Tag Archives: Arts Integration

The ARTS of Mardi Gras

In this guest blog, Rebecca Brown, music teacher at Little River Elementary School, Orlando, shares her experiences teaching the arts of Mardi Gras.  This colorful celebration is a perfect opportunity to dig deeper into Jazz music and to experience cultural traditions.  Rebecca uses ideas and strategies from Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING in the lessons that she outlines below.

The ARTS of Mardi Gras – Rebecca Brown

Come January 1st, many Americans are busily putting away holiday decorations and starting to address their new year’s resolutions. In New Orleans, however, the celebrations are just getting started. January 6th marks the official start of Carnival season, which lasts several weeks and culminates on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. For the five years I taught in New Orleans, Carnival season was my favorite time of year.

The city truly comes alive in mid-January, as people decorate their homes with the official colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold) and elaborate parades start to roll through town with music that energizes the crowds. Many schools and workplaces have Friday King Cake parties, where the colorful ring-shaped dessert is served. School children also partake in the celebration with lessons on the history, art and music of Mardi Gras.  Since returning home to Florida two years ago, I include many Mardi Gras traditions in my classroom.


The Music of Mardi Gras

Essential Question: How do the arts enhance celebrations?

 Learning Goal: Students will be able to describe a cultural tradition through its music and art.

Music Content Standards:

  • Performing on instruments alone and with others;
  • Listening to, analyzing, and describing music;
  • Evaluating Music and Musical performances;
  • Understanding Music in relation to history and culture

Materials: Photographs of Louis Armstrong, pictures of a brass band or marching band, recording of Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In, recording of Dirty Dozen Brass Band When the Saints Go Marching In, rhythm sticks, jazz rhythm pattern cards

Lesson Outline:

The most natural way to introduce Mardi Gras is through music. On Day 1, I play Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In as students enter. Students complete an Active Music Listening Experience Guide (see p. 63 TTAW) as they listen again. After listening, discuss their responses to the melody, rhythm, and mood of the music. The students usually comment on how happy it sounds and how it makes them want to dance.

Next I introduce the Jazz style of music. I show students pictures of brass bands and parades and we discuss what instruments students heard in the recording. I explain the history of the music and of Louis Armstrong. There are many helpful books about jazz and jazz musicians (some are listed below). It’s easy to tie this reading into a variety of subject areas.

National E.L.A. Anchor Standards:

Relate ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

After our discussions, I play the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording of When the Saints Go Marching In and ask students to compare the difference between this recording and Louis Armstrong’s recording.

I invite students to create a marching band along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording.  Students move through general space with rhythm sticks, marching to the beat during the instrumental portion of the music. When the singing comes in, they freeze in place and student use rhythm sticks to play rhythms from selected rhythm cards. When the instrumental portion returns, students resume marching.

Partners share their impressions of the music of New Orleans.

 Integrating Visual Art of Mardi Gras

Another important aspect of Mardi Gras is the art. In addition to decorating their homes with festive colors and tinsel, many people in New Orleans use Carnival season as an opportunity to dress up for the parades. Some even wear hats, wigs and masks. Artists spend months creating parade floats. The Krewes, or societies that organize the parades often create floats and parade themes based on mythological figures (Orpheus, Morpheus, Proteus, etc.). Students in Louisiana created shoebox parade floats, modeled after the life-size versions from their favorite parades.

Using the Read the Picture strategy (p. 11 and 70 TTAW), students build background knowledge through reading photos and art images as well as pictures of Venetian style masks. Students can make their own decorative masks with construction paper and glitter to wear in a class parade

National Art Anchor Standards:

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas.
  • Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Refine and complete artistic work,
  • Convey meaning through presentation of artistic work.


Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experience to making music and art.

Some Resources:

Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING by Mary Palmer and Susan Rosoff (TTAW)

The Jazz of Our Street by Fatima Shaik

If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxane Orgill

Mamma Don’t Allow by Thacher Hurd


Re-Envisioning the Game of Statue Maker

We loved to play “Statue Maker” when we were kids. We’d spin and spin and when the leader called “statue”, we’d stop and try to stand still, still, still so we could continue playing. We re-envisioned this game using the arts integration strategy of tableaux (i.e. frozen pictures.)

