Saturday, November 23, 2013

Week Two of the Smart Jams Project

Crystal and I finished up the second week of our Smart Jams music video project for 5th grade.  I was really encouraged by the students' work!

For the third session with the students I gave them a worksheet that required them to work together on a few problems in their assigned topic.  After completing those, Crystal and I checked their work and talked to them about the process or information.

Having these conversations about math while in music class was one of the highlights of the week.  More than anything else, that is the value of this project.

The worksheet then asked them to:

  • Summarize what a student needs to know or do to complete a similar problem.
  • List any math terms that should end up in the song.
  • List any common mistakes a student might make when doing such a problem.

For the last step, the students were supposed to begin writing the song.

Here's the worksheet I gave them for the topic of rounding to the tens and hundreds.

The groups all ran out of time in the 45-minute session before they could get far on their songs.  Crystal and I evaluated what they wrote and what we learned from talking with them.  Two things were clear:

  • Some of the topics were going to be hard for them.  I misunderstood how far the students had gone in fractions by this time in 5th grade, so adding with unlike denominators, simplifying and dividing fractions was too much to ask.  Before the next session I adjusted the difficulty in these cases.
  • They were not natural songwriters!  That should be a given, but I needed to try this just to see.
I wasn't discouraged by the fact that the songs were not coming along well.  I just accpted that would be one of the biggest hurdles.  (I previously thought it would be fitting their words to a beat, but we'll see how that goes next week.)

We decided they needed a lot more direction on going from the concepts to an original chorus.

Then, as an artist and musician, I was most excited about how the second session of the week went.

For this session I wrote what I called "math words" that explained the steps or vital information for the different topics.  The students had already done this on their worksheets, but to be sure there was no confusion, I built upon what they had written or what we talked about in the groups.

I made a sample list of math words that described how to add two digit numbers when regrouping was necessary.  I displayed this slide for the class:
It's important to note for the videos that we will probably have an animation of their math problem being worked out while they perform the chorus.  That way the chorus doesn't have to stand alone, explaining every detail of what's going on.

I really built it up that the left column was me as an old, tired math teacher.  Their job was to write a fun version that brought my words to life.  

Crystal did a great job of showing how the "song words" could be rapped or sung.  She played a simple beat on her keyboard and improvised over it.  I used those song words to show that maybe every line won't rhyme.  I also used the words in parentheses to show how the group might shout those words or echo them.  Again, we demonstrated that with Crystal's improvisation.  

Being a part of any original music creation in school is a gift to me.  It is good to see the passion that comes from it, even if the words are about math!

So we handed back their papers from the first session and gave each group my set of math words.  They really did a good job!  Again, I was able to go from group to group and have good conversations with the students.  They were taking it seriously and their excitement for creating something new was a great encouragement to me.

Most haven't complete their chorus yet, but some were ready to start working on the performance.  I showed them Smart Drums in GarageBand and they practiced with that until the end of the session.

Next week we expect to record a few groups' work.

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