March 7, 2018

Smooth Sounds of the Jazz Café

André playing at the 3rd grade Jazz Café
Friends 3rd grade class hummed on Tuesday of this week with the smooth sounds of the Jazz Café.

Students, and their teachers Krysten and Anna, came dressed for the part as they celebrated their integrated unit of study on the Harlem Renaissance, which focused heavily on the history, art, music and poetry of the period.

Mandy and I took our place at the café tables alongside parents, siblings and grandparents, where we selected from a menu of fine breakfast options, served by waiters dressed in sharp ties and vests or 1920s dresses and headbands.

We were treated to a beautiful rendition of Ella Fitzgerald’s “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, sung by the whole class, followed by individual poetry readings, inspired by the works of Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance poets.

Teacher candidate Anna Ura was the inspiration behind this uncommon, yet fabulous, course of study, which she was teaching as a requirement of graduation from Friends Teacher Preparation Program (TPP).

A lifelong artist, Anna has been teaching art to kids over the course of many years and she loves sharing her passion for creativity. With a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she has been a practicing artist for over 20 years.

As she was contemplating which integrated curriculum to bring to her 3rd graders, Anna knew that she wanted to combine her artistic background with elements that brought community and diversity to her class.

Anna shared with the audience of the Jazz Café that “The Harlem Renaissance was a period during the 1920s when African-American achievements in art, literature and music flourished. A period of great diversity and experimentation. The Great Migration saw the movement of thousands of African Americans from the farmlands in the south to the cities in the north in order to find new opportunities and build better lives. Many made their way to the New York city neighborhood of Harlem in Manhattan, New York City which became the home of the movement.

Anna & Krysten
 The Harlem Renaissance coincided with the Jazz Age, a time of innovative ideas and modernism with rapid cultural and social changes. Harlem became a cultural center buzzing with new ideas and attracting African American scholars, writers, poets, artists, actors, musicians and singers. The Cotton Club was the most famous Harlem night spot where musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington played Dixie, the blues and developed the improvisational style of music called Jazz.”

A thematic unit, as defined by our TPP, is a curriculum unit that integrates learning in several content areas and developmental domains centered around a single or primary theme. Anna incorporated not only music and history, but language arts, science (of sound waves), art, quilting, mathematics, social studies and story telling.

Great teachers know that teaching through thematic units increases student engagement. In addition, the integration between content areas allows students to more easily make connections in their learning. When planned well, students are given opportunities to draw on real-world and life experiences.

An integrated unit for our TPP requires a minimum of ten lessons that meet or exceed Colorado Academic standards and our school standards.  An essential piece of the unit is that the TC write a reflection on the learning process.
As incoming head of school Honor Taft wisely wrote in a letter to our community this week: “the best educators…. never stop reflecting on their work, they continuously seek out ways to improve their craft and they will find tremendous power in cultivating deep professional connections with their colleagues.”

That is what Anna created for our 3rd graders. But she is not alone.  Our teacher candidates in each of our elementary classrooms are currently hard at work at different stages of their thematic units and they’re all wonderful.

Leah Heasly in Kindergarten is studying Ancient Egypt. Katie Regan in 1st grade is inspiring her students with The Ocean. Enrique Zuppas, 2nd grade, is on a similar theme, focusing on Coral Reefs. Callie Friedman’s 4th graders are learning all about Energy – and it was a treat for me to bring her students up on the roof of our elementary building to learn about our school’s impressive solar panel array. And finally, Pepper Dee in 5th grade is teaching his students about the American Revolution (see our Facebook page for pictures of me, as King George III taxing his students, quite unfairly!)

Thank you to Anna, Krysten and the 3rd grade class for inviting us in to your Jazz Café and inspiring us with your music and poetry. 

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