Student Projects

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What the U.S. Presidents Taught Us About Project-Based Learning

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Right now I’m grading papers that my elementary students wrote about what they learned in music class. I used to give a multiple choice test, but these one-page essays tell me a lot about what these students have learned (which is helpful when giving grades). One student wrote,

We made a song in GarageBand. It’s called U.S. Presidents. We learned about what websites we should use and if we have to give credit and learned rhythm and tempo.

Awesome, right!? The 4th/5th music standards in California are pretty dry. Actually, most content standards are pretty dry. Our textbook does not sweeten them up much. So this year, I composed songs with my music students as a way to teach them about rhythm, tempo, melody, song form, etc. In past years, I composed short pieces of music with my students, but limited the lesson to one 40-minute class period. This year, we spent four class periods working on a song, from writing lyrics and melodies to adding instrumentation and choosing a song form (chorus/verse).

After reading through what my students wrote, it’s apparent that project-based learning helped students actually learn the material. Not only did they take ownership of this song, but the content stuck. They really do understand all that stuff–eighth notes, half rests, repeats, phrasing. And it wasn’t just a more effective way to teach, it was also more enjoyable (for them and for me!).

There’s a bigger lesson that I learned, though. By working on a project, there are so many other important things that I am able to teach. We decided to create a music video to accompany each song, so I (as the music teacher) explained creative commons, giving credit, and being respectful online. This seems like an eduawesome way to teach digital citizenship. As we created the video, I could talk with them about pacing, types of shots, and telling a story visually. Suddenly, all these artistic concepts melded into one project. I’m hoping that the Common Core is going to push us in this direction. Projects seem to be a perfect fit–narrower (less content) and deeper (projects). In this one project, each music class learned about composition, digital citizenship, video editing, and their own content area, which ranged from adding fractions to human body systems. This will definitely be a project that I will be repeating next year!

STEAM-Powered Songs

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STEAM-Powered Songs

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Last February, Jared Hathaway, a fourth grade teacher, asked me to work on a song he started with his kids about the types of rocks. Seeing the brilliance of Jared’s plan, I decided to write a song with each of my 14 general music classes.

After writing 14 original songs, a student asked if we could make a music video to go with the song. So, we made 14 music videos to accompany the album STEAM-Powered Songs. (All 14 videos will auto-play in the embedded playlist below.) This project was selected as a California Student Media Festival winner in the category of Elementary Fine Arts!