Let’s get started by using the Read the Picture strategy with the two sculptures shown below. What is the same about these figures? Both are standing with their arms above their heads.   Canova’s figure of Winged Victory looks triumphant, but Atlas looks as if he is literally feeling the weight of the world. How is that difference communicated? How does the material chosen contribute to the mood?

E10620.jpgAtlas - Santiago

Antonio Canova,                          Unknown, Atlas, Praza do Toural, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Winged Victory, 1803-06.

Are there any similarities between the two sculptures below? Both seem to be standing quietly and starring off into space. What do you suppose The Little Dancer is thinking about? What is her mood?What do you imagine George Washington is thinking about? What is his mood? How did the artists convey these different feelings?

Degas, Edgar - Little Dancer NGA croppedHoudon, Jean-Antoine, George Washington

Edgar Degas, Little Dancer, 1878-81.        Jean-Antoine Houdon, George Washington, 1788-92.

The two sculptures below were designed as public monuments. Ernst Barlach (Bar’ – lah) work was designed to honor soldiers who died in World War I. It is a monumental bronze sculpture that is now housed in the Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany. The uniforms and headgear of the soldiers are significant. Why? The two standing soldiers as well as the soldier kneeling in the center wear different styles of uniforms and of headgear to represent German, French, and Russian soldiers. What is the figure on the bottom left showing? He seems to be hiding in fear, afraid to look out at the destruction. The figure on the bottom right is covering his ears to block out the sound of war.

In 1929, the people who commissioned Barlach to create the sculpture expected him to depict only German soldiers, and that the figures would look glorious and heroic. Why? Did Barlach have the same idea? He chose to depict the tragedy of war, no matter what nationalities are involved. As students create a tableaux of Barlach’s figures, ask them to describe the mood they are recreating. What are they doing with their bodies to communicate these moods? How does the pose make them feel?

Frederick Hart created Three Servicemen in bronze as a tribute to American soldiers who fought in Vietnam. How can you figure out which branches of the service are depicted? The figures on the left and right represent the Army, and the figure in the center represents the                                                                                                                           Marines. Talk about the expressions on the faces of the soldiers who are standing. Ask students to describe the feelings shown by each man. How do their poses communicate their feelings and thoughts? What do their clothes tell you? What else is communicated? How is Hart’s message different than Barlach’s?

Barlach, Ernst -Magdeburge Cenotaph   ??????????????????????????????????????

Ernst Balach,                                     Frederick Hart, Three Servicemen, 1984.

Magdeburg Cenotaph,*  1929.

Try creating tableaux of various sculptures that “fit” with what you are studying in various subject matter. Divide the class into small groups to create their tableaux. Vary the experience by having one or two students per group act as the sculptors. If the sculptors are the only people who see the art image, they will direct the tableaux-makers (i.e. create the sculpture) by using words to describe the poses and feelings depicted.   This definitely helps students hone their skills of observation and communication!

Extend this work with tableaux by having students create their own scenes based on characters or historical events they are studying. When we use games, the learning is fun and has lasting power!   With a little research, there seems to be an endless supply of amazing art work to help us connect in meaningful ways to just about any aspect of the curriculum.

Play on!

Susan and Mary

*A cenotaph is an “empty tomb,” meaning the remains of the people honored in the sculpture are in another place.

Reading: Make it DRAMATIC!

Take advantage of sound possibilities as you read with children. Pump up the drama in your voice to make the words exciting. Children will imitate your example.  As adults, we find that readers who speak dramatically on commercially produced “books on CD” draw us into the story in very compelling ways. At home or in school, our own dramatic reading does the same thing. Research shows that children who read expressively have greater understanding of what they read and are more interested in independent reading. Your expressive reading is a model for children to emulate.

