Culture and the Arts: Finding the Common Thread

4 Min Read  •  Arts Integration

Passion. Connected.

This slogan was used throughout the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. It is said to symbolize the Korean people and their passion for winter sports. I am a huge Olympics fan and look forward to it every two years when it makes its way around the world. I find it brings out the best in the nations and allows us, as educators, to open doors to inspiration and unique cultures around the globe. With all the negative air surrounding Korea, I knew I had to bring a positive light into their history and culture with my students.

When I start planning any Arts Integrated unit the first thing I look for is the thread (access point) to tie the content with the arts. I really view this as “weaving my tapestry of learning”. Sometimes I build from the art and then move to the content, but other times, I have the standards in my head and research different arts that will build up that objective. I really wanted the South Korean culture to shine, so in this case, I started with the art.

Flashing Lights

The light bulb initially went off after watching a clip from Ellen about the K-Pop group BTS. I loved the air and the energy these guys brought to her show. (Fun fact: they learned English by watching “Friends”… need I say more?!) This was the direction I wanted my lesson to go. I am a novice K-Pop enthusiast, so I began to research and listen to a variety of K-Pop groups. Throughout my research I never could find my “thread”. I reached out to professional communities and colleagues to try to make it work with my standards. Eventually, I shelved the idea hoping it would come to me later.

By George, I Think I’ve Got It

Sometimes our units take us in a completely different direction than we first imagined. I wouldn’t give up on South Korea! There was a great integrated lesson there, and I had to find it. I started researching South Korean art again. If you have a hunch, keep on hunting! Don’t be scared.

“By George, I think I’ve got it,” is the exact message sent to a fellow colleague of mine. Through my research, I discovered Buchaechum, which is a gorgeous, expressive form of Korean dance that uses fans to symbolize different objects. This. Is. It. As I watched YouTube videos of the dance, I could see the storytelling involved in it. THAT’S THE THREAD!

A Marriage Between Arts

To be successful, you’ve got to know your students. Buchaechum is traditionally performed by female dancers. I knew that my fifth grade boys would roll their eyes the minute I put this “girly stuff” in front of them. I had to find a way to motivate my boys so that they would in this unit. So, my research continued. The Korean drum was the answer. My boys tend to drum on everything: walls… desks… books… each other… you name it, they drum on it. Drums are a huge part of Korean music, folk art, and culture. I knew my boys would eat this up. I took my creative license and decided to marry the two art forms.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Since my students were new to Arts Integrated lessons, I really broke down the process for them. We took several class periods to complete this unit.

First, as an intro, I did a mini – lesson on using color. The focus was to show them that colors can symbolize emotion. I also discussed warm/cool colors and how to use colors.

After that, we discussed theme and how images can symbolize theme. I had printed Korean symbols for common themes at each of my tables. I was pleasantly surprised to find many of my students drew inspiration from the South Korean flag, using the blue, red, black, and white color scheme to createtheir own fans.

Next, I split my class in half for the performance aspect of our unit. Within the two groups, I let the students decide who would drum the beat and who would perform with the fan. Not surprising, I had several of my girls decide they would rather drum, which fits with the Korean culture (Samgo-Mu is a Korean drum dance)! The students worked together to come up with a drum sequence. I discussed the power of music to show mood and tone by giving examples and showing clips of movie moments and how music impacted the particular scene.  After the sequence was decided, the dancers decided how they would move and blend their fans to represent a common theme.  

Finally, we had our performances. During the performances, the audience members had to write down their interpretation of the dance and drum sequence.

Going for the Gold

My students were completely immersed in Korean culture throughout the unit. Not only did we bring in Korean art and music, we also brought in Korean food. My students cooked and ate kimchi, as well as had Binbin crackers. Through this immersion, they further connected to the unit and the skills I was teaching. They became invested in their learning. Don’t be scared to pull out all the tricks to get your students to be captured in your units.  I give my students a gold medal in their engagement and learning. I have no doubt that my students gained valuable knowledge during this unit and gained memories that will last them a lifetime.