Bulb Archived: Boone ATLAS 2015-2018: Spears (Year 2, 2016-2017)

School Name:  Daniel Boone Elementary School

Teacher Name:  Gina Spears


Below are questions that will help you to complete your Project ATLAS Digital Portfolios.

Directions: Please answer the questions based on a project completed during the 2016-2017 school year.

For each question, please include your written reflections. You are also encouraged to provide other multimedia to deepen your written reflections and exemplify your analysis. Multimedia can include images, sound files, and video clips.

Please annotate your multimedia, describing why you have chosen these particular artifacts, what you are interested in your audience knowing about them, and why they are important to share.

Section I: Arts Integration – Documentation.

Please upload documentation from your project. Please include a variety of media forms for your documentation.

1. Documentation should not only provide a narrative, or story, of your project, but should also provide evidence of students’ engagement in the unit inquiry.

Field trip to Common Time exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art:  Students explored the works of Merce Cunningham first-hand, seeing the dance, art and music up close.  They learned that these three art forms were developed separately and brought together for the purpose of the performance, sharing a Common Time.  These pictures show the students exploring in the museum.

Exploring movements connected to museum artifacts.
Students moving amongst the “pillows” from Cunningham’s Rainforest.
Students had handouts to guide their inquiry process and to take them to all areas of the exhibit.

Question Formulation Technique:  Students developed their own lines of inquiry through question formulation technique.  Students considered a quote by Merce Cunningham, “What is the point of doing that which you already know?”  This began the inquiry process and students developed their own questions about Merce Cunningham as well as the upcoming unit of study.

Questions about Merce Cunningham.
Questions about the unit.
Student questions are recorded on the board.
We filled the board with our questions!

Stations:  Students learned about Cunningham through visiting various stations.  Each station incorporated the element of chance, which was one of Cunningham’s signatures.  Rather than explore the stations in order and with the same group of peers, each student was given a pair of dice to roll.  The dice determined which station a student would explore next.  This meant that at one point during class you may be working alone and at another time there might be eight people at the station with you.  Each station had dice or a spinner to determine which activity at the station should be completed.  Some stations had pictures of Cunningham’s works, which were to be close read.  Some had pictures of costumes.  Many stations had iPads to record student exploration and data.

Station example.
Various tasks could be done at each station.
One of the tasks instructs students to recreate a pose from the picture in their station and record it.
Recreating a body shape from one of the pictures.  Photo taken by student.
Photo taken by student!

2wice and Merce65 Apps:  Students used these apps to research about Merce Cunningham.  Some of the research was guided by the teacher or a handout.  Some of the research was guided by student inquiry.

 Students researching using 2wice app on iPads.
Students researching using Merce65 app on iPads.

Creative Process / Choreography Development:  We used chance operations for our choreographic process and to give some structure to the student choreography. Students again explored different stations. At each station was a ziploc bag containing dance element cards. Also at the station was a spinner, dice or cube. At each station, students pulled a random dance element card from the bag. They wrote its information in their journals. For example, Element-Time, Sub-Element-Tempo. Then they used the spinner or dice and wrote the number in their journals. This gave the dance some structure but it also gave students a lot of choice and voice in their choreography. For example, if a student received a card that had the element of levels on it, and rolled the number seven, they had the choice of doing seven level changes in their dance, or to change levels and take seven counts to do so. They also had the choice as to what levels (high, middle or low) they wanted to do. All of the dances were individual to the student’s own style and aesthetics, which was beautiful to watch.   Students showed their solos to the class three times during the unit, receiving feedback each time.  A peer recorded the solo on the iPad, so that the student could view one’s own solo and revise it.

Student logging information from dance elements card during choreography stations.
Each student pulls a card from the bag.  This creates variety in the solos because no two students will have the same cards in the same order.