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

With its repeated (and short) refrains, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins with illustrations by Eric Gurney, has many possibilities for engagement and bringing words to life for the younger set. Written with a strong beat, the story easily lends itself to rhythmic reading. The repeated refrain     “Dum ditty     Dum ditty     Dum dum dum”   as well as multiple rhyming couplets (thumb-drum; hum-drum) invite participation. As the millions of monkeys gather to play their drums, the reader escalates the tempo as well as the volume to reflect the changing scene.

Hand Hand Fingers Thumb

In the Wild with stunning poetry by David Elliott and gorgeous woodcut and watercolor illustrations by Holly Meade can build interest in poetry as a means of describing the world. We especially like the analogies suggested in the poetry. For example, did you ever think about likenesses between an elephant and a cloud? By reading the poetry with expression and perhaps even a touch of drama, you help to elevate the power of the words and the illustrations. We’ve found that that this book resonates with teachers and students alike.

In the Wild

For older students, the Carl Sandburg poem Jazz Fantasia (http://allpoetry.com/Jazz-Fantasia) offers a great link to reading with a recording of jazz music. Listen to a variety of music to find something that “works” with the feeling of the poem.

Adding Sound Effects is another great way to “up” the interest in reading. For example, as you read a train story, create the sounds of the train. Repeat in an almost whisper voice: “Chug-a, Chug-a”; add a “Whoo-oo” for the train whistle; how about a “Shhh—ooo” for letting off some steam in an old-fashioned train? Putting these sounds together creates a Soundscape that gives us a “sound picture” of a train.  Try creating a story and adding sounds to  Train in Snow,  by Claude Monet, 1875.

Monet, Train in Snow, 1875

Playing instruments to “tell” a nursery rhyme, song, or story is a great way to help children focus on the essence of the rhyme. Click here for a video of Mary and Susan performing a “mystery” nursery rhyme. Can you identify it from the sounds only? Keeping the steady beat of this rhyme allows children to “think” the rhyme as they play the sounds to accompany the words that they are hearing inside of their heads. Talk about brain development!

The Napping House by Audrey Wood with illustrations by Don Wood allows readers to choose sounds to represent the action in the story. When these representative sounds are played together, children are creating a Soundscape, or collage of sounds, that helps to advance the mood of the story. Select instruments to represent the characters in the Napping House: snoring granny (softly play the guiro or other notched instrument); dreaming child (gently “swish” wind chimes); dozing dog (scrape fingers over a drum head); snoozing cat (lightly twirl maracas); slumbering mouse (tap the rim of a tambourine); and that wakeful flea who changes the scene (crashing of finger cymbals.) As characters are introduced in the story, sounds are added until all sounds are playing together. Things get frantic (louder and faster) when the wakeful flea arrives! No instruments? Try using “found sounds” (things in the environment such as paper flapping, crumpling, or tearing) or “vocal sounds” (such as snoring, whistling, heavy breathing.) You’ll be greeted with “Let’s read it again.” Truly music to a parent’s or teacher’s ears!

Imagine going to the movies and hearing no sounds other than the voices on the screen. The result probably wouldn’t draw you into the story. To remedy this, enter the Foley artists (who create and record natural, everyday sound effects in a film), the sound designer (who produces the special audio effects), and sound producers (who put it all together in a professional soundtrack for the movie.) An added bonus: adding sound effects and soundscapes to reading can provide a unique career exploration opportunity!

Whether reading at home or at school, try videoing a reading with your own sound effects and soundscape to heighten the interest. Click here to hear a Soundscape created by teachers at a recent workshop presented by Mary and Susan. This Soundscape brings Van Gogh’s Farmhouse in Provence to life.

Sounds really do bring a story, rhyme, poem, or dramatization to life. Often children’s interest in books and reading is ignited by the opportunity to experiment with sounds to help tell the stories.

We hope that you’ll share some of your favorite dramatic reading materials with us.  Through the ARTS… read on!

Mary and Susan

Let’s Go to the Art Museum!

