How song and dance changed my classroom

By Morgan Lyons, Kindergarten Teacher, William S. Baer School

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When I first heard that an artist-in-residence program was coming to my school, William S. Baer, I was excited. I learned about arts integration while I was studying education in college and wanted to find a way to use the arts in my teaching, especially when I decided I wanted to teach special education. I feel that the arts are an amazing pathway, particularly for kids who might not necessarily understand the material when taught in a more traditional way. When I found out that this opportunity was being offered at my school, I was thrilled; I jumped at the opportunity.

As a relatively new teacher, I knew I wanted to integrate the arts into the curriculum in some way, I just didn’t know how. Our curriculum is structure- and task analysis-based and there did not seem to be a lot of room for the arts, but Sue Trainorthe Wolf Trap-trained artist who I worked with during the 16-session residency, taught me how to make arts integration work for our program and how it could help our students.

The program began with Sue showing me her lesson plan, which we used for our first session with students. We continued to use Sue’s plans for a few weeks. After every lesson we talked about how it went–what the high point was and what we could work on for the next session. As the program went on, it developed and changed so that I was giving more feedback and Sue was asking me more questions. I began to take more of the lead, and I grew from a consultant role on lesson plans, to writing the lesson plans with Sue, to creating the whole lesson myself. This was a great way for me to learn because I got to watch Sue, I collaborated, and then it was all me.

Sue taught me a lot of arts integration techniques that I continue to use every day in my teaching. We incorporate music and visual representation throughout the day which makes for more engaging activities. We sing through transitions and when we’re teaching new material, such as shapes, letters, colors, and numbers.

One thing Sue and I collaborated on was the idea of using a mirror with my students. My students are kindergartners with autism. Students with autism often have a skewed perception of themselves and have a hard time making a mind-body connection. The mirror’s reflection serves as an additional visual for them and provides a form of visual feedback. Rather than me just saying, “Touch your head,” they actually see themselves do that motion and make the connection.

Sue also taught me what has become the go-to opening sequence for our classroom. It’s a series of two or three short songs that integrate body movement, beat, and tone. This new practice has had a huge effect on my students, but it had an enormous impact on one student in particular.

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See a sample arts-integrated lesson plan created by Morgan and Sue here!

Brittany was new to our school this year. She had never had a school experience, and she was very quiet and kept to herself. Sue came in and introduced the song and movement sequence to the students, and she asked them to mirror her actions. When Sue told students to “Show me your hand,” students were asked to mirror Sue by raising their hands like she had raised hers. Brittany took to that, and she was soon asking for the song specifically by using sign language, which she had no exposure to before. Brittany was communicating and expressing her desire for the song; she was actively participating and engaging with her eyes. Had Sue not introduced this activity, Brittany may not have engaged with the group for quite some time. She has really benefited from the social lessons Sue brought to our classroom during this program.

My hope is that this experience and opportunity is available to as many teachers as possible, regardless of their academic area, because it has helped my classroom beyond words. I’m not only a personal advocate for the arts but an advocate for the arts in special needs programs.

We, as teachers, are here for the students, and whatever can benefit the students is what’s most important. My kids are changing in front of my eyes because of what I’ve learned through this residency program. Because I gave it a chance and put in a little extra planning time, I have arts-integrated activities that keep my students engaged and entertained while they are learning.

To other teachers: Give it a try and you won’t regret it.

This program was provided under a contract with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Learn more about Young Audiences early learning programs here.

Tube Beat or Not To Be? Discovering Sound through Rhythm and Movement

By Max Bent, Musician and beatboxer

tubeJams(2)

Young Audiences artists and teacher partners have written case studies documenting their work in schools and their exploration of one essential question. Each study provides a snapshot of how the artist or teacher works with students to integrate the arts into the curriculum and provide opportunities for students to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts.

Project or Program Summary

I first experienced beat tubes (capped PVC tubes that produce distinct pitch) while playing in the ensemble of fellow Young Audiences artist Kevin Martin. Inspired by their simplicity and immediate impact on students, I worked with a team of fifth- and sixth-grade teachers to design an arts-integrated beat tube residency. Our team began with the essential question “What is sound?” Through interacting with and playing the beat tubes, students experienced the propagation of sound while applying principles of music and dance during a culminating group performance.

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Beat tubes are capped PVC tubes that produce distinct pitch.

Purpose and Rational

Beat tubes offer a wealth of possibilities for further exploration of arts-integrated teaching. As an instrument, beat tubes are linked in heritage to Tamboo Bamboo in Trinidad as well as numerous folk music traditions surrounding the pounding of grain into flour. This case study is submitted in the hopes of inspiring other educators to experiment with beat tubes.

Analysis and Outcomes

What are your overall conclusions regarding the documentation gathered for this case study?
Students learned that the phenomenon of sound can be understood as patterns of vibration through a medium–usually air. These patterns of vibration are called “sound waves.” “Pitch” and “volume” are aspects of sound waves that can be manipulated by musicians to express ideas and feelings.

What conclusions have you drawn from the responses to the assessment tools you have developed?
Students gained new insights into the phenomenon of sound. Students also improved their ability to work together cooperatively and to communicate in a collaborative setting.

Back to the initial inquiry question, can it be answered?
Yes. After the residency, students were able to identify and discuss specific scientific terms related to sound (i.e. frequency, amplitude, wavelength) and use this knowledge to enrich their compositions.