Performance:   Each homeroom performed their solos for an audience of their peers and family.  Each class chose how they wanted to present their works and how they would be demonstrating their understanding of Merce Cunningham through the performance.  Every performance was different and interesting to watch.  The element of chance was again used in the performances.  Each class made a selection of music for their show but did not know which song would be played on that actual day — we would roll the dice, then play song three on their list, for example.  Each class chose which basic black dancewear they wanted for their solos, but I added a costume item as a surprise on the day of the show, much like Cunningham would do.  I made sure the costume surprise would be different for each class, so the audience never knew what to expect.

This class asked the music students to compose music for their show.  Video recorded by a student.
A video clip from one of our rehearsals. After rehearsal, students were able to watch this video and see what their solos looked like. They also received feedback from their peers. Video recorded by a student.
This classroom used music from Cunningham’s dances and projected artwork from Cunningham’s dances onto the stage.  They also worked in three groups instead of doing their solos as a whole class.  One group even used props.  Video recorded by a student in the audience.

2. Through your documentation, please provide student artifacts that depict the range of work completed. For example, what were the various ways in which students responded to various aspects of the project?

The element of chance was incorporated into every lesson in this unit of study, preparing them for their math unit on probability.  At first the students were resistant to this idea, because they couldn’t predict what would happen next and they preferred routine to chance.  Throughout the unit, their responses changed and they came to expect that there would be a “surprise” or a “twist” in every activity, even on the day of their show.

The second and third homeroom had the advantage of seeing a group of peers perform Merce Cunningham.  This gave them some prior knowledge as they entered the unit.  We began their units by having them respond to the performance, then did the QFT.  Each class wanted to make their performance “original” and this drove the development of choreography and the direction of their performance.  Below are some writing samples from the first day of the unit with my third homeroom.  I was absent this day and they responded to the Cunningham performances, thought about the QFT quote, and watched a video of Cunningham using technology to create dance.  The student responses are very interesting, especially what they already knew about Cunningham from having watched two groups of peers perform.

This is the writing assignment.  Below are the student samples.
Student sample.
Another student sample.

Students loved the trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art.  The packets I created helped them understand what they were viewing and encouraged them to think like young choreographers while exploring the exhibit.  They loved responding to the art, the videos, the costumes, and the dances through their own body shapes.  They also appreciated having a packet of information to help guide them, rather than having to read every single sign throughout the exhibit.  One student said, “At first I was angry at you for giving us work to do on our field trip.  But when the trip was over, I felt satisfied and I knew a lot about Merce.”    Below are examples of student work for each page of the packet.  Each picture is a different student’s work.

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5

I am most proud of the transformation in the students from being students to becoming artists.  One of my colleagues, while watching the students rehearse, said to me, “These students are making amazing work.  They have truly become artists.  They see the auditorium space, their bodies, the music, and the dance in a whole new light.”  It is hard to believe these are ten year-olds.  Once they were open to the process and began thinking outside the box, they were able to take complete ownership of their work and the final product.  Their reflections following the unit demonstrated their transformation.

The documentation provided here shows student work at various points in the unit of study.  

Exploring Merce Cunningham through stations.
Exploring Merce Cunningham through stations.
Students working in pairs, using the 2wice app on the iPads.
Students working in pairs, using the 2wice app on the iPads.
On the back of the page they could explore the section of their choice, and answer the questions on the sheet.  Most students looked through all parts of the app before selecting which one they would like to write about.

Throughout the rehearsal process, students shared their dances with one another.  Each time, we used the element of chance to determine who would be performing, the order of the solos, and what music would be played.  This was fun for the students because no two rehearsals would be the same.  As an audience member they were to watch for interesting connections between the solos and pay a compliment to a peer who had an especially interesting movement.  Students responded to one another’s dances in various ways.  When something interesting happened that connected the two solos, the students called it an “accident” because these things were not planned ahead of time.  We also took video of these practice performances so students could see the “accidents” and view their solos for future revisions.  This is an example of student notes during one of these rehearsals.


After two practice performances, the students helped me develop the rubric by which they would be graded.  Students gave me the criteria by which they should be evaluated on their choreography as well as their performance.  I developed the rubric from this criteria and used it to score their performance.  We also used it as a self-assessment tool and to guide our post-performance discussion.


