Transcript – Episode 108

Narrator: This podcast is a project of the Mass Cultural Council. We believe in the power of culture – the arts, humanities, and sciences – to enrich communities, advance equity, and foster creativity.

<clip plays> “With the involvement of the arts, now you’re talking about letting them explore those same concepts in highly-contrasting context, which is how we support transfer of learning.”

Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker, Executive Director at the Mass Cultural Council, and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Terry Wolkowicz. She is Education Director for the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra. And welcome to our program.

Terry Wolkowicz: Thank you so much for having me.

Anita Walker: You know what? You and I have not talked, and I am so eager to hear what you are doing in the education program at the New Bedford Symphony, in particular, your Learning in Concert Program. So, first, talk about what you do.

Terry Wolkowicz: Well, I’ve been the Education Director at New Bedford Symphony for the past 10 years. Woohoo. And Learning in Concert really developed over time. It was more of a process of starting with the education program that the orchestra currently had 10 years ago and each year evolving it and learning each year about how we can have the most impact with the children in our community. Through that process, I think it was about five years ago where we really settled into this nice place where the program seemed to have– came into formation and I had to make up a name. So–


Anita Walker: Learning in Concert.

Terry Wolkowicz: –Learning in Concert. And the term “in concert” has two meanings, right? So “in concert,” the program culminates with a concert with the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra. But also the term “in concert” means connected, learning by making connections. So it kind of has a double meaning, which really explains what we do.

Anita Walker: So it’s more than a young people’s concert. It’s more than young people who assemble in the hall and the conductor says, “Now we’re going to hear this and listen for this and listen for this, and this is the names of the instruments and hear that, and now, here, we have a concert.” I mean that would be sort of the stereotypical idea of what a symphony orchestra education program is.

Terry Wolkowicz: Really what we did is we just took traditional education outreach programming that most orchestras have: an in-school assembly with a small number of musicians, maybe some classroom visits, and then a young people’s concert. The only thing we did differently is we connected the curriculum across these encounters, really increasing the impact. So the young people’s concert, instead of just being a one and done, is our capstone. That’s where the children come to celebrate the work that they’ve done in the Learning in Concert Program throughout the year.

Anita Walker: So take us through the curriculum from the very first encounter with the– what age group are we working with?

Terry Wolkowicz: Second grade all the way up depending on the year through eighth grade. But I have to say, when I’m writing the curriculum, I’m thinking third and fourth grade in my head.

Anita Walker: All right. So you start out–

Terry Wolkowicz: First phase is the in-school assembly. I bring a trio of musicians with me, and we launch the concept of study. Then I return and visit each individual classroom, and that’s kind of the doing of the program. Children will work with the concept. There will be–

Anita Walker: Such as? What’s a concept?

Terry Wolkowicz: So last year my thought was to connect three compositional techniques used by Beethoven that also serve as models to reduce plastic pollution.

Anita Walker: Now, that was a surprising connection.


Terry Wolkowicz: That was a little off, right?

Anita Walker: Beethoven didn’t even have plastic. Do you know this? <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: He didn’t, but you know what? He would’ve never used– I can tell you for sure, he would’ve never used single-use plastic products, because Beethoven was one of the most resourceful composers I can think of. He could take just a few notes, and he would never just play those few notes once and toss them away in the trash. He would take those few notes and he could–

Anita Walker: Recycle them. <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: –he could create an entire symphony out of a small amount of source musical material. So Beethoven would never have thrown away a musical idea after one single use, and that thought, to me, realized that we can learn these models about how to be more responsible with our use and disposal of plastic products by following his lead in how he handled the creative use of musical material. So in music, we don’t use the words “reuse, repurpose, recycle.” We use different terms. However, those words speak to connecting to kids where they are. So, yes, we explored how Beethoven reuses a musical idea, repurposes it, modifies it, and even will take a small amount of it and completely rework it into a brand new product, almost not recognizable in the music, but if you look closely, you’ll realize that the raw material for that new product was recycled from his original idea.

Anita Walker: So what will the children be doing in the class?

