Conference feedback: A song a day


More commentary on the commentary! (We're getting Talmudic, here...) All quotes were given at the IERG conference a week and a half ago. To refresh you memory, you might re-read the original post on a song-a-day — or either of our two posts on dancing!

A song a day

Music is so fundamental to our experience, so I love this idea!

Yeah! Since presenting on this idea, I've been noting how much use I make of music to keep myself engaged, upbeat, serious (or frivolous)...

Music is medication. Perhaps that's why we've developed it, as a species. It's unfortunate most schools make so little of it.

Slowing down a bit. Maybe a song a day is too much too fast.

Maybe! Lee, thoughts?

I like the simplicity of saying that some things are daily, and other things weekly — even if we don't always meet that goal.

Choreography to song

Love it! The more we could integrate it with the dancing curriculum, the better (I assume).

Though I'll admit that I have no idea how to do that. I have some leads on dance instructors in Seattle — Lee, do you have any connections to dance instructors on Hilton Head?

Watch Ben Zander TED talk (very IE).

Zander's talk is "The Transformative Power of Classical Music", and it's quite worth watching!

Near the beginning, Zander says, "In the classical music world... there are some people who think that classical music is dying. And there are some of us who think you ain't seen nothing yet."

I have to admit — this is going to be something that makes me sound very snobbish — I keep returning to the question of whether our schools can have some primacy on classical music.

Classical feels so different to me — relaxing, restorative. I recall once refilling at a gas station that was playing classical — it was an ecstatic experience; purifying, almost. No other form of music (and I enjoy many different genres) makes me feel that way. And I think I'm not alone.

And this ability of classic to calm seems to be helpful, in a school.

So I'll ask (though I feel nervous about sounding like a snob) — any thoughts on whether classical music could have an outsized role in schools?

Listening. Listen to sounds of nature. Listen to the voices of many people. In particular, listen to the voices of trained classical singers!

I'm moving toward (I've mentioned this on this blog, I think) an observation-first model of creativity. If you want to cultivate creativity, cultivate observation. I've grounded our realistic drawing curriculum in this, but that's just visual observation. We should develop a parallel track for auditory observation, through music and otherwise. I've got to think about that.

Individual experience then public, instead of the reverse?

Interesting. This doesn't seem compelling to me right now, but I'll think about this.

Part of my "meh"-ness, I think, stems from the fact that I imagine public listening to be, in large part, private.

I'm thinking that each new song should ideally be played three times. Familiarity brings affection (something advertisers have long known). Each time, though, the classroom should be otherwise absolutely silent, so everyone (even the most ADHD of us) can feel safe in focusing entirely on the music.

With the song the only thing that anyone can hear, listening corporately seems a lot like listening privately.

(Lee, some notes: if we want to make auditory experience so crucial to our schools, we'll need to invest in sound-dampening technologies. If we can ever design our own buildings, that'll mean soundproofing, and classrooms that aren't just separated by folding walls. In the short-term, however, that might mean white-noise generators, of either the electronic or waterfall-y varieties.)

Did this with The Outsiders. The students chose characters and developed albums with song lyrics and visuals. Works very well.

Oh, jeez — there are probably loads of great ways to go deeper into the literature or history curriculum through music! How'd I not think of this? Thanks, anonymous commenter! I'll be on the lookout for more of these.

Oh, by the way!

I've been pondering how we should choose songs. Again, we want to bring in songs that (1) are super-diverse and super-high-quality, and (2) songs that are personally meaningful to teachers. Obviously, there'll be a good amount of overlap between those two categories — but!

I think I have an idea. It turns out there a lot of lists attempting to pick the best music of every genre. The most helpful (for our purposes) list that I've found may be 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, by NPR music reviewer Tom Moon. I haven't yet read it (I'm caravaning around the Midwest at present), but it looks pretty danged good: the cover indicates it includes jazz, reggae, oldies, opera, folk, soul, and more. (A perusal of the table of contents points to traditional Mongolian singing, rap, funkadelic, rock, and, well, take a look! Here's a very positive review on NPR.)

So here's my thinking: we alternate days. One day, a song chosen from the book; the next day, a song chosen by each teacher. Some back-of-the-envelope arithmetic suggests that between kindergarten and twelfth grade, students will be in our school for about 2,000 days.