Following each performance, students reflected on their performance through a written reflection sheet.  I also asked students questions to see if I was able to succeed in teaching my enduring understandings for the unit.  The reflections were very interesting!  After each performance, I read the student reflections and considered their viewpoints when teaching the unit the next time.  Below are examples of student reflections and the assessment.


Section I: Arts Integration – Inquiry

3. What is your Inquiry Question for your ATLAS curriculum unit? What big ideas does this inquiry question address, and why do you think the question successfully addresses these?

  • How do choreographers create dances?
  • Where do choreographers get their ideas?
  • How can various art forms – such as dance, media arts, music and visual art – work together to create a performance? 

4. How did student research help them to engage more deeply with the unit inquiry question? Explain how your students conducted research for their ATLAS project, and how that research opened up avenues for further inquiry.

The students participated in research in the form of exploring the works of Merce Cunningham:  

1)  They attended a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Common Time exhibit, which was focused on the works of Merce Cunningham.  While at the museum, the students completed a packet that guided them through the exhibit and encouraged them to think deeply about what they were viewing.  

2)  In class they participated in a QFT, or Question Formulation Technique, in which they developed questions in response to a quote by Cunningham:  “What is the point of doing that which you already know?”  This QFT guided our unit of study.  

3)  In one of our lessons, students explored the content through stations, where each station introduced students to quotes, pictures, costumes, videos, etc. of Cunningham’s work.   We used the element of chance to determine what tasks would be performed at each station, as well as to determine which station should be visited next.

4)  There were also two apps for the iPad:  2wice and Merce65, that we used for research purposes.  Through these activities, the students were able to learn about Cunningham’s work in order to prepare them for developing choreography and producing their own performance.

5. Describe how the unit inquiry opens up avenues for interdisciplinary connections between the arts and academic content. How did arts processes and/or research practices facilitate students’ understanding of the academic topics addressed in the inquiry question?

Common Time explored the ways that Cunningham collaborated with other artists, as well as with technology.  Students were immersed in the idea that music, dance, visual art and technology could work together or in isolation to produce a work of art.  This was a new concept for the students, but they really embraced it.  Because we explored the content in unique ways, the students were able to think outside of their usual ways of making and performing dance, and were open to thinking of ways dance could connect to various content areas.  Cunningham used chance operations in his technique classes as well as choreography, which naturally connects to the concept of probability in math.  This is a seventh grade concept which I was introducing students to in fifth grade.  They loved the idea that there would be an element of surprise in each daily dance lesson and even in their performance.

6. How did the curriculum evolve based on the unit inquiry process?

I taught this unit three times because each fifth grade homeroom learned about Cunningham.  Due to scheduling, each class attended the museum field trip at a different point in their unit, so the inquiry process while exploring the museum varied from class to class.  Each class attended the other homeroom’s dance performance, so the second class and third class came to dance with some prior knowledge about Cunningham and therefore different curiosities about what they would be doing and how their performance might be similar or different than the one they just viewed.  It was really fun to teach this way because each class wanted to “out-dance” the other and each class came with their own way of thinking outside the box.  Although my lessons were the same from homeroom to homeroom, their varied experiences made the unit feel fresh and exciting every time.

Section I: Arts Integration – Create Works

7. How did students self-direct while creating their artistic work during the ATLAS project? Please provide any examples for the ways in which students made their own aesthetic choices and direction for creating their artwork. Examples might include but are not limited to: how did students make choices about the use of materials, how did they decide what they wanted to communicate, how did they make decisions about how to present work?

