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Classroom Connections: Arts Integration Up Close

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Second and third graders interpreting the theme of animal adaptation (science standard) through movement and music.

Once again, 450 elementary students in San Rafael, Calif., turned their classroom lessons into a school-wide celebration of learning in the first-ever Classroom Connections Festival. Students performed dances, made music, and displayed works of art that were aligned with their grade-level curriculum, exploring subjects from animal behavior and math facts to American history and electromagnetism.

Classroom Connections is an integrated learning program designed to cultivate a "community" approach to teaching and learning. Together, classroom teachers and music, art, and dance instructors spent half the school year providing children with multiple modes of instruction across multiple disciplines.

The goal of Classroom Connections is to deepen learning and allow students to use their knowledge in creative ways and is based on Harvard's "Teaching for Understanding" model of arts integration. The Classroom Connections Festival was not just an art and music exhibition, it was an exhibition of understanding.

How It Works

This was a school-wide effort where teachers collaborated with arts specialists to explore shared concepts and parallel processes. Teachers worked together to find learning opportunities that leverage cross-disciplinary connections. The art teacher/classroom teachers crafted a "Guiding Question" that was explored by both the art teacher and the classroom teacher throughout the unit. The culmination of the unit was a "Performance of Understanding" at the Classroom Connections Festival.

Classroom Connections was inspired by two amazing programs from the San Francisco bay area:

Summer is a great time to start planning a Classroom Connections Festival! The payoff can be great. The principal of the elementary school, Julie Harris, explained how the project motivates her students, "Children learn in many ways, and the more modes they use, the better they are understanding. By folding their classroom instruction together with music, movement, and visual arts, our kids are firing on all cylinders!"

  1. Integrated Learning Specialist Program: This is one of Alameda County Office of Education's professional development programs. It promotes culturally responsive arts integration curriculum and uses essential frameworks from Harvard's Project Zero, which are:
    • Teaching for Understanding: "What topics are worth understanding? What about these topics needs to be understood? How can we foster understanding? How can we tell what students understand?"
    • Studio Habits of Mind: Eight specific dispositions that are used in artists' studios, many academic areas and in daily life. Thinking about Studio Habits helps identify connections that help transfer information from one discipline to another.
  2. Oakland Mile Project: MILE stands for Music Integrated Learning Environment (MILE) Project. The MILE Project is investigating the correlations between music learning and student academic achievement in elementary schools in Oakland Unified School District. MILE is guided by two frameworks:
    • Music Plus Music Integrated (M+MI): Teaching and learning that is mutually reinforcing across disciplines.
    • Musical Habits of Mind: Five specific dispositions that are used by musicians and in daily life identify connections that help transfer information from music to other disciplines; Listen, Question, Create, Reflect and Perform
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Barrie W. Mizerski's picture

Educational neuroscientists tell us that seamless integration with the performing arts is applicable to all curriculum, from STEM to common core. CAT scans and modern scientific data reveal that this is how the brain learns. For instance, performing arts help transfer information in the common core from immediate memory to working memory and eventually long term storage. The arts build amazingly sophisticated whole brain cues and connections which make learning so much more fun and retrieval a joy.

As a professional musician and actor, seventeen years ago I took it the next step. And only this year has science caught up with me. One must start with "mindful, cognitive behavioral therapy" or as Sousa states in his Information Processing Model "cognitive belief systems" (How the Brain Learns). None of you have thought about that, have you? You're academics and you've never had to earn a living as a performing artist where anxiety and fear can destroy your livelihood the same way it destroys a child's life by freaking them out for the three levels of high stakes testing forced on them WHICH HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH LEARNING AND SUCCESS and everything to do with dumbing down and failure.

For further scientific data and a succinct explanation (plus you don't have to buy any books) may I suggest you read the following:
I. Optimum Learning State (Mindfulness at Every Turn ):

II. Learning Strategies (Why Music Makes the Brain Sing):
III. Artistic Performance and Long Term Storage (retain and recall) (Screen Actors Guild "The Nature of Creativity" ) a collaboration of the NYC Board of Education, New York University and Screen Actors Guild (I am affiliated with all three - synchronicity) Theatre, film acting and recording with any available apps:

IV. Musical Notes to Neurons - Pentatonic - Plasticity( Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale at the World Science Festival

Howard Gardner in his book Art, Mind and Brain states: "Leonard Bernstein asserts that indeed there is a basic melody which children all over the world first chant - the UR-song". And thus it is with all learning and knowledge through the performing arts, as demonstrated by Bobby McFerrin in the above Musical Notes to Neurons.

In conclusion, from Professor Doriel Larrier, with whom I taught in Brooklyn, NY: "Tribute to you Mr. Mizerski...I am the cheerleader for testing grades at (PS) 315 this year...I couldn't let them sit without your mantra in their heads...I am smart, I am strong, I am confident all day long!!!! We'll be chanting it at 8:00am tomorrow - listen in the wind!!"

Contact me, because I want to teach teachers how to get students to want to learn how to learn specific curricula using music, performing arts, recording and reviewing technology and positive reinforcement for their cognitive behavioral system(stress management and confidence building techniques and systems) strategies to discover the joy of lifelong learning through artistic expression. The best movie you will ever watch is the mind movie of yourself on television being a total success in front of your peers.

Kelly's picture

I think this concept of Classroom Connections is a wonderful and productive idea. It shows the importance of all subjects and makes our students well rounded and able to think for themselves. It also allows for deeper understanding of the topic. I believe this would be a great addition for all schools not only to show the importance for the Arts but to create deeper thinking.

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