Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum


Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands Hosts a Meeting Between East and West

Home_MainImage_SunnylandsThis week U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Estate Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California.  The estate was the winter home of Ambassador Walter and Leonore Annenberg and has recently been re-established as a retreat for high-level meetings such as this one.

What will the two leaders talk about?  The press suggests that cyber security will be high on the list of topics, as well as global international hot spots.  But before the two men get to those subjects, they will no doubt spend time admiring the beauty of the estate, its gardens, and the numerous works of art that the Annenbergs had collected over the years. 

They might admire the Annenbergs’ collection of Chinese porcelain. See an example here. View a museum quality porcelain plate from the Tang dynasty and learn how the Chinese artisans made porcelain that was copied worldwide but never equaled in our online resource Art Through Time: A Global View.

No doubt Presidents Obama and Xi will discuss global as well as domestic economic matters.  In discussions of this sort it is helpful to have a grasp of similar issues both countries face.  The Power of Place: Geography for the 21st Century provides a case study of two Chinese cities on the physical and cultural frontiers of the country: Lanzhou and Shenyang. This case study turns up familiar themes from cities in transition — an influx of foreigners, urbanization, and industrialization.

When it is time to relax, the leaders might enjoy watching the antics of a classic and beloved Chinese cultural figure: the Monkey King, depicted in the tale Journey to the West, which was regarded in China as one of the great masterpieces of its era, according to Harvard Professor of Comparative Literature David Damrosch.  They can watch a video on the work that is part of the series Invitation to World Literature and hear from some of the foremost scholars and artists on the story’s longevity and influence through the ages.

Since security will be tight at the meeting, you can visit Learner.org and immerse yourself in Chinese art, literature, and geography and savor the parts of the historic meeting that didn’t make the headlines.

Monday Motivation: Teaching Kindergartners to be Story-Tellers

Arts_Bringing Artists_warmups In The Arts in Every Classroom, “Bringing Artists to Your Community,” theatre artist Birgitta De Pree involves a kindergarten class in a storytelling activity that engages the imagination while reinforcing story structure skills. She warms the students up with activities that relax them and build trust. Watch the video until 14:00. While Ms. De Pree served as an artist-in-residence in the school, these engaging activities can be adapted by any language arts teacher willing to take on the role.

A Jazz Festival in Your Classroom

World of Music_jazzAs the weather warms, jazz festivals will be springing up all over. Why not celebrate spring and Jazz Appreciation Month this April by holding a jazz festival in your classroom? A key word search for “jazz” on learner.org returns a host of resources that you can use to guide your students to appreciate this uniquely American musical genre and to understand its influence on culture here and around the world.

For example, American Passages: A Literary Survey, unit 11, “Modernist Portraits,” describes the dramatic social and cultural changes that Americans experienced during the years between World War I and World War II.  Jazz provided the soundtrack for these changes and had a profound influence on visual artists, poets, and novelists who sought to capture its images and rhythms. Use the American Passages archives to find audio and visual artifacts from the Jazz Age that illustrate the innovation and energy of musicians and writers such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jacob Lawrence.

Try asking students how structure, improvisation, and collaboration—aspects of jazz adopted by so many artists working during the modernist period—can be applied in their world. The Problem-Based Learning activities included in unit 11 could be presented as a way to put a jazz spin on collaborative projects in school.

Jazz up this historical exploration by inviting a local performer or your school’s jazz ensemble to play for your students and to discuss the unique interaction of structure, improvisation, and collaboration in jazz. Or check out Exploring the World of Music, program 11, “Composers and Improvisers.”  At 9:09 you’ll find a great discussion from saxophonist Joshua Redman about the role of improvisation in jazz. In program 10, “The Shape of Music,” the segment that begins at 8:52 illustrates why collaboration is essential to improvisation in a group performance.

What are other ways to use jazz to inspire learning in the classroom? I’d love to hear your improvisations!


Monday Motivation: Music in Math

mathoftimeMarch is almost over and so is Music in our Schools Month. We finish this set of Monday Motivations on music by looking at how to incorporate music into the math classroom.

High school and college students can study how the Greeks applied mathematical thought to the study of music in the video and online text for Mathematics Illuminated, unit 10, “Harmonious Math,” section 2, The Math of Time.  Section 3, Sound and Waves, looks at how sound waves move through the air and section 6, Can You Hear the Shape of a Drum?, asks if it’s possible to deduce what object makes a sound based on the frequency content of the sound.