Again, there are 1,000 songs (well, "musical pieces") in Tom Moon's book. That means it's about to as close to even as we could ask for.

Alternating like this would also allow for school unity (important, as building a culture requires shared music, art, stories, and other experiences) but also class unity (important, for the same reasons).

Lee, your thoughts?

I've been working on another idea that stems from this, but I'll post it separately. (It's that cool!)

Dissecting technology


A problem:

We're surrounded by machines made by human brilliance, but we don't experience them as brilliant — we experience them as alien and inhuman and infuriating.

But machinery is wonderful. It can be understood perfectly, and exploring machinery can be exhiliarating, and wonder-provoking.

Outside of shop class, schools don't do much of this.

Our basic plan:

  1. Once a month, each of our classes will pick a technology — toasters, for example.
  2. They'll make a prediction as to how the device works, and write those down (perhaps publicly, on our chalk wall.)
  3. The students will try to figure out how it works: they'll shake it, draw it, bang on it, dissect it, and probe it with questions.
  4. Those questions that elude even the class's best attempts to answer, the teacher may prepare a lesson on.
  5. They'll try to re-assemble it. They might even try to build another one, from spare parts.

Our goals:

We hope to...

  • Help students understand how the world around them works.
  • Develop a habit of thinking: how do things work?
  • Nurture a (true) conviction that our students can understand anything technical they put their minds to.

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

If you enter one of our classrooms, you might spy a student pressing gently on a toaster's exposed spring coils with a pencil, to see how they work. You might also stumble upon students arguing over how something works.

Some specific questions:

  • How do we, erm, prevent kids from wounding themselves? Machines can hurt. How do we want to handle safey?

Answer hunting


A problem:

Without hope of finding answers, posing ever-more questions can be miserable.

Though you wouldn't know this to read a lot of us educators — as a tribe, we're prone to praising asking questions, and to demean finding answers. (I sometimes hear the quote by Rilke: "Love the questions themselves" used to this end.)

But answers are thrilling. Finding answers is the goal of asking questions. 

Don't get me wrong: I love mystery. Love love love it. But I love true mystery: the sort that comes from questions that elude even my best attempts to answer.

If our schools revolve around a curriculum of question-asking, we need to match it with a curriculum of question-answering.

Our basic plan:

As stated in my last post, our students will collect questions in their personalized commonplace books. These questions can be of any sort — philosophical, scientific, mathematic, historical — anything. Once a week our classes will choose a few questions to pursue more deeply.

Then they'll decide how they want to hunt for answers. There are three things (at least) our students could decide to do with a question.

  1. Write the question on our chalk wall. Our classrooms could have one wall (or a section of a wall) painted in chalkboard paint. Students could write the question, and then throughout the week other students could write their replies, and their replies to others' replies. (This doubles as an authentic chance to practice elegant lettering.)
  2. Commission a student to find an answer. Imagine, here, each class as its own Royal Society: funding exploration to solve the most tantalyzing gaps in knowledge. At the end of the week, the student could issue her report in a brief speech — 4 minutes, say, outlining how she pursued the answer, and what she found.
  3. Share the question with the wider communityWe could, for example, ask other classes their opinions, or the faculty. Or we could ask the classroom parents. Or we could ask a few particular community specialists — a rabbi, perhaps, or an engineer, or a city councilperson. (Skype could perhaps help here.)

Our goals:

We hope to...

  • Knit together a community through shared quests.
  • Invite debate when everyone can't agree to an answer.
  • Learn a whole lotta cool stuff!
  • Develop some mastery at research. (Commissioned students could have practice using Google, Wikipedia, print encyclopedias, and — gasp! — an actual library full of books.)

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

If you waltz into one of our classrooms, you might spy a pair of students earnestly debating a policy issue — like whether a lowering of the drinking age would be worth it. Or you might see a single student giving a slick 5-minute presentation on what plants eat (hint: the Sun). Or you might see a whole class interviewing someone about history — like asking a veteran whether the United States should have invaded Afghanistan.

Some specific questions:

  • When I was in high school, we sometimes had to write papers answering some specific question. Only rarely did I especially care about the question I was supposed to answer. Students should spend their time answering questions they actually care about.
  • That last point wasn't actually a question. The real question: isn't this cool?