Educator Spotlight: Exploring Indonesia through Art, Music, and Dance

blue educatorKaren Krzystof-Bansley is a sixth-grade teacher at Maddock Elementary School in Burbank, Illinois. Karen has been teaching middle school for 16 years.

Photograph courtesy Karen Krzystof-Bansley

Activity: Indonesian Pen Pals

Subjects: writing, geography, communication

Grade: 6-8

Tell us about your activity.  

Over the course of the school year, my 6th graders were pen pals with a class in at SMP Sumatra 40 in Bandung, Indonesia. Through letter-writing, both sets of students learned about each other’s cultures. We were able to broaden the activity by securing grant money.

With the additional funding, we were able to send a package containing U.S. maps and other relevant materials to our Indonesian pen pals.

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Students make their own wayang kulit, a kind of traditional Indonesian shadow puppet. Photograph by Karen Krystof-Bansley

Also with our grants, students participated in three field trips that incorporated the art, music, and dance of Indonesia. Students attended a performance of Indonesian dance and even participated in the kecak (monkey chant) as a group, found here. My students were partnered with a nearby Chicago Public School institution to make their own wayang kulit (traditional Indonesian shadow puppets), then traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago together to see a featured exhibit on puppetry.This project was generously funded by an Chicago-based organization called Do Your P’art.

To summarize all we learned, our class wrote a song titled “Indonesia,” found here.

How long did the activity take and what did you need to prepare?

This poster displays letters and photos sent from the students’ pen pals in Bandung, Indonesia.
Photograph by Karen Krzystof-Bansley.

This activity took place over the course of one academic school year.

The most difficult part was securing funding for the materials so that my students had these experiences without having to pay additional fees. I was able to secure three separate grants through: Kappa Delta Pi,, and Do Your P’art.

Describe the student impact. Was there a change in their perspective?

Students were impacted even more than I anticipated. They became interested in current events in Indonesia, and more globally engaged overall.

Students consulted maps when they heard about the tragedy of the Surabaya plane crash, and were concerned about how this event may have impacted their pen pals. With a personal connection to the region, the news story hit home with my students.

What is your most memorable “teachable” moment?

While writing back and forth, my students discovered that Bandung students do not receive traditional report cards, nor do the schools take attendance on a regular basis.

This was shocking to one of my students, who asked, “What’s the point of even going to school, then?”

Another student replied, “to learn.”

It was like a light bulb went off right in front of my eyes.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Travel—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

—Ibn Battuta, Moroccan explorer

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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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