This week I saw two very different musicals. Well, to be honest, I saw all of one and parts of another. I was one of millions who have had the opportunity to see the PBS documentary on Hamilton, the Broadway smash musical that combines hip hop and history to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first U. S. Secretary of the Treasury. I don’t know how much of the video will continue available online, so if you haven’t seen the documentary yet, and you have any interest at all in history, music, or hip hop, please consider setting aside 90 minutes to watch. It is worth it. Really. Here’s a link to start.
If you can’t manage it (or maybe just to tempt you), here’s a sample. Listen to a group of patriots discussing strategies—while performing in the White House.
The next day, I saw a college production of Schoolhouse Rock, a live version of the 70’s TV show that taught math, grammar, and (my favorite) the Preamble of the Constitution. Here’s a version of one of the songs from the show—all about nouns.
The contrasts were stark but both experiences were wonderful. Music brought potentially dry content to life. As I watched I kept thinking about the power of that combination and imagining how it might work. Here are just a few places to start.
- If you teach history, share parts of Hamilton with your students. Talk about how the musical helps us envision historical figures as real human beings. Challenge students to do the same with other figures. Imagine a song sung by Lincoln and his cabinet, or Susan B. Anthony and Lucia Mott. Let students put their thoughts to a new kind of beat. Thinking carefully about what those people would want to say requires the kind of learning that makes history makes sense—and come to life.
- If you watched Schoolhouse Rock as a child—or reruns on Nickelodeon—perhaps you’d enjoy teaching those songs to your students. If the music seems a bit dated, they can be challenged to update it, or perhaps to apply it to another area of content. I can recite the Preamble to the Constitution, not because I’ve ever studied it, but because 20+ years ago when my husband directed that show, I learned the song. What else might your students want to memorize, that could be helped with a little music?
- If you teach science, might you think this doesn’t apply to you. Think again. B.A.T.T.L.E.S. (Bringing Attention to Transforming, Teaching and Learning Science) was conceived as a way to keep students engaged in school and in science. Here’s a tribute to kinetic energy.
Want to see more? Try the Science Genius website.
For me it has been a week of music and learning. May you bring both to your students! I’d love to hear how you do it.