Monday Motivation: Música, Musique, Musik

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

TFL_French_ZydecoMarch is Music in Our Schools Month and educators are urged to make a case for including music education in the K-12 curriculum. It would seem to be an easy argument. According to Christopher Viereck, Ph.d., Developmental Neurobiologist in Residence for The Music Empowers Foundation, ongoing music education creates “new connections (‘wiring’) between brain cells.” Music education “also benefits students in other academic domains,” writes Viereck in Music Education and Brain Plasticity 101, the first of many articles in the Your Brain on Music Education series.

Still, despite the substantial amount of evidence that supports the claim that music enhances learning, music programs in budget-strapped schools are often considered niceties, not necessities. There are ways to incorporate music into lessons, should formal music programs face the axe, however. Take foreign languages, for example.

The Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library provides two examples of how to incorporate music into language lessons. Watch French: A Cajun Folktale and Zydeco. At about 20 minutes into the video, students are introduced to Cajun music. See how the teacher builds excitement for what students will be learning and how music helps students better understand cultural traditions of the people who live in that particular region of Louisiana.

Music can take students from the Bayou to Ancient Rome. In this mixed-level Latin class at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., teacher Lauri Dabbieri uses music to help students understand the difference between translation and interpretation, as well as to make historical connections to Roman culture.

How else might you use music in your foreign language classroom?


Monday Motivation: Use Music to Teach Social Studies

bio of america_23_elvisHow can you use music to enhance your social studies lessons? Here are some ideas:

1. The Middle Ages: Early music provides an echo of the past, allowing students to connect to people, cultures, and arts from long ago. Using The Middle Ages interactive, students test their ears by determining which of the instruments used by medieval musicians match the sounds they hear.

2. The Renaissance: Elementary music specialist Sylvia Bookhardt teaches students about Renaissance society in The Arts in Every Classroom,Teaching Music.”

3. The Holocaust: The series TeachingThe Children of Willesden Lane’ offers resources to help middle and high school students better comprehend survivor Lisa Jura’s story of loss, resilience, and ultimate triumph. Mona Golabek, Jura’s daughter, wrote The Children of Willesden Lane to honor her mother, who was spared the cruelty of the death camps thanks to the Kindertransport (children’s transport). In all, the operation saved nearly 10,000 children. Music played a central role in Lisa Jura’s life and is integrated into this memoir. Find the music downloads here.

4. The Fifties: Explore an emerging American teenage culture, including the influence of the transistor radio and a young man named Elvis Presley, in A Biography of America, unit 23, “The Fifties.”

Exploring African-American Culture Through Slavery’s Sorrow Songs

AmPass_7_sorrowsongs_blogBlack History Month is a great time to celebrate the achievements of African-American writers, artists, musicians, scientists, and religious and political leaders. It’s also a great time to learn about and reflect on the historical and cultural contexts from which these achievements emerged. One way is to take a journey into the rich and vibrant culture that developed in African-American slave communities in the face of horrific oppression and adversity.

For example, a close look at slave spirituals called Sorrow Songs reveals an awe-inspiring story of hope, collaboration, ingenuity, and an unstoppable hunger for freedom.

The Sorrow Songs are not the songs played by slave musicians at an owner’s social gathering and they’re not the hymns sung during formal church services. Nor are they the great slave narratives of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs, written to galvanize the abolitionist cause. Most slaves would not have been able to read the narratives even if they had access to them.

Instead, the Sorrow Songs were created collaboratively by the slave community for the slave community. They were current events bulletins and teaching tools. How did the community know that many escaped slaves were crossing into the Union? “Many Thousands Gone.How did a runaway avoid being detected by dogs? “Wade in the Water.” How did the word get out about a secret meeting? “Steal Away to Jesus. The songs connected European Christian imagery with the slaves’ spiritual values. They poked fun at the masters and eased labor. In other words, in a depraved world where humans were allowed to own humans, the slaves created beauty and meaning that they alone owned. “Slavery and Freedom,” unit 7 of American Passages: A Literary Survey,  provides context and content for this exploration.

Find ideas for connecting this remarkable story to other aspects of slave community culture or to the emergence of gospel and jazz music in the unit’s Author Activities page. Students could try collaborating on music and lyrics for a Sorrow Song of their own or revise an existing song to reflect a current event. Students may also make connections to how other oppressed groups have used music or other arts to subvert oppressors.

What stories from Black History will you be exploring with your students this month?

