Being both a physicist and a musician, I can't teach physics without teaching about music, but we don't have instruments at my school. However, there are creative ways to go around the problem.
You may have seen in other posts in my website about teaching rhythm to students and using slaps (on the desk), claps, and snaps, but on Friday as I was explaining different frequencies, the students really had a difficult time grasping different "pitches". However, having a student learn music theory and learn how to play different notes takes time and can be frustrating.
Instead, why not have each student be in charge of only one note?
Teaching simple rhythms can be pretty quick. It's a small thing that can make learning about sound so much more profound. Each student can be assigned a single note and using rhythm notation, instructed when to play. You can create all kinds of chords with students using simple things like bottles and straws. The students don't have to know what chord they are playing and because they are only in charge of one note, they don't need to know WHAT they are playing only need to know WHEN they are playing it.
The beautiful thing about using bottles with different amounts of water in them or oboes with different lengths is that students can see that a shorter distance corresponds with a higher frequency. It will only be a small step further to get them to articulate that, "Smaller wavelengths mean higher frequencies which sound higher pitched."
The Naked Scientist: Straw Oboe
The Naked Scientist: Blowing on Bottles
I love Facebook, but wrangling the privacy settings can get to be too much so I started a blog for my students in order to include more resources in case they are still interested. You can check it out by going to the "Students" tab at the top.
This week I introduced Music through a lens of Physics and Math to my students. I used this as an opportunity to introduce students to some music that they don't normally listen to because the way I see it, I'm not only learning about the student's culture, I am also teaching them about other cultures. The more exposure that students get to other cultures, the better.
I recently read called, "Captain America in a turban" which reminded me that we fear what we do not know and understand.
In physics class, I plan to start a jug band. I love music and honestly believe that students who play instruments and understand music do better in math in general. Music teaches students about fractions. It teaches them how to recognize patterns and understand the logic behind certain groupings. In terms of physics, I believe it helps them understand different frames of reference. For example, it helps them break down events by time of occurrence: This note is played only on beat 1 while thisb other note follows on beat 2.
We started to learn how to read rhythms by playing two instruments that the students are experts at: snapping and clapping. I overheard one student say to another, "Which do you think sounds more lovely?" as she began writing her composition. I had the idea to bring in more lovely tones by making a jug band. I went to my local supermarket and purchased a Mexican soda called Jarritos.
One of my pet peeves is that prizes are always given to the fastest student or the smartest student. It is always predictable who will win. Sometimes because of this, students give up. In order to prevent that, I picked up everyone's warm up and then shuffled them and drew from the pile. The winner won a Jarritos soda. Their duty was to drink the soda and tell me if the tone produced when they blew on top was lovely. Sure enough, it was.
Now we could add more variety of sounds to our band: snaps, claps, and the different tones produced by bottles. This opens up the discussion to talk about tuning, dissonance, and frequencies without intimidating the students with learning an instrument.
Here is a short video about a jug band. The possibilities are endless!
I don't think that many people realize what it's like to be poor, really, really poor. I remember reading a facebook post from a friend where the gist was something like, "A family of three: mother, father, & baby got on a bus and argued with the bus driver about the fare until the bus driver gave up the fight and continued to drive the bus. The family sat down. Then at their stop they yelled at the bus driver some more and ran off the bus." I think someone commented saying, "Some people are so ungrateful." I don't really remember the exact situation, but I remember what I felt and thought about it.
I know that sometimes people can seem ungrateful or just plain ignorant, but you have to remember that these are people with nothing. Let me elaborate on that. Many people have pride in something. They have some sense of independence that probably stems from their ability to perform a service.
As you lose privileges in life, your self-esteem gets chipped away little by little. You put yourself in humiliating situations that seem outrageous at the time until they become the norm. Every humiliating situation chips away at your sense of worth until you get to the point where you have none left. You just don't give a damn about anything. You couldn't give a damn, even if you tried. For some, this is the point where they do drastic and regrettable things.
I can't get angry at that couple on the bus. They are probably going through a hard life.
How does this relate to the first day of school?
At my first school I had to purchase all of the materials for my students. If I wanted them to take notes, I had to buy them notebooks and pens. If I wanted them to calculate, I had to buy them calculators. I had to buy everything: rulers, erasers, notebook paper, binders, etc. When you buy all of this for thirty children, IT BECOMES A LOT OF MONEY.