We used chance operations for our choreographic process and to give some structure to the student choreography.  Students again explored different stations.  At each station was a ziploc bag containing dance element cards.  Also at the station was a spinner, dice or cube.  At each station, students pulled a random dance element card from the bag.  They wrote its information in their journals.  For example, Element-Time, Sub-Element-Tempo.  Then they used the spinner or dice and wrote the number in their journals.  This gave the dance some structure but it also gave students a lot of choice and voice in their choreography.  For example, if a student received a card that had the element of levels on it, and rolled the number seven, they had the choice of doing seven level changes in their dance, or to change levels and take seven counts to do so.  They also had the choice as to what levels (high, middle or low) they wanted to do.  All of the dances were individual to the student’s own style and aesthetics, which was beautiful to watch.

When it was time to plan our performance, each homeroom collaborated and made specific choices about the show.  The first homeroom wanted to use non-traditional spaces in the auditorium for their dances, such as the balcony and the aisles.  The second homeroom wanted to use music that was from actual Merce Cunningham dances and choreograph their own bows. The third homeroom wanted to have artwork from a Cunningham piece projected behind their dances, asked the music class to compose their accompaniment, used props, and wanted to do their solos in small groups instead of as a whole class.   The final performances were all about student voice and I loved seeing the ways each class tried to be new and different.  They really embraced the Cunningham quote:  “What is the point of doing that which you already know?”

8. Please explain what opportunities the students had to reflect on their experiences and react to the work of their peers.

Students reflected daily on the class activities.  It was important to me to hear student reflections throughout the process so I could gauge their interests, challenges, and excitement.  I was really thinking “outside the box” when developing the unit, so student input was essential as the lessons developed over time.  

During the choreographic process, students watched one another perform and gave peer feedback at least twice.  We also recorded the rehearsals on the iPads so students could see their solos and edit them if necessary.

Students also participated in a post performance reflection.

9. How did the students’ artifacts from various stages of the ATLAS Unit impact your teaching practice? Please provide artifacts that exemplify your points. What did you learn about your teaching practice from looking at these artifacts?

The student artifacts helped me reflect upon my teaching practice throughout the unit.  Since I taught the unit three times, there were opportunities for student artifacts from one class to impact the method I used for teaching the lesson for the next class.  For example, the first time we used the iPads to research on 2wice, several students did not complete their work because they were exploring the app instead of using the handout as a guide for learning.  When I repeated the lesson for the second class, I had the students work in pairs to complete the assignment.  Every pair finished the worksheet and many of them also had time for self-exploration of the app upon finishing.  

The student self-assessments and reflections at the end of the unit had a significant impact on me.  I learned that while they were originally apprehensive about the element of chance being a part of class and performance, they eventually found this to be a fun aspect of dance.  I learned that the students loved the variety of experiences I created for exploring the works of Merce Cunningham.  I learned that they loved having ownership of their solos and the final performance.  It helped me understand the importance of student voice and it has encouraged me to use this in more of my classes and curriculum.

10. Describe how the students’ work was shared in the school or publicly. Why was this an important part of this unit?

Students performed their choreography for an audience of their peers and many students also invited their parents to join us.  This was unlike any performance we have done in the past, and I was very proud of how each show turned out.  I received a lot of feedback from parents and colleagues about how different, fresh, and innovative this project was.  The students were very proud of their work and eager to show others what they had created.

Performance is an integral part of all of my dance units.  I believe students need opportunities to perform what they have learned or created because dance is a performing art.  Many students do not have the opportunity to perform in front of others, and this builds confidence and discipline skills that students will carry throughout their lives.

Section I: Arts Integration – Collaboration

11. How did students collaborate at different stages of the project? Examples might include but are not limited to: did the students research together, did they create together, did they critique together, did they present together?

During the field trip to see Common Time at the MCA, students worked in groups to explore the museum and complete the packet.  On the day that we explored Cunningham’s work through stations, there were opportunities for collaboration and discussion.  Students developed their choreography individually but received peer feedback throughout the process.  The students collaborated as a class to plan their performance.  The third homeroom also worked in groups to coordinate their solos into a group dance.  

12. In what ways did you collaborate with the students for this unit. How did the students impact the way in which the curriculum was implemented? For example, how did students help you plan, develop, and/or implement the curriculum?

