Making Curriculum Pop

Mr. Kist’s New Literacies presentation had a lasting impact on me, most especially with his Multi-genre Autobiography activity. With this, he has his students create a slide show containing pictures they associated with their childhood. As an example, he created one from his own childhood. Some of the pictures presented received some pretty great responses – a lot of energized “ohs” and wistful sighs were heard practically after every slide. I admit I heaved a few sighs myself. Looking at those pictures evoked some pretty great memories and when Sesame Street and The Electric Company popped up on that projector screen, I began to reflect back to my own learning experiences through what I saw on TV as a child. The first thing that popped into my mind was Schoolhouse Rock. I loved Schoolhouse Rock. My older brother and I would plant ourselves in front of the TV every Saturday morning to catch it on ABC. For those of you who don’t know this stroke of genius, it was a series of 2 to 3 minute episodes that covered many subjects we learn in elementary and middle school and set them to music and animation – multiplication, grammar, and American history were the most popular. This was the show that basically taught me how to multiply by 8 – “Figure 8” was a favorite of mine. I also loved the episode on Adjectives. I even think my brother can still recite The Preamble because he remembers the episode on the Constitution! As we sang along with these bits, we did not realize we were learning basic math, grammar and American history. All we knew was we loved the music and the cartoons that came along with them. So much so it would peak our curiosity to find out more: what else happened in 1776 or what about pronouns. As an adult, I had the opportunity to be Musical Director of the stage version of Schoolhouse Rock and it was exciting to get a chance to introduce it to a whole new young audience. Although television gets a bad rap nowadays, we tend to forget sometimes it can be a positive tool that can help kids learn and perhaps motivate them to explore and discover new things.

From Schoolhouse Rock, I got to think of other ways music can be used as I am currently venturing into Music Education. The influence of music is undeniable. In terms of cinema, it has a tremendous effect on our movie viewing experience by creating or amplifying a mood to fit what is occurring on screen. From the piano accompaniments of the silent film to the orchestral scores of Jaws and Star Wars, they reach out to us and leave a lasting impression. Nowadays, the score is sometimes replaced by familiar songs from the radio. An example of this is the 1983 movie The Big Chill. It had an enormously successful soundtrack with its use of popular songs from the 1960s. The songs hit a nerve with the generation it depicted on screen, and even now, the soundtrack is regarded as one of the best. There is even some discussion on how this soundtrack influenced the advertising world to use Rock-n-Roll songs to advance their sales. This trend of using popular songs is becoming more and more common in cinema, sometimes replacing the traditional film score altogether. Quentin Tarantino did this with his movie Pulp Fiction (1994) and his soundtrack (or his film score depending how you look at it) mirrors the hip, aggressive mood the film itself exuded. Ironically, some singers and songwriters are beginning to abandon their song careers to venture into the film scoring world full time. Danny Elfman from the group Oingo Boingo is now a very successful composer of films and even RZA from the Wu Tang Clan wrote a few things for Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003).

With this knowledge of music and its effect on the public, I began to think of the many different ways it can be used in the high school classroom. From what I can see, almost every high school student owns an IPod or some kind of MP3 player. IPods have given individuals access to an infinite amount of music, all at the touch of a button. This sure beats those days of carrying around a Walkman, practically gargantuan in size compared to an IPod Nano. Then I began to think about their playlists. The playlists they create are usually very personal and can say a great deal about who they are as individuals. Also, their enthusiasm for their favorite music is apparent when they talk about it. I would love to tap into that excitement.

So, what would happen if say, Odysseus had to create a playlist for his journey in Homer’s The Odyssey? Or Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice? What kind of music defines them and their story? This could be an exercise for students to play around with, choosing songs they believe define these literary characters and asking them to explain their choices. '

Students can also play around with scoring certain scenes in novels – what sets the mood of this particular chapter? What would be playing as you visualize the devastating affects the Dust Bowl has had on the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath?

All of this lead back to Mr. Kist’s question from his presentation: What can you say in music, visual art or video that you cannot say in print? These exercises promote creativity, help us find new ways to communicate and, when students share their ideas with other students, build community. It seems when it comes to music the possibilities are endless, and I am eager to explore other ways to incorporate this in schools.

