By Kate Anslinger
Fifth grade teacher Katie Houstle has been recognized for her creative efforts to get students engaged in learning. Using her own songwriting talent and her background in theater and music, Houstle has given the students in her fifth grade class a newfound motivation to learn.
She has taken it upon herself to lead the class in YouTube videos involving memorization, movement and engagement that allow a modern way for the students to retain information. Knowing they are being filmed, the students work as a team to memorize songs and movements in all subjects. Some of the favorites are the “Parts of Speech Song”, the “Vertebrae Song” and the “Ecosystem Cup Song” where Houstle herself does a rendition of the famous “cups song” from the movie Pitch Perfect. In the interview below, Houstle shares her inspiration behind the videos and the passion that she has for the fifth grade.
- How were you inspired to use YouTube videos to engage your students?
Songs are a great way to retain material. I still have the quadratic equation and several other concepts memorized because of songs I learned in high school and earlier! I started writing song parodies several years ago for skits at the musical theater summer camp I work at, and this soon became my favorite part of my job. When I started teaching, I realized how easily I could use this skill to help my students learn and remember new concepts. I originally just thought about putting the songs on YouTube as a private link so that I could easily share them with the rest of the fifth grade team at our school, but then I thought about how useful the songs could be for other teachers and students, as well. So, I mentioned the idea of making YouTube videos for my students and of course they loved it!
- The students all seem to really enjoy it. Is there ever a struggle with getting some of the students to participate?
Not really! There are some students who choose not to be in the videos, but they still sing along when we practice the new songs and revisit songs from past years. Every once in a while there is a student that doesn’t want to sing a certain song, but they are still learning as they listen to the lyrics, and even these students have told me that the songs get stuck in their heads for days. Ninety-nine percent of the time, every kid is actively engaged and having fun singing along. I know that not every student is a huge fan of music or singing, but sometimes the kids I don’t expect to enjoy this are the ones who get the most into it.
- How long have you been a teacher?
I student taught for a year in a fifth grade class in Newton, and this is my second full year teaching fifth grade here in Winthrop. So technically, it’s my second year of teaching, and I’ve always loved fifth grade.
- Is there a specific teacher that you had growing up, who inspired you and gave you confidence?
My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Brewster, was my favorite teacher. He always had fun and creative ways to help us understand new material, he consistently challenged us with new projects and tasks, and his enthusiasm for school helped keep all of us engaged on a regular basis. He is one of the reasons that I decided to teach fifth grade specifically. He also inspired me to make sure that I am consistently finding new and fun ways to teach my students so that they enjoy this year of school as much as I did.
- Your use of YouTube videos really gets the students engaged. Do you feel like it helps because they all feel like they are a part of something?
I think the fact that they are all in it together really helps engage the students, and inevitably ends up helping them retain the material. They re-watch the videos countless times, showing their friends and families and just watching it to see themselves and their friends on YouTube. They get to decide most of what goes into the videos: if there will be any choreography, if they should sit or stand, if they will make signs or not, etc. They take pride in these videos and want them to look as awesome as they can. They definitely bond as a class when we make them, and are always asking when I am going to write a new song so that we can make another one. Playing the videos from past years also engages the kids because they not only get to sing another song, but they get to see their older friends in videos as well.
Writing these song parodies is still one of my favorite ways to prep for school. When I find the right match between a song and a subject, I can write one of these songs in about two hours. We’re starting to cover some new material now, so I’m just waiting to hear the right song on the radio and get writing again!
To view some of Katie’s educational fifth grade videos, simply search “Katie Houstle” on YouTube.