Carissa Martus graduated with her master's degree from Portland State's College of the Arts in 2011.
Read the original article in the Oregonian here.
Back in June, when the last school day ended and summer vacation officially began,Quatama Elementary School music teacher Carissa Martus had no time to relax.
That evening, the Hillsboro teacher had to catch a red-eye flight to Beijing.
Martus spent three weeks in Asia this summer as part of a $7,500 travel grant sponsored by the Hilton Worldwide hotel company and the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit that promotes international exchange and also helps administer the Fulbright Program.
She was one of 15 teachers from elementary, middle and high schools across the country who won the “Teacher Treks” grants. The new program, launched in January, aimed to introduce teachers to new ideas and experiences that they could bring back to students and colleagues.
“If you impact the life of a teacher, you end up having a ripple effect over time,” said Katelin Kennedy, a manager for corporate responsibility at Hilton who helped design the travel program.
Martus chose Asia — she spent 15 days in China and three in South Korea — because 66 of her students are from that continent, and her experiences there would be relevant to them.
“I thought that would be a good place for me to expand my horizons, learn about something new,” she said.
Martus, who grew up in Aloha, applied for the grant in March and found out she was one of 30 finalists in April. Another round, determined by online voting, would determine whether she would get to travel to Asia.
On May 14, Martus still hadn’t heard anything, and since the grant’s administrators told her she’d find out during the first two weeks of May, she assumed she hadn’t won.
The next day, though, she received the phone call she was hoping for. It was an opportunity that doesn’t often come up for music teachers like Martus. Most travel grants, she said, are geared toward high-school social studies teachers who are teaching about the nations they visit.
“For music teachers, I haven’t really heard of this,” Martus said. “This was crazy. It was awesome.”
Martus visited schools across the region to observe how music is taught. At the Mongolian Singing and Dancing School, for instance, she saw a traditional Mongolian dance and learned a scale on the matouqin, a two-stringed instrument important to the area’s culture.
“A lot of the trip was almost just opening my experiences to go, ‘Wow, there’s so much more that I didn’t know existed, and now I know it exists,’ and now I have all this research to do and even more to go and find out,” Martus said.
When she returned to Quatama this school year, Martus incorporated the story of her trip into a pedagogical method called Orff Schulwerk, which encourages movement and dancing when teaching music to young children.
Martus played Chinese music for her fifth- and sixth-graders as she narrated her travels, and the students acted out her words in tandem with the mood of the music.
For example, the music starts with a fast tempo, and Martus talks about how hurried she felt as she made her travel arrangements. The students rushed around and made quick gestures to reflect the story. When Martus spoke about her flight, the students stretched their arms to the ceiling and made airplane-like flying motions.
“I want them to be able to move around and not just sit and listen to me lecture,” Martus said.
She presented the interactive lesson to her colleagues on Saturday at a meeting of thePortland Orff Schulwerk Association, for which she is a board member. She hopes other teachers might use a similar approach to tell their students about the interesting things they did over the summer.
Martus is also planning on teaching her students the things she learned about the Beijing opera culture, which places heavy symbolism on colors and their relationship to the plot of the story. She wants to have the students paint masks and connect it to writing a play.
Quatama received an additional $2,500 from Hilton to promote cultural diversity at the school, where employees said 26 different languages are spoken.