could communicate through music. Music brings people together and it never sets us apart. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Young Audience roster artist?

I wish that everyone could experience the feeling of standing before 100 to 200 young people and knowing that you have their undivided attention. Being able to see the smiles that your art form brings to their faces is an indescribable feeling. Knowing that I am touching the next generation and providing children with a positive experience is far more fulfilling than I could ever have expected or describe. Being a children’s artist is essential to developing the type of peaceful world we want to live in. We need more resources and we need more artists. You can never have too many artists. We really need more people to consider carrying on this tradition of teaching through the arts with their skills. The world continues to create a cultural change through music and I am so happy to be a part of it.

Learn more about Uncle Devin’s offerings through Young Audiences.

Visit Uncle Devin’s website.