Susan Riley | August 2014

3 Ways to Mash Up Your Teaching

Have you ever done a mash up that resulted in something extraordinary? Like mixing together two ice cream flavors into a surprisingly tasty combination, or combining two songs or art mediums together to create a whole new twist on a composition that you didn’t expect?  If not, I encourage you to take some time and experience what combining two or more individual items can do in your life.  Ask any child or student for their favorite mash-ups and they can provide you with a list a mile long.

Mash Up Your Teaching

Integration is just like a great mash-up.  You are combining two sets of standards that could stand alone and be explored separately and combining them in a way that is both unexpected and exciting.  This is one of the reasons that mash-ups are so popular: the surprise that you receive from the combination is a thrill that you want to experience again and again.  The same is true for arts integration: once you try it, the more you want to do it.

Of course, there’s nothing worse than a mash-up gone bad.  You know about those, too, I bet.  Mixing together all the flavors of ice cream or every single color on the pallet results in the same thing: a murky mess.  You need to be judicious in what you mash-up.  So many times I watch teachers who try to throw the entire kitchen sink at an integration lesson.

They tackle 5 content standards and 3 arts standards and wonder why the lesson didn’t turn out as they had hoped.  Or, they force two standards together and hope that students understand the connection.  If it’s not a natural fit, or if there’s too much being addressed in the lesson, students will only end up on the murky island of Lost and Confused.

How to Ensure a Successful Mash-Up

1. Look at all the possibilities.  Start with a specific standard (content or arts) and then think about all of the ways this could connect with another area.  Don’t leave any stone unturned!  Sometimes, what looks like it’s not a good fit may end up connecting in a way you didn’t expect.  Prepare to be surprised!

2. Practice the art of elimination.  Once you have all of the options on the table, be ruthless in your elimination process.  Sometimes, we jump to this step too soon and that doesn’t allow us to think outside of the box.  But if we skip this step, the mash-up turns into a mess.  So get the possibilities out there and then eliminate everything except the very core connection that you want to explore.  Choose ONE standard for alignment to your original standard selection.

3. Look for the melding points.  Whenever you listen to a mash-up like this one or see a mash-up as a piece of artwork, there are specific moments when they come together.  The entire piece isn’t blended together; rather the original piece maintain their individual integrity while coming together at key times within the piece.  The same is true for integrated lessons.

Each standard still maintains its individuality, but there are magical moments where they weave together and enable the students to really make the deep connections.  Look for these opportunities as you outline your lesson and make them shine.

The creation of a mash-up can be as meaningful as the result of the combination.  So while your students will blossom through these integrated lessons, you will grow and thrive just as much through the creative process of their design.  Enjoy the mash-process and savor its end result!

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan