The Right Brain Initiative


Doodling in Math Class: Connecting Dots

May 23rd, 2014 by Jake Turner

Vi Hart and her YouTube channel “Doodling in Math Class” are champions of easily accessible knowledge. The concept for her videos is that, while her math teacher is trying to explain a difficult mathematical concept to the uninterested class, Vi starts making up doodling games to keep herself occupied. As she continues to play, she makes up new rules for her games, trying to find ways to challenge herself. In the end, her doodle “game” looks more like an artistic application of whatever the teacher has been trying to explain. And, instead of absorbing it through conventional academic means, Vi has found the mathematical concept in her own way, at her own pace, and through something that allows her to explore with a sense of fun.

This video in particular seems fast-paced and dense, but this time the theme of her video isn’t focused on explaining mathematics. In whizzing by concept after concept, Vi emulates the rhythm of common academic education. You struggle to keep up with her, with where she’s going in the video, with the math that you are trying understand because what you’re currently seeing must only be a stepping block to the highest-level math you assume she’ll reach by the end. And it’s not until you actually get to the end that you realize she’s not really trying to teach math in this video at all. Her lesson this time is almost a manifesto for her channel, for her views on education: you can teach math by connecting the dots in straight lines, progressing in a single direction because that makes sense and it’s predictable and repeatable. But learning isn’t about prediction and it certainly isn’t about doing the same thing over and over again.

To make people want to learn, you need to explore new ways to connect dots.


Jake Turner is a theater student, advocate, and stage manager. He is blogging for Right Brain through the Performing Arts Advocacy Capstone class at Portland State University.

Right Brain Joins Fred Meyer’s Community Rewards

May 19th, 2014 by Maya McFaddin


Fred Meyer and The Right Brain Initiative are teaming up to raise money for arts education. If you shop at Fred Meyer and you have a Rewards Card, then you can help! Each time you shop at Fred Meyer and use your Rewards Card, Fred Meyer will make a donation to Right Brain. It’s easy to sign up—just link your Rewards Card to Right Brain by following the steps listed below:

Step 1: Visit

Step 2: Link your Fred Meyer Rewards Card to Right Brain using this number:  85380

Step 3: Use your rewards card every time you shop!

If you are interested in tracking your contribution to Right Brain, you check your Rewards account online to see how much you have contributed. Sign up today and start shopping!

Maya McFaddin is the Outreach Apprentice with The Right Brain Initiative for the 2014 summer. Maya is currently completing a post-baccalaureate degree in graphic design from Portland State University. She graduated from Willamette University where she studied art, Spanish, and varsity basketball. She is an Oregon native who loves all things Portland—the Blazers, coffee, and a good (or bad!) story.

Pythagoras: Math, Music, and more!

May 16th, 2014 by Travis Opocensky


This fine gentleman is Pythagoras. Born in 570 BCE, he is most commonly known for his work in mathematics, specifically his theory about the geometry of right triangles which states that the area of the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the (blah blah blah math math math) or a^2+b^2=c^2.

Most of us have come across the Pythagorean theorem at some point in our learning lifetimes. BUT: did you know that Pythagoras and his followers were also interested in the mathematics of every day life and the things around us— leading him to discover many of the systems which make up the foundation of Western music? Take a look at just a few of the ways Pythagoras used mathematics to explain the sounds we hear!

Blacksmiths’ hammers and Guitar string

Legend has it that one day Pythagoras took a stroll through the market and the sounds of the blacksmiths’ hammers as they struck the anvil caught his ear. He noticed that different hammers produced different sounds.  This brought about an idea that we take for granted today: that the speed of vibration and the size of the object producing the sound affects the ‘pitch’ of sounds in music.

Think of it like this: Imagine you have two different sized buckets, one large and one small. We expect that when we hit the larger bucket that the sound we get will be lower than that of the smaller bucket. Just like in music when we hear low sounds we know they come from a large instrument like a tuba or a string bass.

Pythagoras discovered very important properties of relationships between notes as well. After experimenting with musical tones and ratios on several stringed instruments he found that the sound of a stretched string gets lower as it gets longer. He also noticed that when he placed his finger on the string and plucked it, that the relationship between the original tone of the string and the note created could be put into numerical terms. We know this relationship today not by the numerical value, but by the term ‘interval’.

We can see this idea in action in the construction and performance of the guitar. To make sound, press on the strings of the guitar at the frets and strum. The note created has an exact relationship to the original note of the string. Wherever you placed your hand, that note is at a certain interval like a perfect fifth or minor third. Now you can thank Pythagoras every time you hear a rocking guitar solo!

Check out this video from the Science Channel talking more about Pythagoras’ theories! 

Pythagoras thought in ways very similar to our mission here at The Right Brain Initiative. He saw that everything was connected, from mathematics to music. We hope we can excite our students about learning by showing them these very same connections, just as we hope we have excited you to go learn more about Pythagoras!

Itching for more ways to learn more about the sounds around us? So are we! Here’s a Brain Food exercise you can do anywhere to explore how the space you’re in changes your voice.

Happy learning!


 Travis Opocensky is a percussion instructor in the Portland area and a Psychology student at Portland State University. He blogs and tweets for The Right Brain Initiative through the Performing Arts Advocacy Capstone class at Portland State.

State of the Arts 2014

May 10th, 2014 by Aleah Romer

NOTE: Right Brain staff are working this quarter with students in the Performing Arts Advocacy capstone class at Portland State University. Through this partnership, these students will craft a series of blog entries covering various topics related to arts education, beginning with this one from Aleah Romer. Please enjoy, and please also follow the students as they take over our Twitter feed for the next few weeks!

On April 23rd, 2014 I went to my first State of the Arts meeting at Portland City Hall.

State of the Arts 2014 2

Several classmates and I met in front of the council chamber and filed in behind the small crowd that had already assembled. Several people sported large, colorful masks on top of their heads (seriously, the smallest was about the size of a three year old child) and one woman wore a hat with two-foot long aloe leaves spiking out from all directions. It was a fun mix of characters, and it set the tone for the rest of the meeting.

The meeting opened with a live horn orchestra playing a mash-up of Mendelssohn and ABBA. Then, RACC presented the annual report (which can be found here). It is definitely worth it to read the full report, but here are a few things I learned:

  • Portland is known as a major arts destination, and is drawing in more visitors because of this

  • 180,000 people benefited from RACC in 2013

  • In Oregon, the arts had an economic impact of $120 million in 2013

  • RACC and the Right Brain Initiative have had a tremendous effect on the people of the Portland metro area

The last point came to me as I listened to guest speakers share their experiences. One of the speakers was Shawn Garnett, the principal of Markham Elementary School. This is her school’s sixth year working with Right Brain, and if I were already a fan of The Right Brain Initiative her testimony would have won me over in an instant. After her school began working with The Right Brain Initiative she noticed that her students were more empowered.  Principal Garnett explained that 55% of the students in her school have free or reduced lunch, and 23% are English language learners (with the two most common first languages being Arabic and Somali). In addition, she stated that Right Brain’s emphasis on whole-brain learning has raised awareness among the educators at her school, and has increased the intellectual competence and motivation of her students. She said that Right Brain “infused [the arts and “core” subjects] so seamlessly.” It was a powerful testimony to the value of The Right Brain Initiative and it drove home the importance of integrating the arts and core studies in school.

State of the Arts 2014

As I said earlier, this was my first time at the State of the Arts meeting, but it will not be my last. It is necessary to show your support, even when you think it is not needed. One of the key things that I learned is that even though RACC and The Right Brain Initiative have done some awesome things in the last year, the arts in Oregon are still under-supported, under-funded, and in need of help. RACC receives funding from the city of Portland, so one of the ways that you can show your support for their funding is by attending events such as this one. Your support is invaluable.

You can watch the video recording of this year’s State of the Arts here. (Principal Garnett’s testimony begins at 35:51)

Brain Food launch this Wednesday.

May 2nd, 2014 by Rebecca



We’re hosting a Brain Food launch event this Wednesday with Poa Cafe, and we invite you to join us! We are so excited that this event will feature Dallas Clayton, Los Angeles-based children’s author and illustrator of An Awesome Book!.

Clayton will present an inspiring TED-style talk** about children and creativity. Brain Food and Dallas Clayton books will both be available for purchase. The good folks at the child-friendly Poa Cafe are also extending happy hour until 7pm to offer specials on their healthy food and delicious drinks. Don’t miss this!

Wednesday, May 7, 6pm
Poa Cafe
4025 N Williams, Portland
Free and open to the public!

**The talk will last about an hour. This event is best for ages 8 and up.

Read our official Brain Food press release.
See a full list of Brain Food retail locations.

Brain Food! A Full List of Retail Locations

May 1st, 2014 by Rebecca

Brain Food is on the shelves at New Seasons! Photo by Leah Walpuck.

We’re so proud to say that our Brain Food decks are now available in retail stores in the Portland area, as well as online.  See below a full list of locations where you can purchase the decks. We will continue to update this page as our list of locations expand.

100% of profits go directly to our work in public schools. Go, get one in those creative hands of yours!





Land Gallery, 3925 N Mississippi Ave., Portland

Muse Art + Design, 4220 SE Hawthorne Blvd,. Portland 

New Seasons Market

  • Arbor Lodge, 6400 N Interstate Ave., Portland

  • Cedar Hills, 3495 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton

  • Concordia, 5320 NE 33rd Ave., Portland

  • Happy Valley, 15861 SE Happy Valley Town Center Dr., Happy Valley

  • Mountain Park, 3 Monroe Parkway, Lake Oswego

  • Orenco Station, 1453 NE 61st Ave., Hillsboro

  • Progress Ridge, 14805 SW Barrows Road, Suite 103, Beaverton

  • Raleigh Hills, 7300 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy., Portland

  • Sellwood, 1214 SE Tacoma St., Portland

  • Seven Corners, 1954 SE Division St., Portland

  • Williams, 3445 N Williams Ave., Portland

Poa Cafe, 4025 N Williams Ave., Portland

Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland

Spark Arts Center, 1804 NE 39th Ave., Portland


Want to carry Brain Food in your store? Contact Rebecca Burrell at rburrell [at] or 503.823.2965.

Join us May 11 for Brews for Brains!

April 28th, 2014 by Leah Walpuck

With BrewCycle, a good time is had by all. (Wigs absolutely not required! Ha.) Photo courtesy of BrewCycle Portland.

Go for a bike ride, enjoy some microbrews with friends or family, and support arts education all in one fell swoop! Impossible you say? Not if you purchase a ticket for the BrewCycle Benefit Ride on Sunday May 11th. 

BrewCycle combines two of Portland’s favorite activities into one — biking and drinking microbrews — as they take people around on a giant bicycle built for 15, stopping at pubs along the way. On May 11th, The Right Brain Initiative is joining in on the fun and partnering with BrewCycle to support arts education.

There are several ways you can help support us through this event:

  • Purchase one or more seats on a bike! Grab yourself, grab your friends, grab your mom (it is Mother’s Day after all). Select from either the 1-3pm or 5-7pm time slots. $20 from each of your tickets purchased will be donated by the wonderful people at BrewCycle to Right Brain to help support our arts-in-schools programming. Additionally, your ticket includes one free drink at the BrewStop bar at the end of the bike ride!
  • Enjoy a cold beer at any point during the day on May 11th at the BrewStop bar, and BrewCycle will donate $1 of each of these drinks sold to Right Brain.
  • Sponsor a bike! If you don’t think you can make it out for the ride, or you want to make this a staff team building or client affinity event, sponsor a bike, and see your name and logo listed on the bike, on our blog, and in our newsletter. If you’re interested in sponsoring a bike, contact Rebecca Burrell at for details.
  • Last but not least, if none of the above works for you and you’re feeling generous, feel free to simply make a donation.

With your help, if we can fill up three bikes and sell a few beers, we’ll raise $1,000! Throw in some sponsors and we’ll raise over $2,000 toward arts education in public schools of the Portland metro area. On top of all of this, your gift will be generously matched by the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund.

Bike around NW Portland with friends. Enjoy some craft microbrews. And raise money for a good cause, all on one beautiful Sunday.

WHAT: Brews for Brains, A Benefit for Arts Education

WHEN: Sunday, May 11th, 1-3pm or 5-7pm

WHERE: BrewCycle, 1425 NW Flanders St., Portland, OR 972o9

Our third grant from National Endowment for the Arts!

April 26th, 2014 by Leah Walpuck

2nd graders at James John Elementary in St. Johns learned about seed germination and plant development through the medium of dance with BodyVox. Photo by Cecily Caceu.

We are incredibly excited to announce that for the third time, The Right Brain Initiative has been selected for a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Works grant. Art Works grants support “the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancement of the livability of communities through the arts.” 

This year, NEA received 1,515 eligible applications under the Art Works category, and Right Brain was one of the 886 recommended to receive a grant. We were pretty flattered. With the recommended $25,000 in federal funding that NEA is proposing, Right Brain will continue to work towards integrating arts education into every Portland public school and embedding an arts-based learning approach into our professional development sessions. 

Here’s to promoting creative education, to getting those left and right brains working together, and to engaging the community in our quest for lifelong learning. Thank you for all your support. 

Read more of the official RACC press release.

Or check out NEA’s official statement.

See (and hear) what happens when My Voice Music and Right Brain team up

April 24th, 2014 by Santigie Fofana-Dura

1st grade students at Quatama Elementary learn firsthand how instruments make music through vibrations with Right Brain partner organization My Voice Music. Photo by Juanita Martus.

In the winter of 2012, My Voice Music had the privilege to become a member of The Right Brain Initiative’s teaching artist roster. Right Brain was launched in 2008 to promote whole-brain learning within Portland metro area schools. In order to get on this roster we had to tryout by teaching a single music lesson to a randomly selected fourth grade class at an elementary school in the metro area. In the end our lesson was a great success and MVM became official members of Right Brain’s teaching artists roster.

Flash forward to the 2013-2014 school year. For MVM’s first assignment we were selected for a residency in what The Right Brain Initiative has termed an “immersion” school. Immersion residencies occur at schools that have been a part of the Right Brain system for several years and they are schools that are fully committed to providing opportunities for creative learning to all of their students.

 “What I love is how My Voice Music has been able to engage students while deepening the learning, not just in music, but in science and math standards as well. Each project has been so connected. The collaboration of artists and teachers has been fabulous.”
~ Janis Hill, Principal, Quatama Elementary

We were placed at Quatama Elementary School in the Hillsboro School District. This is a unique school whose mission is to promote the current STEAM movement in education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). A huge part of doing an immersion school residency is that MVM gets to work with every grade level and basically every student and classroom teacher in the school. For each class we provide a four lesson unit in which we work with the teachers to connect music with the curriculum.

We were also designated a featured classroom whose work we will highlight at Right Brain’s end of the year colloquium. Our feature classroom was a 1st grade class and our goal was to use music to teach them about the science of sound waves. Other classes we have worked with this school year include kindergarten, where we worked on beat-boxing the alphabet and created a “golden era hiphop” ABC song, 4th grade where we studied vibrations & sound waves and made instruments, 5th grade where the students played instruments to create their own song then wrote & recorded lyrics about how the brain works. Before the year is up, we still have 2nd, 3rd, and 6th grade to go!

“Being creative is about doing, making, sharing, working hard and having fun while doing it. The more joy that is involved in the process, the more memorable and life enhancing the creative output.”
~ Santigie Fofana-Dura, MVM Program Manager/Lead Teacher

The experience so far is amazing and each class has had its own unique way of creating their art. The Kinders loved the art of beat-boxing and their teacher informed me how many of her students have continued to beat-box and sing and some students demonstrated massive improvement with their phonetic abilities. The 5h graders wrote amazing lyrics about the neuroscience behind maintaining a healthy brain in which they sang with passion and the 4th graders designed musical sound emitting devices that could potentially revolutionize the way we see and hear sound waves in the future.

To hear a sample of  “The Brain” song by Mr. Phipps’ 5th grade class and the kindergarten’s version of the “Golden Era” ABC’s, check out My Voice Music’s original blog post here.

To see a full set of images from the 1st grade class at Quatama, click here.

Santigie Fofana-Dura is the Program Manager and Lead Teacher for My Voice Music. Read more about him on the MVM site.


Test Your Right Brain May 7 and June 4!

April 23rd, 2014 by Rebecca



Right Brain trivia is back by popular demand! Join us for on the first Wednesdays of May and June to exploit your knowledge of music, film, books, art and more for the chance to win glory and excellent prizes . Thank you to the good people at the Radio Room being generous hosts! All cash raised supports our work in public schools!

Test Your Right Brain: Trivia for The Right Brain Initiative
Wednesday, May 7 &
Wednesday, June 4
7:30 – 9:30 (arrive at 7pm to settle in!)
Radio Room, 1101 NE Alberta St, Portland