Schulwerk and STEAM

Lesson: Integration of the Schulwerk & STEAM

STEAM education has great potential in being naturally integrated into the music curriculum (and vice versa), especially when implemented through the Orff Schulwerk approach. Through access, freedom of choice, and collaboration, students and teachers are able to learn and create together in an environment that is not just about teaching the standards, but about seeking knowledge and experience that is meaningful to each individual and the school community. These lesson ideas from my STEAM school are examples of how organic and authentic learning can be.


Inspiration: Our 6th grade math/science teacher heard the Appalachian folk song, “The Green Grass Grows All Around” on her toddler’s Spotify channel one day. She texted me and asked if I could collaborate with her on it. She wanted to teach her 6th graders about scale, which is the relative size or distance between two or more objects, and thought the accumulation concept of the song would be a great entry point.

Process: Adding movement and instrumental accompaniment, I decided to teach the song to all of the K-5 general music classes and my middle school ukulele and choir classes. When our weekly morning assembly came around, the teachers actually performed the song in front of the entire school and it became an effective group-building experience for both the staff and the students. The math/science teacher then referenced the song to teach a lesson about scale and also had her 6th graders rewrite the lyrics to demonstrate their understanding of outer space, the human body, the metric system, and so forth.


Inspiration: The few weeks in January leading up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I was desperate for ukulele material and happened upon “We Shall Overcome,” noticing the simplicity of the chord progression in C-major and the ideal range for children’s voices.

Process: In both my elementary and middle school classes, I taught the students the song and let them listen to an audio recording of MLK Jr’s lesser known speech of the same title. We discussed the verse-chorus form of the song (elementary and middle school), added hand gestures to the chorus (elementary), practiced the chord progressions (middle school), and also analyzed the lyrics of the music, the meaning of MLK’s words in his speech, and what his message meant to African-Americans and people of color. These music lessons were then aligned with those of the 8th grade social studies teacher, as she taught about the Civil Rights Movement to her classes and had her Leadership group create a banner that every student in the school signed pledging kindness and respect to all. The middle school art teacher collaborated as well by having her art class create a mural of MLK Jr and the middle school science teacher had her environmental studies class design a Maya Angelou quote resembling the periodic table. All of these activities culminated at our weekly morning assembly, where we presented the mural, pledge, and periodic table and the whole school singing, “We Shall Overcome” in honor of MLK Jr.


Inspiration: One Sunday morning, I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the abstract oil paintings of Etel Adnan, a local Bay Area artist, were on exhibition ( Another Sunday, I was flipping through a children’s poetry book and happened upon a short poem called “March” by Elizabeth Coatsworth about the onset of spring (Prelutsky & Lobel, 1983). From that, I arranged a pentatonic piece for 1st grade where I had the students play melody, drone, and improvise bird calls on the Orff instruments.


Process: With my PBL driving question, “What does spring sound, look, and feel like?” I texted the 1st grade teachers asking if they were interested in integrating art and science activities with the pentatonic piece, in which they enthusiastically replied yes. I then asked our middle school science teacher for advice on how to incorporate a field study of the spring season for 1st graders—she kindly helped me create a graphic organizer for students to go outside to observe, write, and draw the patterns of spring, which is an important scientific practice and a Next Generation Science Standard (also known as NGSS). The students came back to the music room to share their data—flowers, buds, warm, sun, baseball—and we organized their observations into syllables consisting of one- or two-sound rhythms. The 1st grade teachers then recruited a parent with a degree in visual arts education to help design and administer a lesson in tear art using construction paper to create spring landscapes in the style of Etel Adnan, focusing on the use of primary and secondary colors and their designation as warm or cool colors on the color wheel. After the 1st graders created their spring landscapes in their regular classroom, the teachers taught a poetry lesson resulting in the students using their newfound knowledge of rhythm syllables to each write a haiku to accompany their spring landscape. These activities then culminated in the students choosing their favorite spring landscapes, getting into small groups, and making each one come alive through dramatic skits involving the haikus, instruments, movement, and props. These skits were performed in rondo form with my pentatonic piece, “March” for their music sharing.



Inspiration: I emailed the classroom teachers asking if anyone had any upcoming themes or topics they were interested in collaborating on. The 5th grade teachers responded saying their students were going to Science Camp and would be learning about the solar system.

Process: In their regular classroom, the 5th graders learned about the characteristics of each of the inner and outer planets, while in music class they spoke/sang/played a piece called, “Planetary Orbits” composed by James Harding (Harding, 2014). This piece musically highlights the different rotational lengths of each of the outer planets around the sun while also experiencing the mathematical concept of proportional reasoning.


Inspiration: In 2nd grade, one of the teachers emailed me asking if there were any butterfly pieces or activities I could integrate in preparation for their upcoming field trip to see the monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges State Beach.

Process: I taught the 2nd graders a Peruvian melody arranged by Sofia Lopez-Ibor called “La Mariposa” (Lopez-Ibor, 2011), which we sang and played on the Orff instruments. As they learned about the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly in their regular classroom, in music class we explored movement vocabulary through adjectives they observed with the insects—light, soft, quiet, graceful, still, slow, quick—and improvised the opening of a chrysalis to St. Vincent’s “We Put a Pearl in the Ground” (Garson, 2007) and modified a simpler dance version of New England Dancing Masters’ “In Continental Mood” (NEDM, 2007).

For more on the integration of the Schulwerk and STEAM, we invited you to read Tiffany’s article recently published in Reverberations, Schulwerk and STEAM: A Most Natural Integration

If you are not an AOSA member, you can download a pdf of Tiffany’s article here.

Reference List

Garson, M. (2007). We Put a Pearl in the Ground [Recorded by St. Vincent]. On Marry Me [MP3 file]. London, United Kingdom: Beggars Banquet.

Harding, J. (2014). From Wibbleton to Wobbleton: Adventures with the Elements of Music and Movement. The Pentatonic Press.

Lopez-Ibor, S. (2011). Blue is the Sea: Music, Dance, and Visual Arts. The Pentatonic Press.

New England Dancing Masters (2007). In Continental Mood. On Sashay the Donut [Compact Disc]. Brattleboro, Vermont: NEDM.

Prelutsky, J. and Lobel, A. (1983). The Random House Book of Poetry for Children.

Tiffany Barry

Tiffany Barry is in her fourteenth year of teaching music at Cambrian School District in San Jose, CA. She is currently assigned to their newest site, Steindorf K-8 STEAM School, where she teaches general music, choir, orchestra, and ukulele. Tiffany is also the director of the Orff Levels Course at San Jose State University, as well as a graduate advisor in their Summer Masters in Music Education Program.

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