An art museum can provide an interactive journey into fun and imaginative play rather than an day of drudgery.  Here are five easy ways to make visiting an art museum fun and filled with new ways of looking at art.

  1. Play Eye Spy.   If you can go to the museum ahead of time (or check out the exhibit online), pre-plan your visit by selecting some art with details that will be fun to explore with your child. E11167.jpg      Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1834

With your little ones, you might want to read a little about the museum before visiting.  A delightful children’s book, You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser, provides an important tip as well as a glimpse of the inside of one of America’s famous museums.


2. Strike a Pose.  Pretend to become the person you see in the portrait. Imitate his pose in a portrait. Pay attention to details as you re-create the person.

  • Where are his eyes looking?
  • How are his feet placed?
  • What mood is he showing?

E10562.jpgGilbert Stuart, The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), 1782

3.  Step into a landscape.  If you could walk into this landscape, what route would you take?  What would you be doing?

??????????????????????????????John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex, 1816

 4.  Create a story.

Pretend that this painting tells the middle of your story.  What happened before the scene that you see?  What will happen after the scene that you see?  Who are the characters?  What might they say?

A18254.jpg     Claude-Joseph Vernet, The Shipwreck, 1772


5.  Don’t stay too long.   Everybody gets tired feet !   Plan a return visit for another day.

????????????????????????????????????????????????Detail, Horatio Greenough, George Washington, 1840

Make Museum-going a part of your child’s life experience.  Interacting with what is exhibited helps to build attention span, attention to detail, ability to empathize, ability to see life throughout history, and lots more.  We hope that you’ll plan your first or next visit soon.  Remember that Museum exhibits change frequently, so repeat visits yield new opportunities.

Mary and Susan















Discovering Nature on a Summer Walk

photo_1[1]  Photos by Julie Blackwell, Winter Park, FL

Almost every summer there are reports about how important it is to get kids outside for a healthy life. http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/07/06/doctors-ordering-kids-get-outside/fzY3ieaysvNCC9JI7TW9aP/story.html

Unstructured free play time is essential, but a summer walk can turn into an artful experience. We normally ZOOM through our daily life, but taking a little time to notice small details can enhance our awareness of the beauty around us. Have you ever noticed the pattern of cracks in the sidewalk make? Stripes in the road? Have you noticed how many different colors of green there are in the lawn? We often identify trees by their shape; how would you describe the shape of a weeping willow, a palm tree, an oak? What shapes do shadows on buildings make? Think of all the ways you can use your body to become these shapes.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s goal in her flower paintings was to make them so large that even busy New Yorkers would stop and look at them. That meant she really had to notice details like the shape of the petals. How many petals were there? Were there any contrasting colors? She had to notice all these things before she painted. Chances are your digital phone has a camera in it and that your child knows how to use it. Susan walked around the neighborhood and took close up photographs of flowers. Even the drops of water were visible in the photograph, and she had not noticed those when she was “just looking.” Blackwell

Grandparents would love to receive the kind of thank-you card that Julie Blackwell makes. She takes close-up shots of flowers and other interesting things she finds on her walks and then turns them into note cards.  The contrast of the strong vertical line of the railing and the horizontal lines of the steps really grab you. What shapes will you find that captivate you?

Blackwell stairs

Look at trees from a new perspective. We usually see them straight on as we drive by. Think about looking from a bird’s eye or worm’s eye view. Georgia O’Keeffe painted The Lawrence Tree as if she were lying underneath a starry sky looking up at it. http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/okeeffes-the-lawrence-tree.html Robert Berlind paints the crooks of trees and maybe only a few branches. http://robertberlind.net/recentwork.html His point of view is more like what a bird sitting on a branch would see.

Many adults have done bark and leaf rubbings or pressed flowers between waxed paper, but have your children? You can make cool bookmarks by putting pressed flowers or drawings between two sheets of laminating paper. Collect a few things from the yard and make a nature collage.

