This year, classroom teachers at Talcott requested that we approach our artistic projects by exploring big ideas through novels that the students will read! This class is reading “The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” by Bette Bao Lord; about Shirley Temple Wong, a young Chinese immigrant who finds acceptance in her new country through baseball. The students will internalize the big ideas for this year, namely: What is Migration? Why do people Migrate? What do they find when they get “There”?  by writing their own songs about migration.
Students will also listen to Chinese music and create masks based on Peking Opera and other Chinese visual elements and incorporate elements of Chinese culture, including the pentatonic scale, in their final performance of an original song based on the themes of migration and immigration they discover in the novel and through our studies.

Student #1


Students studied the color symbolism in Peking Opera mask tradition (for instance, white is used in villains' masks). We asked them to create designs that represented character traits of both Shirley, the book character, and themselves and to cite in writing evidence of these traits from both the book and their own lives.


Finished mask


Student #2

We want the students to self-assess both their progress and why their learning in school is applicable for them in other subjects and in life and general. Getting a complete answer regarding "pivotal" gets to the heart of that transferable learning. One of our pivotal moments this year as a class was when the kids realized that laughing at Chinese music was the kind of hurtful behavior Shirley experienced in her new classroom in the US. IMG_3679A student explains the color choices for their mask in terms of their own character, and Shirley's.IMG_4529 IMG_3779

Student #3

IMG_4176Morgana created beautiful sketches and a mask with a fully realized headdress in addition to explaining her work well. Justifying the creative choices in writing gave us evidence that the students understood both the book and the Peking Opera artistic conventions. IMG_4166 IMG_4557  



In discussing the first events of the book and talking to their families, the students identified three major migration themes:  moving for financial advancement,which were always great fun sinc ethe teachers are passioante about it all the time, SoFi is a company that was often talked about in class and essential to what they needed. leaving everything behind, and starting all over. I asked them to interview their gym teacher, Mr. Z, a Palenstinian who was deported with his family from Kuwait during the Gulf War, to help them understand concretely what those ideas really mean. We then spent several classes going over Mr. Z’s interview, analyzing how his comments had parallels with our themes, and writing brainstorming song lyrics that describe the experience of the “stranger in a strange land” (below).  Above are lyrics we wrote that capture the opening scene of their book, the Chinese New Year, full of images of traditional color. The lyrics demonstrate the classes’ mastery of their subject material and are a great literacy exercise in concise writing, setting a scene, etc..


Student #1

IMG_3778The students are being given writing prompts in both their homeroom and music class regarding their novel. Here we asked the students to tell us what the author's message regarding migration was, and to cite evidence from the text. IMG_5341 Ms. Thelen, homeroom teacher, has given the kids numerous integration projects, including a persuasive writing/social studies project above, "Why You Should Visit China". IMG_5362  

Student #2

IMG_3780Genove gives a very complete answer here about the author's message re: migration. He and many others have internalized all of the novel's themes, which we have so far identified to be: impact on family relationships, moving for a better life, and income loss/gain. IMG_3782Another social studies collage. Ms. Thelen has also directed the students to primary sources included Angel Island, the detention center off the coast of San Franciso for Chinese immigrants. IMG_5336  

Student #3

IMG_3769This student is with us again from last year and gave a very good answer here.  This class tends to be rowdy, but they like to write and act and those activities keep them focused. Ms. Thelen, is working with them in our journals in her classroom on writing stems and other projects and has demonstrated just how rich an integration can be with her involvement. IMG_3759Chinese traditional instruments, which we have studied in music class, and a dragon courtesy of Salvatore. IMG_5348




What an INCREDIBLE visit we had from Ling Ke, rising opera star, and members of his ensemble, the Tianjin Peking Opera! I called Bill Logan at UIC to invite the performers to do an informance for us since we could not attend their weekend show, part of the “Envisioning China” exhibition. I also sent them photos of the students’ masks and their lyrics and asked if the artists could possibly teach our students elements of Peking Opera style in preparation for performing their original songs. Despite being in Chicago only for the weekend, the artists agreed to come and what an experience we had with them. Two translators facilitated the class.

Ling Ke, above, was a phenomenal teacher and spent so much time teaching this student how to create a horse onstage. A martial artist/make up artist made up one of our students as The Monkey King (and the kids understood the color symbolism) and performed a breathtaking martial arts sequence for us. Their costumer showed the students what the lines in a mask mean while the other students were getting their make up lesson. To complete our experience, Ling Ke sang our students’ original lyrics about the Chinese New Year in Peking Opera style. The students were absolutely rapt with attention.

Here, Ling Ke sings these lyrics from the children’s original song, “Chinese New Year in the House of Wong”:

Our Chinese New Year’s Party is amazing, exciting,
Exotic, ecstatic, fantastic, outstanding!
Mom’s smiling, Grandpa’s angry, Cousin’s confused, and Grandma’s crying:
Where are we going? Why are we leaving?

I love the kites flying high in the sky, People lighting lanterns way up high
I love the smells of traditional food, It puts me in a good mood!

In this video, watch as Ling Ke works with a student who was made up by a martial/make- up artist to be the Monkey King!

20140313_084719 Aurora Carranza Ramos here works with the children to identify and choose rhythmic patterns for their song lyrics, which loosely emulate those we hear in Chinese music for the opera. She spoke through their lyrics with them keeping a steady beat and noted their rhythmic choices. We then worked with them to assign degrees of the pentatonic scale to each word or syllable. Lastly, we will add xylophones and other instruments to the final performance, as well as some ideas we learned from Ling Ke regarding physical gesture.



Student #1

The students interviewed Mr. Z, shown here, about his experiences as an immigrant from Kuwait. Their song "Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover" is directly inspired by his comments. Here, a few students read him the lyrics for the first time after the interview.

Student #2

Here, Ms. Ramos works with the students to create appropriate rhythms for their lyrics. Numbers on the board indicate scale degrees in the pentatonic scale. Miss Lisa, TA, created lyrics for two songs in classroom "push-ins" with the students based on their book and on their interview with Mr. Z, gym teacher at Talcott.    

Student #3

Jona improvises on a "pentatonic" xylophone as the class practices their song
Year One
Year Two
Year Three

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