Using Music to Teach and Remember the Holocaust

'The Children of Willesden Lane' International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27th  and is a time for reflection. Sadly, children are often subject to the same worldly violence as adults, especially during times of war. In our more recent history, think of the number of children who perished during armed conflicts in Vietnam, Kosovo, and Syria. Go back a few more decades and recall that, in Nazi-occupied Europe, more than 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered in the ghettos and death camps. Students need to “make meaning” of history’s tragic events if they are to understand the past and what roles they have in securing a more peaceful future.

If your students have already read The Diary of Anne Frank, try The Children of Willesden Lane. The series TeachingThe Children of Willesden Lane’ offers resources to help middle and high school students better comprehend survivor Lisa Jura’s story of loss, resilience, and ultimate triumph. Mona Golabek, Jura’s daughter, wrote The Children of Willesden Lane to honor her mother, who was spared the cruelty of the death camps thanks to the Kindertransport (children’s transport). In all, the operation saved nearly 10,000 children.

Music as Teacher

“Hold on to your music. It will be your best friend.” -words spoken to Lisa Jura by her mother as she boarded the Kindertransport

Music is as much a character in The Children of Willesden Lane as Jura. Therefore, each reading includes a musical selection that highlights the theme of that segment. In Reading 2: Uprooted (Chapters 4-8), high school history teacher Martina Grant asks her students to identify a song that would remind them of home, should they ever have to leave. After students respond, Grant reads the passage from the book where Jura takes the music for Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” with her when she leaves home. At about 2:45 minutes into the video, students listen to that piece and determine how the music revealed Jura’s feelings.

The video also shows how teachers from different disciplines can work together to provide a more meaningful lesson. Grant asked the school’s music teacher Jeff Arzberger to conduct a lesson on basic musical concepts such as rhythm and harmony, and the difference between major and minor keys. Arzberger meets the lesson objectives by asking students to listen to and then compare the musical approaches taken by Beethoven in his “Moonlight” Sonata and by Debussy in “Clair de Lune.” Would you be comfortable teaching music? Who might you call on to help you familiarize your students with music and music history?

Students then discuss whether it is important to understand Jura’s music in order to understand her story. As you watch the video, consider how music impacts Jura’s story. Does it make it more meaningful? Why or why not?

How to Incorporate the Arts in All Subjects

Art is a valuable tool for students to learn how to express themselves, work through a process, work cooperatively, and gain respect and understanding for others. How can we teach the arts in all subject areas so that students benefit from the learning opportunities that art affords them? For more ways art instruction benefits students, read “Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world” by Elliott Seif.

Below are examples of the arts blended with other curriculum areas, helping students to draw out a deeper understanding and appreciation for both familiar and unfamiliar concepts.


See art as a tool to make meaning of our relationship with the natural world in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Seventh graders combine science, dance, and language arts as they compare the anatomy of a frog and a human and then debate whether a frog can join a ballet company. Connecting With the Arts Library, program 11, “Can Frogs Dance?” has the video and student materials.


Mathematicians understand symmetry differently than the rest of us, as a fundamental aspect of group theory. Learn more in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” which includes a symmetry interactive. Students can manipulate a wallpaper design to practice common geometric motions such as rotation and reflection.

Language Arts

Students explore Greek myths using puppets in Connecting With the Arts Library, program 2, “Breathing Life into Myths.”

Artifacts & Fiction, session 1, “Visual Arts,” shows how visual art, paired with literature, can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the predominant culture and historical setting of a work of literature.

Foreign Languages

Latin students learn the difference between translating and interpreting the language using music and literary works of Mozart, Vergil, and Cicero. See Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, program 24, “Music and Manuscripts.”

In Teaching Foreign Languages, program 29, “Interpreting Literature,” students discuss “Dos caras” (Two faces) by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. They act out scenes and make comparisons to a painting by a local artist.

In program 27, “Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica,” students write and deliver radio newscasts interpreting the scene in the famous painting.

Social Studies

Fifth graders in The Arts in Every Classroom, program 6, “Teaching Visual Art,” view portraits, looking beyond the face for historical cues. They continue the lesson by creating new portraits that reveal clues to the lives of their subjects through clothing, expressions, and background.

Additional Resources:

To learn more about why arts education is important and how to connect the arts with big ideas in other subject areas, view Connecting With the Arts, program 2, “Why Integrate the Arts?”  and program 5, “What Are Connecting Concepts?”

These ideas just scratch the surface of all they ways arts instruction can be incorporated in other curriculum areas. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.