I gave the students complete control over the ways in which they present their knowledge of Cunningham and their choreography.  The planning and rehearsal process was collaborative between the students and I, with student voice at the forefront.  Each homeroom had a different dynamic, so the process was slightly different from class to class, which I loved.  One homeroom wanted to explore new spaces in the auditorium for performing their solos, such as the aisles and the balcony, which changed the way we organized the performance as a whole.  One homeroom asked the music students to compose songs for our performance, in the style of Cunningham’s collaboration with John Cage, which was a unique way of presenting their dance.  I found I had to adjust my teaching to support the various ways that the students created and presented their work.  

13. How did you collaborate with other teachers in your school to plan and/or implement the unit? 

Merce Cunningham used chance operations in his classes, choreography and performance.  This naturally connects with the math concept of probability, so I was eager to collaborate with the fifth grade math teacher to see how we could connect our units.  Unfortunately I discovered that probability is no longer taught in fifth grade and instead it is taught at seventh grade.  I met with the seventh grade math teacher to see what I could do to support the probability unit by providing those concepts at the fifth grade level.  This wasn’t the integration I was hoping for.  

I also collaborated with the drama teacher and music teacher for this unit.  The drama teacher supported my unit by allowing us to rehearse in the auditorium throughout the process, giving students the opportunity to be in their performance space several times before the show.  This contributed to the success of the performance.  I collaborated with the music teacher with my third classroom of fifth graders because the students asked for live accompaniment for our performance.  She developed her music unit to include a lesson on composition so that they could create original music for our performance, and they played various instruments from the balcony while my students danced.  In the style of the Cunningham-Cage collaboration, I simply told the music teacher how many minutes of music we would need, and the music and dance came together (sharing a “common time”) at the performance, meaning the dancers never rehearsed with the music and the musicians never saw the dances before the show.

Section II: Technology Integration

14. What was your process for selecting this form of digital media technology? Why did you think this form of digital media technology would be ideal for student learning?

I wanted to use the iPads because we have a cart that is designated for use in the Expressive Arts classes, and we have enough for an entire class to use.  I also knew that Merce Cunningham used various forms of technology in his work, and wanted students to explore these ideas during my unit.  The students love working with the iPads so I knew this would be a “hook.”  Therefore I developed many ways to incorporate the iPads into our daily lessons so they would be an integral part of the unit.

15. How did students use digital media technology to direct their own learning? Provide artifacts to show evidence of how students used the technology to direct their own learning. Examples might include but are not limited to: making choices about technologies to use, using technology to facilitate experimentation, using technology as a research tool, to express themselves artistically, and/or to make meaning of their experiences.

The two apps on the iPads were used solely for research and the exploration of the works of art of Merce Cunningham.  Although there were specific instructions as to which parts of the apps they should look at, because there were some dances I didn’t want students to miss due to connections to the field trip and stations, the students also had the opportunity to explore the apps and learn about Cunningham on their own.

The iPads helped with the rehearsal process because students were able to see their solos and adjust their dances to make them “better.”  This facilitated their experimentation of movement and impacted the ways in which they developed the choreography so that they would be more proud and confident in the dance before showing it to an audience.  Their confidence grew through this exploration because by the time we had the performance, most students were pleased with how their solos turned out and they were no longer afraid to show their work.  Many students invited their parents to the show, and at this age level, those invitations usually taper off.  I probably had 12-15 families per homeroom in the audience, which is definitely more than in year’s past.

16. How did you use technology to enhance the learning environment for both you as a teacher and for the students?

As a teacher, the iPads added a whole new element to dance class.  They were used for researching, recording process, recording the product, and for overall documentation.  For the students, the iPads were a teaching tool.  They were used to document our experience at the museum.  They were used to document our exploration of the content of the unit, Merce Cunningham’s work.  They were used to research Cunningham’s choreography through the apps.  They were used to record rehearsals so students could view their solos and make necessary edits if they desired.  The learning environment of our dance classroom was transformed through the many uses of the iPad during instruction.