Leaves and blossom            Plant collage

Take a collecting basket with you and toss in things like rocks, shells, or even simple sticks.  (These were courtesy of an active squirrel that was fun to watch).

mirror image sticks

Jasper Johns explored ideas of mirroring in Corpse and Mirror, 1976 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and the sticks seemed to be begging to be used in a similar way.   A little thinking is involved here!(http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=70717)

Pause on your nature walk and be super sensitive to your senses. For one minute focus on all the sounds you hear and then write them down. For another minute, become aware of texture, then colors, etc. You’ll be amazed at how powers of observation sharpen awhile you help to make sure that summer days don’t turn into a bored summer daze.

Mary and Susan

P.S.  You might want to have your camera handy.  Photos of what you see on your walk are a great reminder of the whole experience.  Gather your photos in a journal to help your child remember and talk about what you have experienced.

SOUNDS of SUMMER – especially for the younger set

It’s summer! Time to enjoy being outside and taking in the sights and sounds of our world. An early morning walk through the neighborhood provides a great opportunity to expand appreciation of sound. The intermingling songs of the birds are the background music for the walk. Careful listening reveals the variety of unique songs sung by birds. Listen for the back and forth conversations. Does a woodpecker always make a burst of seven sounds? As the rest of the world awakens, other sounds join the chorus. Listen for voices, dogs barking, cats meowing. Find other sounds of nature such as water running and man-made sounds such as passing cars or trucks. Walk near a lake and listen for insects, frogs, fish jumping, and ducking quacking. A busy farmer’s market or even a shopping mall provide completely different sound experiences. The sounds around us are often just a backdrop; a Sound Walk provides a time to zoom in on sounds of our environment.

E-000966-20111017.jpg American 19th century artist, Village by the River, late 19th century, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.     Suggestion: Talk about sounds that might  be heard if you could step into this painting.  Compare these with what you heard on your Sound Walk.

Take time to listen, discuss, and perhaps locate the sources of sounds that you hear. Use your voices to imitate sounds. Extend this exploration of sound by creating simple sound-makers. Place a small handful of dried beans, rice, or pennies into small plastic containers (old-fashioned film canisters are perfect) with tight-fitting (or glued shut) lids to eliminate a chocking hazard. Talk about the sounds. What makes louder sounds? What is causing the sound? How are they different from each other? For younger children, make two of each type of sound-maker so that children can “match” the sounds. This game focuses and develops listening skills. Get out the pots, pans and various strikers, such as a wooden spoon and a metal spoon. How does the choice of a striker affect the sound? How long can you hear the sound after striking the pan lid? Such questions not only promote conversation, they help children attend to what they are hearing.

Hannah imitating cat sounds

Suggestion:  Encourage your child to imitate the sounds made animals, cars, rain, thunder…

If possible, share some traditional instruments with your children. Play instruments to accompany singing or to play a beat for marching. Try having the children shut their eyes while you play a sound on one of the instruments. A child then selects the instrument heard. Connecting sounds to their sources becomes a game. A variation on this is to have the children shut their eyes while you play a sound from different locations in the room. Listeners point to the location from which the sound was made. This engagement with sounds deepens interest in sound sources and sound production.

In many communities, summer is a time for free, outdoor concerts. This is a great opportunity for the whole family. Younger children are free to dance, move or even conduct the ensemble with or without a parent/grandparent’s help. Recently, Mary’s 21 month-old grandson was absolutely spellbound by street performers; he was glued to the scene for 45 minutes. When he got home, he “converted” his toy guitar into a violin in order to continue his new choice in music! Keep the interest building by playing more violin music to build those listening skills. Yes, music helps to increase children’s attention spans and expand their horizons.

Henry Violin July 2014

Early experiences with music and sound build a love of music that can contribute to expanded brain development. Through Boston Children’s Hospital, Nadine Gaab and her team of Harvard University researchers have just released results of a preliminary study of musicians and non-musicians (ages 9-12 and ages18-35) related to their development of “executive skills,” especially cognitive flexibility, working memory and processing speed. Neurological mapping of their brains showed that the musicians won.  Continue reading