Kelly Jackson

Describe one of your favorite magical or break-through moments that you created or experienced with the help of the Drums Alive program. 

I teach music in an elementary school that serves over 600 students in Pre-K through 5th grade. The art teacher, PE coaches, and I had been using the Drums Alive curriculum with our students for a few months, collaborating on lessons that could accommodate an entire grade level in the gym at once–upwards of 120 students at times. With limited stability balls but enough drumsticks for all, we often had 3 to 4 students sharing drum sets–so we created a rotation such that while one student tapped on the drum, two students flanked the drum and “air drummed,” while a fourth student rotated to the “Art Corner” and drew graphic interpretations of the music that they heard. At the end of the activity, students rotated to a new position, and we continued in this manner until all students had experienced multiple ways of demonstrating their understanding of the lesson.

As “Wipe Out” played, we announced a locomotor movement for the trio of students to perform as they weaved around the drum sets. When the drum solo arrived in the recording, the students rumbled on the closest drum (or in the air) while students in the Art Corner created a visual representation of the rapid percussion sounds that they heard. From a teacher’s perspective, it was just what we’d envisioned–120 students, completely engaged, smiling, laughing, and working both brain and body in the pursuit of physical, emotional, and cognitive health. There’s our shy kid, jumping up and down to the beat! There’s our boy with aggressive tendencies, air rumbling while his partner drums on the ball–with no argument over equipment! There’s our student in a wheelchair, tapping his sticks while his partner pushes him around the floor while skipping to a new drum set!

It was at this moment that our administrators walked in the gym to observe. They watched the lesson until the end of class, and then my principal approached us with a look of astonishment on her face, for she had seen what we had been experiencing. She looked at us and said:

“That was amazing. EVERY child was engaged! How can we support you more?”

And with that statement, I was able to purchase more equipment, host a DRUMTASTIC training workshop for my district, and continue to promote Drums Alive in my district as a school-wide initiative that not only focuses on music and movement, but also reinforces academic standards learned in the general classroom. 

Please describe your background.

Kelly has served as an arts educator in the Georgia public school system for over 25 years, teaching classes in general/choral music, voice, piano, music theory, and musical theater. She received her B. M. (Music Education) from Furman University, M. M. (Choral Conducting) from Eastman School of Music, and Ph.D. (Music Education) from Northwestern University. Kelly was selected as a 2014 finalist for Fayette County (GA) Teacher of the Year, holds Level III Orff Schulwerk certification, and has served on the editorial board of The Orff Echo. She has also been involved in numerous productions as director, performer, and pianist. Her current role with Drums Alive includes writing lesson plans for the upcoming “Rhythm in Motion” module.

What initially drew you into Drums Alive?

 As an elementary music specialist, I especially enjoy creating new opportunities for students to make connections between the arts and other academic subjects—and it was in searching for these opportunities that I discovered Drums Alive and its academic branch, DRUMTASTIC. Educators are constantly searching for exciting, research-tested methods for student engagement, and music teachers in particular seek to discover ways to relate our subject to other academic disciplines. Often, music/art/PE teachers feel that we are on our own instructional island–separate from that of the classroom teacher–so collaboration can become a challenge. Once I saw that DRUMTASTIC included activities that incorporate science, math, social studies, science, and character education in a music-and-movement-based format, I knew that this program was the way to begin to build bridges between the “Classroom Teacher Island” and “Specialist Island.” Since these academically-focused activities simply reinforce the standards that classroom teachers are already using with their students, these DRUMTASTIC activities support students’ learning, allowing them to make connections between ALL subjects.

What makes you want to share the Drums Alive program with others?

Soon after introducing my students to Drums Alive activities and witnessing such positive effects, I felt compelled to contact the Drums Alive team and relay our story. In my heart, I knew that these were people who shared my vision, and I felt that perhaps my talent and experience in the world of music education might serve them if needed. To my excitement, they responded with equal enthusiasm, and our partnership continues to flourish to this day.

My passion lies in introducing more and more schools to DRUMTASTIC, for as an academic, I have seen how its implementation can result in positive changes in students’ physical, mental, and cognitive development. Educators are encouraged (or required) to take professional development courses as a part of their certificate renewal, yet often we take classes with little relevance to our daily instruction. DRUMTASTIC is quite the opposite; the activities included in the curriculum (and additional modules such as “Math in Motion”) are standards-based, offer opportunities for differentiation and creativity, and use Drums Alive strategies to reinforce understanding of concepts already addressed in the academic classroom. In this way, DRUMTASTIC is a program for ALL educators! From after-school personnel to administrators (and classroom teachers, too!), all can incorporate these strategies and use them with the student body–even while students sit at their desks. I’ve seen a kindergarten class practice vowels/consonants and a fifth grade class practice decimals using these strategies–and while the students are loving it, I’m also seeing the teachers becoming more of a “family” through participation in our recent DRUMTASTIC training workshop.

Whether used as a “brain break,” a kinesthetic reinforcement of standards, or a cognitive and physical workout, DRUMTASTIC is an exciting way for students and teachers to make connections across academic disciplines. For that reason, I am enthusiastic about spreading the Drums Alive message to educational institutions.

Please share your favorite West Music product and explain why you like it so much and how you use it in your Drums Alive classes.

I love Boomwhackers! As a music educator, I use the Boomwhackers with all students, regardless of age or ability. They are lightweight, easy to grip, and come in bright colors. In the music classroom, we use them to create a certain pitch by “whacking” them. My students love to get creative with this–they’ve discovered that walls and heads can serve as “whacking” surfaces, too! Boomwhackers are wonderful for teaching melodic relationships; a “Science of Sound” lesson could include exploration of pitch vs. length (as the Boomwhacker shortens in length, its pitch rises). Students also use Boomwhackers to play chords, and recently, our school’s chorus performed an 8-part Boomwhacker piece with movement! But my younger students and I have discovered that Boomwhackers also make great swords, telescopes, and oars as we pantomime to music. And have you ever tried sharing a Boomwhacker between two students, with one student whispering a message to the other student (holding it to his ear)? It’s a springboard for a science discussion on how and why a whisper becomes LOUD on the other end of the tube!