I enjoyed having the iPad as a teaching tool but also to support my instruction.  It was great to have access to so many of Cunningham’s works through the apps, rather than look through You Tube, developing a playlist, and showing the works one at a time on a projector.  The dances were literally at the fingertips of the students!  It was great to have students look at their work critically and develop their choreography more fully through seeing it on an iPad, rather than my having to give individual feedback to 33 students during a one hour lesson.  Instead I was able to facilitate the choreographic process, assist students who needed help understanding dance elements, and coordinate how the solos would be performed during the show.  The iPads supported the learning environment by being another “set of eyes” to help critique and revise the dances.

17. In what ways do your chosen technology resources align with your goals and outcomes for student learning? Looking back at the unit, how did the technology meet, not meet or exceed your expectations for facilitating student outcomes.

My planned outcomes for this unit were:

  • Students will be able to develop a choreographic project that utilizes technology as a key component of the piece.
  • Students will know the elements of body, space, time and energy.
  • Students will be able to work collaboratively with peers.
  • Students will understand the creative process of choreographer Merce Cunningham:
    • Chance operations / probability
    • Use of technology in choreographic process and performance
    • Use of visual art and music as separate but integral entities of the choreography.
  • Students will use a creative method to demonstrate their learning in dance.
  • Students will participate in inquiry about Merce Cunningham dance.
  • Students will know how to visit an art museum and ways that art connects to dance, technology, and math concepts.

When I began planning this unit, I wanted to find a way for technology to be a part of our final performance in some way.  Merce Cunningham used the software program LifeForms as a choreographic tool and I was hoping to find something similar to use in my curriculum.  Cunningham has a piece called BIPED, in which motion capture technology was used to record the dancers and then it was projected during the performance.  I really hoped to find a creative way for students to use motion capture in my unit so that this could be a part of their final performance.  Unfortunately the apps were never loaded onto our iPads and we couldn’t bring this idea to fruition.  Therefore my first outcome (listed above) was not met.  However, I feel that each homeroom understood the possibilities of using technology in this way and the impact it could have on our performance.

All other outcomes were met, and some were met through the support of the iPads.

18. How did the use of technology contribute to students’ application of higher order thinking skills? Examples of student higher order thinking skills include metacognition, self-reflection, analysis, and application of knowledge or skills.

Self-critique and revision of a creative work both require higher order thinking skills.  The iPads helped to facilitate both of these things by providing students with a tool by which they could see their dances as they were being developed.  I do not have a dance studio at my school, but instead my class is taught in the lunchroom.  The iPads provided a mirror into each student’s choreography, giving them the opportunity to think critically about how the dance looks, the elements used in the choreography, and what they wanted the final product to look like.  

19. How did the use of technology drive student creative artistic expression? Please provide student artifacts that exemplify how technology supported their artistic expression.

Since my students did not use the technology to create art or to express themselves, I do not feel the technology contributed to the artistic expression of my students.  However, it contributed to the rehearsal process significantly, allowing students to view their dance compositions and edit them during the creation and rehearsal process.  This helped support their artistic expression by helping them to refine their choreography and make the final performance more polished.

20. How did the integration of digital media technology impact your teaching practice?

Little by little, the integration of digital media technology is changing my curriculum at many grade levels.  I developed this fifth grade unit for the sole purpose of ATLAS.  My previous fifth grade unit focused on pioneers in modern dance, dance technique, and choreographic elements.  I developed my ATLAS unit around choreographer Merce Cunningham due to his use of technology in the choreographic process and in performance.  I had taught a unit on Cunningham several years ago and it was not well received by the students.  With the new unit, I found that students were more motivated to learn, inspired to make choreography, and their creativity grew immensely.  The use of technology definitely contributed to this.  

I find that I am now seeking ways to use digital technology in more of my units.  It is making me think intentionally of ways that technology can contribute to my students’ learning.  I still have a lot of room to grow and so many new things to learn before it is completely integrated into my curriculum, but this unit has definitely helped me get off to a good start.