Terry Wolkowicz: So this was from last year. So first we went in, we launched the program with our in-school assembly, and then I went back in, and the first thing that we did is that we used LEGO blocks to explore one of Beethoven’s most famous musical ideas, the four-note famous–

Anita Walker: <sings> <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: –from his first symphony. And we used LEGO blocks to represent that because we don’t want any barriers between us that, “You don’t read music,” or, “You don’t speak English.” I mean it’s really about we’re moving barriers between the concept and how the students are going to experience that. So three short little LEGO blocks, and then the last one is a little longer and moves a little lower. So then they took that musical idea and they made the variants themselves. They showed how to reuse that idea through LEGO blocks. They repurposed it by playing it backwards, flipping it upside down, which in music we call that inverting. They added additional parts. They even expanded and compressed the musical space. And then after that, we coded–

Anita Walker: They became composers.

Terry Wolkowicz: Oh, absolutely. Then we coded those variants into the computer, and using a Makey Makey, all we had to do was touch the alligator clips linked to these beautiful lightbulbs to show Beethoven’s idea.

Anita Walker: What’s a Makey Makey?


Terry Wolkowicz: A Makey Makey is essentially– it’s a way that you can create an external keyboard for your computer. So instead of typing on your laptop, you could type on anything that conducts electricity, so a bunch of bananas, or you could touch Play-Doh, or you can hook them– gummy worms are great, but you eat them and then you don’t have–

Anita Walker: Then you can’t make anything. <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: –anything to type on your computer. It’s just a system allowing our students access to playback. They can compose, but the facilitating playback if they don’t play an instrument, the Makey Makey technology allows them to touch sensors and hear the music that they’ve composed. We did this a few years ago when we explored gravity and space and sound, and they learned how chord cycles in classical music could imitate the gravitation pull and orbital rates of planets in our solar system. So in the classroom, they created these little Play-Doh planets, we coded the chord cycles into the computer, and they were able to play their planet’s chord cycle simply by touching the Play-Doh planets.

Anita Walker: Oh.

Terry Wolkowicz: So it’s a way for them to create music and hear it played back. So in Beethoven, we had the sensors, they perform their music, and then we thought about some of the techniques we used, and then we brainstormed ways that we could do those same techniques with the way that we use and dispose of plastic products. They had to make that connection. So maybe if they had taken a musical idea and inverted it, flipped it upside down, they thought, well, we could do that same technique by taking a used plastic soda bottle, the two-liter bottle. If I cut off the top and I flip it upside down, I convert it into a planter that I could reuse and repurpose. So they try to connect their musical concepts to this science component. And then we finished up our classroom lesson. I brought in microplastic samples. They looked closely at the microplastic samples to classify them and try to make a guess what item did this break off of to really understand how plastic never goes away. It just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. When they came to the concert, we played Beethoven, right?


Terry Wolkowicz: I mean you knew we were going to do that. But there’s a huge screen that we put above our orchestra at the concerts, and the concert is really about featuring them. So throughout the concert, we heard students on video, on those big screens talking about the compositions they created, the techniques they used, and how they could carry that over to plastic repurposing, recycling, and reuse, and then we played– the orchestra plays some of the school’s, be like Beethoven variants, so they actually got to hear their music performed by our orchestra. So a typical schoolyear, there’s these three encounters trying to create this connection, not just with our organization to the children, but this idea that to understand things in music and art and our world requires a bit of connectivity, right? As adults, we’re very modular, right? We think in subject areas. But children do not learn that way. So the whole concept of Learning in Concert is about a specific form of arts integration called concept-based arts integration. Now, we know a lot about arts integration, right? It’s out there, lots of people doing it. But there’s a lot of examples of poor <laughs> arts integration.

Anita Walker: <laughs> Speak to that. What is an example? We always say great examples on the podcast–

Terry Wolkowicz: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Anita Walker: –but let’s hear some bad examples.

