Shawna Longo, Music Technology Teacher at Hopatcong School System
“I teach in the Hopatcong Schools, but I am actually switching schools. I just finished my 18th year teaching, but the past 9 years I had been at Hopatcong Middle School teaching Music Technology. I had worked with integrating music with teachers of all disciplines. I am also the Vice President of the Board of Education in the town I live in, Morris Plains, NJ. I am switching to our Pre-K to 1st Grade school next year, which is a big jump, but I am really excited to work with the little kids and help lay a solid foundation for them in music and the arts, and I am going to be able to work with the teachers and help make connections to the other content areas and bring theatre, dance, music, visual art in addition to having them as separate elective classes.
When Common Core and PARCC testing was really ramping up, that’s when it became apparent that there was little to no room for creativity. So there was a big movement started in NJ to have art integration, started by New Jersey Principles and Supervisors Association and The Dodge Foundation. I met Bill Carbone (Interim Executive Director at TeachRock), and I was telling him about what I was initiating in schools, and he was telling me how TeachRock was just starting to incorporate the STEAM element.
STEAM is about authentically finding connections between the standards, with the arts in a STEM content area. The “A” for “art” is important because it is really going to bring out that creativity and that innovation necessary to solve problems in a STEM world. If you read some of the research that is happening straight from CEOs from IBM, and Apple is big on it, they are looking for what they call the “soft skills,” which are becoming the most important skills in today’s world. So school is not just about the rote memorization of facts anymore. It’s about kids learning the facts and the content through experiences that are real life based, that are centered on something that is actually going on.
What’s cool about TeachRock is that they are current and they are always coming up with new stuff directly connected to the music and events kids are currently connecting with. For example they had one lesson on the #metoo moment. All of the kids were talking about #metoo, so I pulled in the TeachRock lesson to connect with the kids. They had an awesome lesson on the Flint water crisis. They pulled in authentic songs that were written about that crisis, and how we can solve that problem. TeachRock is just as helpful, though, to the non-arts teacher as to the arts teacher. Like I know a lot of history and social studies teachers that love the material. And now they are connecting with the STEAM stuff for math teachers and science teachers, and it is so wonderful. It’s so much fun. I love it.
TeachRock will bounce ideas off of me, and pick my brain, and ask me for feedback, and it has been such a great collaborative effort with them. They were looking for me to explain what STEAM was, and how could popular music fit into that. For example, with TeachRock, you’re able to talk about so many different concepts with the kids and make so many connections, to a real life problem that existed and how we can solve that.
The tides are definitely shifting in a good way for learning styles for students, but there is still a long way to go. The students for so long have been drilled with ‘ABCD,’ ‘what are the facts,’ ‘give the answer,’ so they can go on to the next topic. In my room I tell them, ‘I don’t know what the right answer is.’ And they are like, ‘Huh??’ And that blows them away. And they sometimes get very emotional, because for the first time they have to own it. And in the arts, you put your voice into what you are learning. It is about helping them see that they have opinions, and they can bring them to the table as part of their learning. And by pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and embracing who they are, with their strengths and weaknesses, and being willing to try new things is something I think most of them have never experienced before. And that is what STEAM and TeachRock are about, which is just giving kids the opportunity to figure out who the heck they are.”
Find out more about TeachRock here: https://teachrock.org
- Interview and portrait by Gregory Andrus
Find more of his work at Portraits of the Jersey Shore on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/portraitsofthejerseyshore/