The lesson ideas I gave here are just miniscule compared to others. There are so many articles on using music in the classroom. Here a few I found interesting:

Scholastic’s guide to Music in the Classroom

A New Jersey Teacher that uses Wii Music as a teaching tool

Chris Brewer, Music and Learning

And lastly, I’m a proud member of MENC: National Association of Music Education. Please check out their website!

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Hi Jennifer,

As a future ELA teacher, I love your idea of having students create a playlist for Odysseus' journey. I think they would love that--and it would be a great way for music and ELA to crossover. I also loved the "We Didn't Start the Fire" video clip on the site you mentioned. When I listen to music, I not only feel mood, I see images. That would be a great activity for kids--put images to music and vice versa.

Hi Jennifer,

I enjoyed your post and I as well enjoyed William Kist’s presentation. Furthermore I enjoyed his enthusiasm and drive for incorporating technology for learning. I focus on Technology and curriculum and can tell you that the main technology within in K-12 that is spoken about today is the Smart boards. One needs to realize that purchasing such an expensive piece of equipment is just one part. Maintaining, and training to use it goes with the package as well. Well that is my 2 cents. Hope you enjoyed this post. Great job again.
Hi Jennifer-

Great post! I am trying to make an reading autobiography right now and it is a great way to reflect on my reading journey as I have grown up. I think it would be an interesting activity to try in a classroom. I plan to work in an elementary setting and I think your ideas about incorporating music into the classroom could really translate into that age as well. I loved the idea of creating their own soundtracks. In a elementary setting students could try with a picture book and maybe even compose their own music to match the moods, tones, setting of the story. Thank you for the resources and your ideas are inspiring! When I am a teacher, I want to make sure I incorporate music consistently and in meaningful ways in the classroom-- it can support so many different things!

Hey Jennifer, I want to be in your class making a Odysseus' music playlist. That sounds so fun! It would actually convince me to read the book to understand him better so I can create a playlist that really matches him.
With regard to picking the playlists for the characters, beyond picking "contemporary" (current) songs, as a music teacher you could use this as a springboard to explore what could/would have "actually" been on those characters' playlists (i.e. music of the time and place). From here there's the possibility of comparing the effects of using each, or at least how it affects the modern listener. Of course sheer unfamiliarity with the music of the past will play a role in how it is received.
Hi Virginia - yes I agree, the playlist idea could span a wide range of musical genres. This is usually most effective in Music classes themselves as they are more prone to study music throughout the ages. But it would be interesting to see what students would choose to set moods, visuals, etc. with music completely void of lyrics. Hearing their reasoning behind why this orchestral or chamber piece strikes a certain mood in them would be amazing. To flip this idea around, perhaps they can find commercials that use baroque, classical or romantic music and tell us what they believe the advertisers were hoping to evoke in consumers by using this music. There are plenty of these types of commercial out there and it would be interesting to create a lesson plan of music and the effects it has on a consumer in this society.
I agree that there are many other vessels for communicating understanding, comprehension, and fun beyond the written text. Beginning three years ago I started making poetry writing a component of every unit, giving students the freedom to write creatively reflecting on what they had learned from the topic. We began by making simple audio recordings of these poems and playing them for the class as a whole. What was amazing was the release from the constrictions of reading alone, or writing essay responses in a dry way, students' poems showed a spirited and heartful relationship with the content. It was interesting how when one student began putting his poetry on an ipod, other students followed suit, and you see groups of students reading each others' Ipods. Other students' responses to these poems were often more insightful than to the original documents and texts. Simultaneously, putting illustrations to what someone has learned, by asking students to draw responses to texts, or using a template drawing that they could fill in, also showed so much more than their expository essays and short responses. With new media students can create their own dynamic slideshows (animoto), graphic organizers (spinscape), sound recordings and songs (reason), that can bring life to a unit. What one set of students does now can then be used the following year as motivating material and a new text for topics. Schoolhouse Rock can now be made by the hands of the beholder, and students can contribute to the content of lessons for new classes!
My students really enjoyed this song-based multimedia assignment...

2009 Student Media Projects

John, you should post this in the pop music group with more info...




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