Music, performance helps cements science lessons in Sears students' minds

Integrating the arts

Posted: Wednesday, November 06, 2002

"Rain, rain, go away, come again another day."

First- and second-graders in Kelli Stroh, Nicole Shelden and Cindy Hurst's multiage classes at Sears Elementary School sang an apt selection of water-related songs Oct. 25, as they presented a music and arts performance for their parents. But the choice of songs had little to do with the flood-invoking rains falling outside last month.

The performance was a culmination of the students' first nine weeks of study, all centered around the Kenai River Watershed.

Throughout the first quarter of the school year, the students studied the watershed, focusing on water cycles and plants and animals living in the watershed habitats.

The unit of study wasn't just science and local geography; it also included music, poetry, art and dance.

"Every child at Sears has two music classes each week," said Elaine Larson, a music teacher at the school. "I was gifted with some extra time with these students. We call it collaborative time, where we integrate music, movement and drama into what they are learning in class."


First-grader Falon McGahan explains the design of a water table students at Sears Elementary School built during their study of the Kenai River Watershed.

Photo by Jenni Dillon

Shelden said that the integration helps solidify the academic lessons in the students' minds. As anyone who has ever had a song stuck in their head knows, music often is more memorable than plain-served facts.

"Think of a kaleidoscope," Larson explained. "When you move it, the image changes. Arts change the image. It's a different way of looking at things."

Students had a full-range of perspectives from which to view the watershed unit. Guest speakers presented special lessons for the students, and a trip to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward let them view and touch tide pool creatures firsthand. They also read stories, wrote poems, learned songs and created dioramas relating to their studies.

Then, to complete the unit, they showed off their varied projects and lessons with a performance for their parents Oct. 25 in the school library.

The kids' drawings were displayed on bright yellow and blue banners of crepe paper hanging from the library stacks. Xylophones and a collection of simple musical instruments littered the floor, and parents crowded into the small space to "ooh" and "ahh" their children.

Dressed in bright colors and Sunday bests, the kids filed into the library and proceeded to lavish the audience with sugar-sweet cuteness. They read their poems; they played rain sticks, xylophones and other musical instruments with perfect rhythm. They waved silky scarves and performed a contra dance.


After performing songs and dances for their parents, second-graders Alex Hensley and Kelsey Williams look through recent projects from their study of the Kenai River Watershed.

Photo by Jenni Dillon

A couple even told a joke:

Q: How did the water hurt itself?

A: It had a waterfall.

Then, satisfied their parents had seen their performance skills, the children led their families back to the classroom to show off their academic work.

As they walked down the halls, students pointed out their drawings and dioramas to their parents.

In the classroom, they read to their parents from their unit books -- construction paper booklets with a page from each major unit of study.

And they willingly shared the details of what they have learned for the past nine weeks.

"We learned about fish and salmon. There's egg, alevin, fry, salmon and spawning," said second-grader Spencer Jones with both authority and excitement.

"And we learned about the animals around (the watershed), like bears. There's a bear skin out there," he added, pointing to a pelt-filled table in the hallway.

"We made the watershed table too," said first-grader Falon McGahan, leading the way to a waist-high table in the hallway. On the table, students had molded and painted clay mountains and river paths, then a pump mechanism was added to make water flow through the water cycle.

"I learned that tributaries all start from the top of the mountain and go right down into the Kenai River, then into Cook Inlet," explained second-grader Alex Hensley.

As the students continued to share what they had learned, it was clear the integrated lessons had worked, helping the lessons stick in their minds.

But it also was clear that they were having a great time.

"I like playing instruments and doing 'Down by the River,'" second-grader Kelsey Williams said, explaining her favorite parts of the musical presentation.

"I like to sing, and we got to sing," added second-grader Molly Pellegrom.

"Today was my favorite part of school," agreed first-grader Zoya Hanson.

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