EPISODE 22: THE STORY ABOUT

Music Integration
Across the Curriculum

with Katie Ruzin

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Well, all art forms are connected because they’re expressions of the soul.

Jamie
We’ve done a few music-centered episodes here on Teaching Trailblazers, music and cultural responsiveness, music and teaching online access to music education, but I’ve been dying to do an episode on music integration across the curriculum. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this episode, we sit down with Katie Ruzin, a 15 year music educator with experience from preschool through high school. She believes that positive relationships and arts integration are essential to education. Welcome, Katie. Thanks for joining us.

Katie
Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Jamie
Yes. Can you give us a brief overview of your teaching career? I see that the scope is very broad, lots of different age ranges in there. Give us an idea of your background.

Katie
So I started with my favorite thing to teach, which is middle school band. So I had band and general music. And then we moved to Ohio, where I started teaching general music. So kindergarten through fifth grade. And then I moved to my most recent district where I taught pre K through fifth grade. And then I’m also the Assistant High School marching band director, because my husband’s the high school band director, and it just works out great!

Jamie
In all your spare time, right?

Katie
Yeah!

Jamie
And when I heard you say, my favorite thing to teach, I certainly didn’t think that was going to be followed up by middle school band. Okay.

Katie
You gotta be a little crazy for that…

Jamie
Yes, for sure! So from your bio, I’ve read that you strongly believe that the arts helped to create compassionate, critical-thinking, problem-solving individuals and you know this Katie from from your work in the arts, a lot of times we hear about music and arts programs only being kept at the school level because of their benefits on other subjects. But you and I as arts people, we know that this could not be farther from the truth. And that of course, music fosters these vital skills. What evidence have you seen of music developing these important skills with your own students?

Katie
Well, I want to start with a quote by one of my favorite people. His name’s Scott Lang, and he is a former music educator, and he’s big into student leadership and be part of the music, just wonderful things that he’s doing. And he says, by preparing our students for success in life, we have made them unsuccessful at failing, which is just profound, right? So I’m sure you realize that music education and advocacy and justifying our position have been really important over the last few decades. But if you come now to think of it, we don’t… the only reason we’re justifying it that way is because we’re trying to explain to other people who don’t understand why they might think of it as important. When really music and all arts are just about developing your whole person, not just giving you academic knowledge.

Jamie
Sure. And do you see this whole child development happening in the students that you have taught pre K through high school?

Katie
Oh, definitely. And one of my favorite examples, my first year at my most recent school, I was teaching fifth grade. And I’m sure everybody knows how fifth grade boys can be. So there’s this one boy, he was kind of popular but kind of shy. He wasn’t ready to show himself totally yet. But he was, you know, a sports guy and he could not sing, he would not sing. But throughout the course of the year, we… as we worked on expressing ourselves and why, other reasons why music is so important and making those personal connections, by the spring concert, he was a soloist.

Jamie
Wow!!! To go from I’m not a singer to not even a duet or an ensemble piece – a solo! Oh, I’m impressed. Fifth grade boy, singing solos when they’re not being athletic. I love it, best of both worlds. Wow. So let’s talk about strategies for teachers, specifically teachers that that integrate music and you know, I’m going to start with music and math here because for a lot of people, that is a very logical connection. What are some strategies? What are some, some lesson connections when it comes to music integrating with math?

Katie
Well, the most obvious ones that I have used have to do with rhythms and fractions, and also rhythms and currency, because the way they’re combined with four quarters in $1 is really great to connect with kids when they’re starting to learn that. And so just working on rhythms and tempo and beats and just so hard for me to give specific examples because they’re just, they’re combined. You know…

Jamie
There’s many connections. I know I love this currency idea. I had not thought of that prior, but I guess that would be second grade math integrated so naturally, I love those natural pairings with music and parts of a whole, like currency or money. How about music and let’s say science.

Katie
Well, one of my favorite activities to do in fifth grade and fourth grade, depending on when it most connects with what they’re learning in class is the science of sound. And we did this fantastic unit. And actually, they’d already studied a little bit in their science class on sound waves which they’ve been introduced to and how the frequency and the amplitude change pitch and volume. And then I introduced him to some new things like chladni plates. You ever heard of those?

Jamie
Say what?

Katie
Chladni plates. So it’s this big square, maybe like two feet by two feet, and you put sand on it, and it’s sitting on top of a speaker. So when you play sounds, the sound waves vibrate the plate in different directions and make these beautiful geometric shapes. And the kids are fascinated.

Jamie
Oh, I’m obsessed. I’m a fifth grade fascinated student clearly! Spell this for our listeners – chladni.

