Woodland Public Schools’ elementary art, music, and physical education teachers worked together to create innovative cross-curricular lessons for students and their families to take part in to ensure the community’s children stay in shape, exercise their creativity, and enhance their studies during distance learning.
Madison Fraser, Cheryl Nesbitt, and Miles Thoming-Gale serve as the district’s art, physical education, and music teachers, respectively, for all three of Woodland’s elementary schools – Columbia, North Fork, and Yale. While students continue focus on their core curriculum during remote learning, the three work together to ensure students have specialist lessons that serve as “brain breaks” from their studies from all three subject areas. “Given how rigorous remote learning can be, the three of us worked together to create bonus curriculum to serve as ‘brain breaks’,” explained Nesbitt. “We know our students spend a lot of time working on the computer, so we wanted to offer opportunities for them to take a break from typing to take part in something creative and physical.”
Unlike traditional school where educators would teach of the three subjects separately, Woodland’s elementary art, math, and physical education teachers decided to work together to develop lessons and activities that involve two or even all three subjects. “Collaboration between the three of us is key as we try to bring as much as we can from all three subjects into our lessons,” said Nesbitt. In addition to cross-curricular lessons, the three teachers even designed their Google Classrooms to carry similar looks and feels to provide a more unified feel for students.
Fraser and Thoming-Gale created a combination lesson which led students through experiences demonstrating the similarities and differences between the creation of music and the creation of art. “We want to provide activities that students will take part in because it’s fun,” said Nesbitt. “These lessons shouldn’t be stressful for our students, they should be engaging and help relieve stress.”
Woodland’s Got Talent, an upcoming virtual talent show, encourages students to demonstrate their talents in any of the three subjects. Whereas many subjects have been challenged by distance learning, Thoming-Gale sees the virtual talent show benefitting from remote learning. “Distance learning actually becomes a benefit because students can submit videos of their talents that they couldn’t demonstrate in a traditional talent show such as a student who’s a good baseball pitcher, one who rides horses, or another who rides motocross,” he pointed out. “There would be no way to show off these talents during a typical talent show held in the auditorium of a school.”
The teachers designed their lessons and activities to not just engage students, but also their families. “We encourage families to join in on our lessons, too,” said Nesbitt. “One student took part in a P.E. workout with his grandmother – they each logged in from separate computers and exercised together!”
To motivate students from the three elementary schools to participate in the classes and activities, the teachers created the “AMP It Up Award” (AMP = Art, Music, Physical Education). Each week, the teachers announce award each classroom from every grade with the most participation to win the AMP It Up Award with winners featured in special weekly videos on YouTube (http://bit.ly/AMPitupaward).
Families report greatly enjoying the bonus curriculum as well as the competitions for the AMP It Up Award. “It’s all about introducing my kids to the different elements of each specialty and letting them have fun,” said Terra Pfeifer, a parent of two elementary students and counselor at Woodland High School. “Not all parents may think they have the time to take part in this curriculum, but I think everyone needs to give these courses a shot; we love doing them and I’m so thankful that Woodland continues to offer these specialties.”
Pfeifer called out the challenge of the physical education classes. “My kids will only take part in the classes if I do, too, but that means I’m positively exhausted because the physical educations are truly tiring,” she said. “Even though we’re only working on second grade lessons, Ms. Nesbitt doesn’t mess around when it comes to working out.”
“The art projects are fantastic and my kids love the music classes, too,” said Pfeifer. “The kids get to bang on anything they find in the house to music, although daddy’s not as big of a fan of banging on pots and pans to discover rhythm,” she joked.
Each of the three teachers developed the drive to ensure students enjoy specialty areas like art, music, and physical education differently. “I went to college not knowing, majored in education, and discovered my love for teaching when I put in student-teacher hours at the Boys & Girls Club,” said Nesbitt. “I loved teaching right from the start and the profession allowed me to incorporate my other passions – athletics and sports – into my career.” Nesbitt has been teaching at Woodland Public Schools for 27 years – the first and only school district where she’s worked.
For Thoming-Gale, his love of music led him to teaching. “I loved singing and playing piano at home when I was a kid, but it was my fantastic high school choir teacher who inspired me to be a teacher,” he said. “He was funny, nice, connected with all the students, and gave us a safe space to learn how to read music, sing together, and be creative.” Thoming-Gale majored in Music Education at the University of Oregon, a four-year program that combines music and education training for graduates to earn the teaching certificate to teach music to K-12 students.
Fraser found her career teaching elementary art by taking a different path. “I struggled with developmental learning challenges in early elementary school and was held back in first grade because I could read,” she remembered. “I always thrived in art classes; art was always my safe space.” Fraser earned her Master of Fine Art degree from Utah State University and moved to Woodland where she landed a job as an instructional assistant at the elementary school. “When the school couldn’t find an art teacher, I volunteered and completed a fast-track program to earn my teaching credentials from Pacific Lutheran University,” she said. “I love teaching art because I can reach kids who may not be exceptional at reading or math but excel in art and creative endeavors.”