Terry Wolkowicz: Well, I would think that one in music would be singing songs about. So teacher runs up to you in the school and says, “Oh, we’re doing a unit on the dinosaurs. Can you sing some songs about the dinosaurs?” And, you know, that’s great for the science teacher because she’s finding a fun element to help with memorization of facts. But, in truth, music is being used to serve the learning in the science area while not achieving any authentic outcomes of its own. So another example I think in visual arts is, let’s make a poster of the water cycle, right? Students display all of their information they’ve learned in science class on these beautiful posters, and the real test of whether it’s a good arts integration is when the teacher goes to assess those posters, are they assessed only for the science content or are they assessed for visual elements like value and line and contour? I mean that’s where it seems that there’s a little bit of a, you know–

Anita Walker: Disconnect.

Terry Wolkowicz: –uneven playing field here. So we’ve had a long history of the arts being used to serve the learning in other academic subject areas with music and art teachers feeling a little bit devalued, that, “My role is to help learning in other academics while my own learning objectives do not seem as important.”

Anita Walker: And what you’re saying is that it is possible to achieve both.

Terry Wolkowicz: It really is. If we move away from topics– most people– schools love topics. You know, you move class to class and you study specific topics. If we rise above that one more level to concept, here’s where we find the opportunity for authentic connection across disciplines. So a concept is something that is shared between different subject areas but that it’s represented in those subject areas equally, authentically with no one area serving in the learning another. And it forms a two-way street, right? So the learning in one subject area strengthens and supports learning in another and vice-versa.

Anita Walker: And it would seem to me, based on what you’re saying, that it also serves children well, because not every child takes in information in exactly the same way. And some may instantly grasp the recycling of plastic concept–

Terry Wolkowicz: When they hear it.

Anita Walker: –when they hear it. We know children connect with music–

Terry Wolkowicz: Absolutely.

Anita Walker: –very easily, so it’s also a service to children.

Terry Wolkowicz: It really is. I mean there’s a lot of research that’s been done on multiple representations and use of multiple representations to build deep understandings. And multiple representations, I mean you just spoke to it, most of the time in school we receive information through the written or spoken word, and that might not be the preferred pathway for some students. And for some who are not native English speakers, that is definitely–

Anita Walker: Doesn’t work at all.

Terry Wolkowicz: –not the right pathway. So multiple representations means you look at that shared concept and you think, how many different ways can I represent it? How many different ways visually, through sound? Is there a way for them to construct it? It’s all about removing those barriers between the concept, the understanding, and to access that child. So when I’m developing this, I’m thinking to myself, how many different ways can I show this? This year we’re exploring quadruped gaits and track patterns and hearing how those quadruped gaits, the rhythm of their limbs create rhythms that are saturated in classical music.

Anita Walker: All right. You’re going to have to slow down here–

Terry Wolkowicz: <laughs>

Anita Walker: –because you lost me at quadruped gaits. <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: Quadruped is any animal that moves on four legs or limbs, and when their limbs strike the ground, it creates a rhythm. And if you listen to the ways that quadrupeds move, whether it’s a walk or a trot or a cantor or a gallop, it’s a different rhythmic figure, the sound of their limbs hitting the ground. And I realized that those rhythms are everywhere in classical music, everywhere. So, for me, when we had an assembly with the students where we perform music that shares the same limb rhythmic activity as the quadrupeds in classical music, so I use a PowerPoint. I use the screen to help pull their attention to certain aspects of the music. So on one PowerPoint screen I might show the quadruped fast-walking gait. They’re hearing it through the musicians. They would see it moving in time with tracks, the animal tracks moving across the screen. And then I’ll take those tracks and add numericals, so one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four. Then I show it in musical notation, and then I add numerical musical notation, and then they see the animal moving exactly like that. So that’s the idea of multiple representations. Within that one screen during that piece of music, how many ways am I representing that concept?

Anita Walker: I’m just thinking of <sings>. <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: William Tell, right?

Anita Walker: Yeah. <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: You know what? I thought that was a gallop. It’s not a gallop.

Anita Walker: It isn’t? <laughs?

Terry Wolkowicz: All these years we thought that that was a gallop. That’s not a– unless you own a three-legged horse, that’s not a gallop.

Anita Walker: What is it?

Terry Wolkowicz: It’s called a full bound.

Anita Walker: Oh.

