Coronavirus, Education

Metro Atlanta Fine Arts, PE Teachers Look For New Ways To Keep Students Engaged Online

Jo Brekke, the art specialist at Lake Forest Elementary School in Fulton County, has taught her students to use things they find at home to make sculptures and other artwork.
Jo Brekke, the art specialist at Lake Forest Elementary School in Fulton County, has taught her students to use things they find at home to make sculptures and other artwork.
Credit Courtesy of Jo Brekke

As schools make the shift to online learning, most subjects transfer to the digital realm. Students can complete math, reading and writing assignments via computers.

Fine arts and physical education classes are a little trickier to deliver online.

However, several teachers are trying to find ways to keep kids engaged in the arts and PE.

Making Music

Gwinnett County middle school band directors collaborated recently to produce a performance of “Havana” by Camila Cabello. The idea came from Roland Ventura, the band director at Pinckneyville Middle School.

“I started watching the news, and I saw the people in Italy and how they were playing music on their balconies and communicating with each other that way. Then they would add on another musician on the balconies, and I thought that was just a fascinating story,” Ventura said. “So I started thinking, ‘How can we get our kids to do this virtually?’”

One of Jo Brekke's art students makes her own version of the Statue of Liberty.
One of Jo Brekke’s art students makes her own version of the Statue of Liberty. (Courtesy of Jo Brekke)

Another band director recommended an app where each student could record his or her part separately. Then the directors could put it all together like a performance. They posted a video of the performance on Facebook, which has been viewed more than 24,000 times.

Some Cobb County bands emulated the idea and posted a YouTube video of an ensemble performance of “Shimmering Joy.”

Gov. Brian Kemp recently announced Georgia schools will keep learning online until at least April 24, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ventura says during this period of digital instruction, he’s trying to find creative ways to keep his students engaged.

“It is definitely a challenge because [band is] such a group activity,” he said. “If you want to put it in sports terms: How do you play football online with all your players? It’s a hard thing to do.”

Adam Gresham is the band director at Richards Middle School, which participated in the “Havana” collaboration. He says even though teaching online isn’t the same as being in class, he’s been able to use the time to help individual students.

“I put some exercises and things online for them to keep playing and giving them some assignments,” Gresham said. “So when they do start to struggle with that, usually that’s when I see [them say], ‘Hey, can we have a Zoom meeting?  I’m really struggling with this scale’ or ‘I’m really struggling with this part of the music. I just need a little bit of help.’ So we’re able to do a little bit of one-on-one.”

He’s also been able to work with small groups of students.

“I’ve actually done a couple of small sectionals with just the trumpets or just the clarinets and four or five kids at a time,” he said. “It’s not quite the same because we can’t play as an ensemble with just the lag of internet. So you have to put them on mute and just listen to one kid at a time.”

Kitchen Table Art

Different teachers have faced different challenges.

Jo Brekke is the art specialist at Lake Forest Elementary School in the Fulton County School System.

“I think the most challenging thing for me was suddenly realizing, ‘Oh, I don’t have all my amazing art supplies,’” Brekke said. “’I don’t have all my paint, all my papers, all my clay, everything that I need.’”

“I think the most challenging thing for me was suddenly realizing, ‘Oh, I don't have all my amazing art supplies,’” teacher Jo Brekke said. “'I don't have all my paint, all my papers, all my clay, everything that I need.’” Brekke started to think differently. (Courtesy of Jo Brekke)
“I think the most challenging thing for me was suddenly realizing, ‘Oh, I don’t have all my amazing art supplies,’” teacher Jo Brekke said. “’I don’t have all my paint, all my papers, all my clay, everything that I need.’” Brekke started to think differently. (Courtesy of Jo Brekke)

Brekke started to think differently. Her younger students were studying sculpture. So, they researched some sculptors, and Brekke asked them to make their own sculpture with things they found around the house.

“I did a little demonstration with some toilet rolls and cardboard boxes and bits and pieces that I had around, and sure enough, that’s what the kids are doing,” Brekke said. “They’re even adding on to it by adding color. You find out you don’t need glue, you can just stack [the materials] up … or you can just cut slots … and slide things together to build a sculpture. You don’t have to have all the equipment and supplies that we have in the art room at school.”

Eugenia Mullis teaches art at Midvale Elementary School in DeKalb County. She posted a lesson on YouTube showing her students how to make origami. As she showed students how to fold paper to make what’s called a “fortune teller,” she also gave them other ideas.

“You can turn these into puppets, or you can play a game with these,” Mullis said.

PE teachers are getting in on the action, too.

Teachers at DeKalb’s Flat Rock Elementary School posted a video guiding students through different exercises, like jumping jacks and burpees.

The Benefits Of Change

Jo Brekke says teaching digitally has provided new opportunities for teachers like her who don’t have a homeroom class.

“This has given us an opportunity to connect with students in a completely different way,” she said. “We can message each other, we can send each other things, and it’s just a very different one-on-one connection that you might not have in a general classroom setting when you’ve got a room full of busy kids.”

kids artwork
Jo Brekke’s art students at Lake Forest Elementary School are able to send her pictures of the work they’re doing at home. (Courtesy of Jo Brekke)

Adam Gresham, the band director at Richards Middle School, said the switch to virtual learning has prompted teachers to collaborate more.

“The more collaboration that all of us do, whether it’s math, science, our band, orchestra, chorus, the more that we collaborate, and the more that we find these ideas and share them with each other, ultimately, the kids are going to benefit,” he said. “And at the end of the day, that’s the ultimate goal.”

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