Katie
C H L A D N I

Jamie
Okay, we’re after finishing this episode. You knowwhat? I’m gonna go Google. Chladni plates. That is fascinating. All right, how about music and social studies. Now this to me seems kind of natural also with different cultures and use music of different cultures.

Katie
Mm hmm. So, while I personally agree completely with you, since I had studied to be a middle school band director, I didn’t have a whole lot of elementary training, and I had to create my own curriculum twice. So the cultural aspect was always one of those things I meant to get to, but never really was able to integrate. So I would use various cultural songs and ideas, you know, we would add African drumming into various songs, however we can fit it. What I really love with was history. So I would make connections when they were studying the Revolutionary War. We did Revolutionary War songs. When they were studying slavery, we would learn about gospel music, and so there’s connections to both and culture and history go together also. So just finding all those pieces.

Jamie
Finding those pieces and remembering that that we’re not in silos and that conceptually, everything really is interconnected. Okay, finally, can music integrate with other art forms? Like dance? Of course, you know, music. We’re dancing to music. Yeah, but can we integrate it? Maybe musical theater? Or how about with visual art? What are some ways to to combine art forms with music?

Katie
Well, all art forms are connected because they’re expressions of the soul. If we think about, if you were painting or doing any kind of art, more than likely, you’d have some kind of music on. When I have students listen to music and draw out their response to it or their feelings to it. Or when in art class, they have to think about how the art would sound or what it texture, what it looks like, we are constantly connecting the elements of visual art and music, in particular, because that’s – those are the teachers we had in our district. But theater, it’s expressing yourself with a musical voice. It wouldn’t be drama if you just monetoned it. And physical expression through dance, through facial expressions, just all of it. It’s all one, just expressed slightly differently.

Jamie
Absolutely. And we’ve talked about social studies, science, math, and now these other art forms. I can’t leave out language arts, and I save that until last, because I have a huge ask of you today. I know that you’re presenting at this summer’s connectivity conference hosted online by The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM and I’m pretty sure reading the teaser at artsintegrationconference.com, that your session focuses on music alongside language arts, maybe in the poetry and expressive language realm. Can you give us a little behind the scenes on your session and what we can look forward to this July?

Katie
So my thought when I was coming up with the proposal is how much older kids stop enjoying poetry. When they’re young, they love it, they have that musical connection to it. And you talk about it in high school, and they just groan and they hate it so much. So my thought is helping kids understand and experience poetry in a personal way, based on expressing their feelings of it through various arts. So I did lessons with elementary kids, middle school kids and high school kids. So my elementary kids were doing poetry through music. So I read them a poem and they came up with ways to express it through visual movement, and through creating musical sounds. Some of them were instruments, some more things they made themselves, just whatever they thought. We call that a sound poem. Then in middle school, we had the students react to the same poem, and they created visual art. And it was so interesting to see the connections that some of them made, because, you know, middle school, some of them were just doing it to do an assignment and some of them got so personal. There’s one where a girl was imagining breaking glass. And so she did her best to draw a shattered mirror. And it was so interesting to see that she made that connection. And then in high school, we did poetry and drama, and figuring out how we could express the poetry through reading it, as opposed to acting it out. So when I was reading the poem to each class, I would read it – actually the other teacher would read it and then I would read it. And we had such different expressions of it because they tended to read it with the lilting, focusing on the rhymes. And I was so expressive of the colors and the meanings that we’re in it. It really made a huge difference to the kids as they were listening to that.

Jamie
Oh, wow. So this summer sounds like your session, aside from being phenomenal, there’s going to be something for everyone, no matter what grade level band you might teach in. Oh, we’re so looking forward to it. Between now and then, how can listeners find out more about you and your work?

Katie
Well, I’ve got my own website. It’s katieruzin.com and it focuses on a lot of my consulting work. So classroom management and student engagement motivation, but there’s also a link to a music page which talks about learner focus classrooms and how important it is for us to make the connections which also go along with arts enhancement and integration. And just opening yourself to the idea that everything is connected. And there’s always a way to connect it. And if you’re not sure, talk with a friend because everybody has fantastic ideas.

Jamie
Love it. And that music resource page that you just mentioned. Does it have connections for maybe some remote and online teaching possibilities in addition to face to face? Hopefully we will be face to face in the fall! Fingers crossed, toes crossed. Can teachers unpack the resources there – online and in person?

Katie
Not yet. I’ve got a lot of things on my plate and that is definitely one of them.

Jamie
Fantastic. Well, we cannot wait to follow you and check out your website and learn more and see all of the new additions soon.

Katie
Thank you so much.

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is a production of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM and I’ve been your host, Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.

Show Links:

kateruzin.com