Terry Wolkowicz: So rabbits do this, where they have their front limbs strike separately and then their rear feet hit together, and there’s a moment where all their limbs come up in the air, and that rhythm is <sings>.

Anita Walker: Oh, it’s a rabbit.

Terry Wolkowicz: It’s no horse. It’s no horse.

Anita Walker: “William Tells Overture” is a rabbit.

Terry Wolkowicz: Yeah, yeah. We need to fix that.

Anita Walker: <laughs>

Terry Wolkowicz: We need to go and rewrite “William Tell Overture” to add the extra notes so we have– you know, it’s quadruped, four legs, right–

Anita Walker: Yeah, yeah.

Terry Wolkowicz: –so that it represents that gallop.

Anita Walker: See this discovery we made just by having this conversation? I bet you get a lot of aha moments in the classroom.

Terry Wolkowicz: Really do. And teachers, it’s been very impactful for our educators. By the way, I don’t go into the music teachers’ classrooms when I come back.

Anita Walker: I was going to say, whose class are you in?

Terry Wolkowicz: I go to the classroom teachers’ classroom, and that is absolutely by design. Music teachers, they understand what I’m doing. They obviously have my back, right?

Anita Walker: Uh-huh.

Terry Wolkowicz: But classroom teachers often, when they send their kids to music or art class, they have this idea that, oh, okay, they’re getting a break. Getting their recess. Let them have their downtime. And it’s kind of seen that way. So by bringing this type of concept-based arts integration into their classroom, I’m modeling for them that music and art is vital to understanding the same concepts you’re trying to teach your students. And for them, it is an aha moment, because they’re like, “Oh, I never knew that music did that.” “Oh, by the way, we’re teaching, I’m teaching the orbital rates of planets right now. I didn’t know they could hear that.” And, for me, that has been one of the most impactful outcomes of this program, is that classroom teachers look at the arts to understand that they are so important. The biggest compliment I get is that if the kids had not explored the concept through music, their understanding would’ve been incomplete.

Anita Walker: Perfect. And one other observation that I make as you describe all this, the arts, whether it’s visual arts or music or dance, requires actually doing and participation and making by the student as opposed to listening and learning and remembering, which is another way of learning, but arts brings a doing component for the tactile learners and the auditory learners. And just the mere fact of a making of a thing sticks to you better.

Terry Wolkowicz: It’s true. And in education, we call this transfer of learning, so the idea that you learn something in one instance and then later on you can use that information again. This is the whole freak-out moment for all schools with the testing, right? So they’re like, “Okay, they’re working on this math concept, and I’m just–” the teachers get so worried. “Oh, my goodness. How’s it going to be on the test? Is it going to be like– well, maybe we should just practice these workbook problems more.” Transfer of learning requires that you explore something, explore a concept in as many different ways as possible, highly-contrasting context. So, “If I just keep them going on the workbook hour after hour, oh, they’re going to get better grades. I’m just going to add an hour,” right?

Anita Walker: Uh-huh.

Terry Wolkowicz: They’re going to find on the test the understanding does not improve because they can’t carry that understanding over to the test, because they’re not sure how they’re going to present the information. With the involvement of the arts, now you’re talking about letting them explore those same concepts in a highly-contrasting context, which is how we support transfer of learning. So it’s almost interesting to us that the cure, right, the cure– “We’ve got to have better test grades.” The cure is in the involvement of the arts to facilitate transfer of learning. Just doing more of it within that math class is not the answer. It’s not going to solve the problem.

Anita Walker: I have to tell you, Terry, that I’ve been an advocate for arts education for a long time, but you have made me understand <laughs> what arts integration is in a way that I have never understood before, which tells me that you’re a great teacher. And even though we didn’t explore musical concepts specifically to this, we certainly did at the same time. I mean I think it was the music concepts that you embedded in the learning descriptions.

Terry Wolkowicz: Yeah.

Anita Walker: I didn’t get to play with LEGOs and I didn’t get to work on a PowerPoint.

Terry Wolkowicz: You need to play with LEGOs.

Anita Walker: I totally need to do that. <laughs> Terry Wolkowicz, Education Director for New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, another one of our Creative Minds Out Loud.

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