Playing the beat tubes connected body and mind in the practice of music. Students learned to play rhythmic patterns on steady beats but the challenge was both physical (kinesthetic) and mental.

Summary and Conclusions

What was learned?

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During the residency Max worked with students to define and apply the scientific principles of sound by creating musical rhythms and harmonies with beat tubes.

By playing the beat tubes, students were able to objectify the often confusing and mysterious nature of sound. Students were able to approach the inquiry question scientifically.

Students learned:

  • Sound is a phenomenon that our brains perceive and process in a specific, predictable way.
  • The physical characteristics of sound are frequency and amplitude.
  • The frequency of a sound wave is defined in musical terms as pitch.
  • Different pitches form melodies and harmonies, both of which can be defined mathematically through interval relationships.

What can be done differently in the future?
I introduced the residency with beatboxing (vocal percussion) activities during the course of three days. In the future, one day of beatboxing would suffice. This would allow more time for working with the beat tubes and further discussion and analysis of the scientific principles of sound.

I would have liked to give students more time to compose independently. Also, students can potentially be involved in the construction of the beat tubes in the future.

How will this inform the work moving forward?
This project inspired me to expand the possibilities of working with beat tubes. Specifically I learned that vocalizations and movement are essential to successful instruction. Therefore I will explore the elements of dance as well as other related musical traditions (i.e. drum lines, West African drumming) to improve the project. Overall, I was amazed at the possibilities of working with beat tubes.

Curriculum Connections

Music
Science
Dance
21st Century Skills

Learn more about Max’s  assembly, residency, and professional development programs. 

Read other case studies written by Young Audiences teaching artists and teacher partners

Using arts integration to prevent summer learning loss

By Lucy Coyle

Jack Black

Lucy Coyle recently completed a summer internship at Young Audiences and wraps up our series on Young Audiences’ summer learning programs–and their importance for students who would otherwise have limited opportunities to stay active and engaged during the summer months.

If you’ve seen Jack Black’s teacher impersonator role in the comedy School of Rock then you’ve seen a glimpse of how the arts can engage students in the classroom. In one memorable scene during the movie, Black sings to his class about fractions to come across as a productive and innovative teacher. While in Black’s case the fractions song is all part of a larger scheme to teach students how to rock and not about math, putting mathematic equations to melodies is certainly one way to engage kids in the subject. If you, like me, learned the song “Fifty Nifty United States” at any point in your adolescence–and can still recite all of the states in alphabetical order–you know that arts engagement works.

I had the pleasure of visiting a Baltimore City Public Schools Summer Learning Academy classroom this past July and experienced much more than arts engagement–I saw arts being integrated into the curriculum. Young Audiences again partnered with Baltimore City to provide rising fifth- through eighth-grade students with arts-integrated learning opportunities during the summer months. Through generous funding provided by the Hoffberger Family Philanthropies, Young Audiences was able to expand its role at 10 Summer Learning Academy sites to provide arts enrichment sessions and arts-integrated math and STEM lessons at each site. During my visit to William Pinderhughes Elementary I witnessed how impactful arts integration and summer learning can be when combined.

Young Audiences artist Arianna Ross is a champion for arts integration. She’ll tell you openly that “it’s kind of my thing.” I watched Arianna lead an arts-integrated lesson in a science classroom where students were learning about the concepts of compression, tension, and gravity, which gave me more insight into arts integration and its power to transform classroom learning.

Arianna’s lesson demonstrated that the bounds of arts integration are almost limitless. For Arianna, it’s not just about putting the names of the states or fractions to music, but rather it’s about expressing various concepts in as many ways as possible.

Teaching music notation is an effective way to teach fractions in a classroom.
Teaching music notation is an effective way to illustrate fractions for students.

Although Arianna is listed in the Young Audiences’ Resource Guide as a storyteller, she is the first to dismiss traditional storytelling methods when a dance activity or a poetry-writing session better serves the subject at hand. For Arianna, arts integration is about adapting every day to fit the curriculum. It’s about bringing arts terms into the classroom and using them on a regular basis.

I saw Arianna use various dance and theatre terms during her lesson on physics. Students began by standing in mountain position–the actor’s resting position. They paired off and created physical representations of the concepts being discussed in the class: gravity, compression, and tension. While they explored different poses that communicated these concepts, the students physically connected to the importance of strong foundation and balance. Their choreographed dances helped them make abstract physics concepts concrete, and they were more eager to participate and share what they had learned by performing for one another.

Two Summer Learning students come up with poses to demonstrate compression.
Two students come up with poses to demonstrate compression.

Baltimore City Public Schools Summer Learning Academies were designed to give students five weeks of additional math support during the summer. Many of these students come from low-income backgrounds and are in danger of summer learning loss, the well-studied phenomenon of students losing two to three months of math and science material learned the previous school year during the summer when intellectually engaging activities are not as readily available. As an incentive, the Baltimore City program also gives students free access to opportunities in the arts, sports, and robotics.

While the arts are an incentive for students to join the program, arts integration is doing much more than encouraging students to attend–it is helping students understand tough concepts by engaging them in new ways.

We want to hear from you!

Have you ever taken part in or led an arts-integrated activity in a classroom? Did using the arts challenge your mind to make nontraditional or creative connections in a traditional subject? Do you think the arts can help students gain agency when studying math and science?

Read more posts about Young Audiences’ summer learning programs here.

Lucy Coyle is a senior at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in International Studies, and recently completed a summer internship at Young Audiences.