I started paying attention to the penny sales by Staples, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Office Depot, etc. I started hoarding as many supplies as I could in anticipation of materials being lost.
It broke my heart even more when I would hear my students say, "I lost my notebook" or "I forgot it". The worst cases were the ones where the student was absent and I found the materials on the floor thrown away like a forgotten, broken toy.
I was then moved to another school where most students could afford their own materials. In this case, it was only the neediest students who didn't have the materials. I always provided some materials, but the students were always ashamed of them.
It wasn't until recently, when I was experiencing some financial hardship that I made the connection: you don't want a handout; you want to EARN it. That is the pride of this life: to be able to make your own way in the world. Basically, I had to make payments on my taxes along with bills and rent. This ate most of my paycheck. This second half of August has been the worst month of them all and the situation has been pretty bleak since June. Friends were kind and offered to loan me money, but maybe because I lived in poverty in my childhood I felt slightly insulted. I know they meant well, but I could NOT take a loan of money from a friend. I could NOT.
Maybe if things got desperate enough I would ask for money, but how could I when I saw this as another adventure?
Today marks the 16th day where I have not spent a single cent of money. Yes, my bills are getting automatically deducted from my bank account, but I have not spent a single cent on food or on anything personal. I simply don't have room for that in the budget. I remember being terrified a week or so ago when I ran out of toilet paper. I remember thinking, "HOW WILL I MANAGE TO GET OUT OF THIS ONE?! HOW, Macgyver, HOW?"
Thankfully, sometime in May I had purchased a giant package of toilet paper with 24 rolls. Yes, I go through toilet paper slowly enough to have forgotten this fact. I had disassociated it because it was under the kitchen sink and not in the bathroom. Saved, but holy cow that was HORRIFYING.
I would rather steal toilet paper than ask a friend to loan me a roll. That is how proud I am.
I've been reflecting on my situation a lot and I've come to the conclusion that many students who need supplies are not going to ask for them and even if you give it to them, they won't really take ownership of it. The object will forever be a reminder of that shame.
How many times have I asked a student, "Why didn't you go on that field trip?" and the answer was, "because I couldn't afford it." I always reply with, "they provide help for those students who can't afford it" and the student just shakes his/her head. I think they don't have the words to tell me that maybe what they felt was a little shame.
When it comes to school supplies, I still have that hoard. For a little while I thought about selling them off. After all, even selling them for $0.25 would turn a profit since I had purchased everything for pennies. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but I wasn't desperate enough to sell these items that my students might need.
Today I had a good idea: instead of pointing out needy students and gently asking them if they wanted some school supplies, why not give them the opportunity to earn them?
The first day of school is always tough to plan. All of my ideas seem old and tired. I've done this or that a million times already. Ok, I've only been teaching a few years, but those ideas make me feel like i've tried it a million times. Maybe my students haven't seen those tricks yet, but then I would be bored and when the teacher gets bored, the students can sense it.
On the first day or maybe even the first couple of days, I plan on playing science games with my students like playing science trivia and making them do silly challenges. The prizes that you can win are, you guessed it: School supplies. In addition to normal school supplies, I have also accumulated silly things like butterfly-shaped post-its and funny pencils.
Winning is something to boast about. There is nothing to boast about if you feel like your teacher feels sorry for you and gave you something out of pity. Wouldn't it be great if you were a student and you were able to get all of your supplies for free and say that you EARNED them?
You might also notice that the days are in three languages. In my physics class I think it can be a challenge to discuss other cultures without really going out of my way and going off topic. This is a small way to introduce other cultures. It's also a great conversation starter:
"What languages are those?"
"Why did you pick those?"
"How do you pronounce that?"
Some students are very enthusiastic to learn English, but we also have students who feel that English is imposed on them and for that reason, they might resent having to learn it. It might be an odious task for them. Having the days of the week in different languages is a small message to the students: "It's ok to learn new languages. New languages CAN be fun. New languages can be exciting!"
After all, what's the point of doing anything if you aren't having fun with it?
Kelly Garcia teaches physics in New York City to Latino students using a humourous and hands-on approach. She manages to circumvent the boredom of test-prep with thoughtful and creative projects.